Simply saying you’re sorry isn’t enough. If you really regret your actions, take the time to do it right.
I had a fight with my boyfriend Sam yesterday.
Sam: This year’s snow is awesome. Dave, Ben and I are going to go snowboarding in Tahoe over Presidents’ Day weekend! I’m so excited.
Me (feigning ignorance): Presidents’ Day? When is that?
Sam: The weekend of February 12.
Me: You mean Valentine’s weekend?
Sam (looking worried): Umm, I guess.
Me: I can’t believe you made plans for that weekend without even talking to me first!
Sam: I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.
Me: That’s even worse! It makes me feel like I’m not important to you.
Sam: Well, I’m sorry if I hurt you.
Me: You’re sorry if you hurt me?
Sam: Yes, sorry. But you know I’m not good with dates.
Me (livid): That’s not a real apology.
Sam: I said I’m sorry. What more do you want me to do?
Me: I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound like a real apology to me.
I slept on it, and now I know what I want Sam to do. I want both him and I to learn how to apologize well. So I spent some time researching what the forgiveness experts (talk about a weird job) say are the keys to a good apology. Ironically, it sounds like a dog barking.
- Express REGRET
- Describe the ACTION you regret.
- Say WHY you regret your action.
- Express what you will do in the FUTURE.
- Ask for FORGIVENESS.
To break it down:
- Express REGRET. This can be as simple as just starting with “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”
- Describe the ACTION you regret. Be specific. “I am sorry for yelling at you.” “I’m sorry for making plans the weekend of Valentine’s Day without talking to you.”
- WHY do you regret your action? Because you realize it was wrong? Because your partner’s feelings were hurt? In other words, man (or woman) up and accept responsibility. “I know yelling at you is wrong” or “I know I hurt you by forgetting Valentine’s Day.”
- Express what you will do in the FUTURE. Describe how your behavior will change; otherwise, what’s the point of being sorry? “When I get angry at you next time, I will do my best to not yell at you.” “I’m putting in a calendar reminder right now for Valentine’s Day and your birthday. Any other dates that are important to you?”
- Ask for FORGIVENESS. This involves asking, “Will you please forgive me?” and/or “What can I do to make it up to you?” Personally, the former seems like overkill to me, though the forgiveness experts say it goes a long way toward making the process feel sincere. I really like the idea of taking action to make up for my offenses though, and to having my partner do the same for me.
Sam always tells me to tell him what I want. This is what I want: a way to clean up after ourselves when we hurt each other, and to commit to doing better next time.
Kiana Moradi is a family law attorney in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.