Ever trample a loved one’s spirit because you ignored a simple request…or worse? Maybe you forgot an anniversary, broke a promise, or spoke hurtful words in anger or frustration. We’ve all been there, to one degree or another. Unfortunately, we tend to hurt the ones we care about most.
Whether you haven’t been pulling your weight around the house, consistently show up late, or kept a big secret, by following these eight steps, you can smooth things over with a significant other you have wronged.
1. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes
Painting a picture of your loved one’s hurt evokes empathy and compassion, which leads to a thoughtful apology, says Amanda Craig, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Darien, Connecticut. “Really try to imagine what your partner experienced,” she says.
Accountability should be paramount in your apology. Instead of shifting the blame, clearly and sincerely take responsibility for your actions.
Relationship coach and host of the Eros to the Heart podcast
Part of the apology process is recognizing your role in the issue. “You must start by reflecting on the actions that contributed to the problem,” says relationship coach Eros Miranda, a TikTok influencer and host of the Eros to the Heart podcast.
Choose your timing wisely, Miranda recommends. Ask your significant other when is a good time to talk. “Your partner might be in need of space, so prioritize creating a safe and respectful environment,” she says.
2. Be genuine
“People on the receiving end of an apology can tell if it’s heartfelt or just words,” Craig warns. After you’ve taken time to reflect, choose words that are simple, straightforward, specific, and sensitive.
“When making an apology, the main key is to own up and admit that you made a mistake and say that you will work on doing better next time,” says relationship therapist Jaime Bronstein, LCSW, host of “Love Talk Live” on LA Talk Radio.
3. Take ownership of your role
Admit to your partner you know what you did; trying to underplay your role in your partner’s pain or frustration only exacerbates the problem. “Accountability should be paramount in your apology,” Miranda advises. “Instead of shifting the blame, clearly and sincerely take responsibility for your actions.”
Stick with just these two words: I’m sorry. “Pairing an apology with the ‘why’ often waters down the apology,” Craig says. You might have an explanation for why, but you shouldn’t make excuses. Keep the focus on what matters — that you feel empathy for the person you’ve mistreated.
4. Use the right words
Sometimes we don’t phrase our apologies correctly, and that can make matters worse.
Craig suggests keeping it simple. Her recommendations: “I realize when I said X, that hurt your feelings. I am sorry.” Or, “I didn’t get it at the time, but as I’ve reflected, I see when I did X, it made you feel Y. I’m sorry.”
Miranda agrees. A good apology, he says, might look like this: “I take responsibility for my actions because it was wrong of me to act that way. I should have realized how those actions would not only affect you but our relationship. However, I know that words are not enough. So, if it’s OK with you, I would love to sit down and try to find a compromise on how to fix it. I am ready to listen to you, respect your perspective, and be guided by your needs.”
Conversely, he says, a bad apology might sound like this: “Here we go again. You’re always starting things. I might have made a mistake, but it’s your fault I acted that way. I’m sorry you feel hurt, but you shouldn’t be surprised or angry. Let’s not worry about this anymore and just get over it instead, OK?”
5. Gifts are welcome
Having a talk, penning a note, writing a poem — these are all welcome ways of saying sorry. But a gift can really show your partner how much you care about their feelings. And the experts agree that knowing your loved one’s most treasured flowers is the ultimate show of connection.
Be thoughtful with a gift. “Instead of just saying you are sorry, accompany that apology with their favorite flowers and a note recognizing your mistakes and expressing how much they mean to you,” Miranda says.
And don’t underestimate the importance of special time together as a treat. “A surprise weekend getaway is a wonderful way to say ‘I’m sorry,’ especially if the reason you are apologizing is due to a lack of prioritizing the other person and the relationship,” Bronstein says. “Your gesture will mean that you will be spending more time together to bond and build up a better connection.”
Just don’t overdo it. Sending flowers with every apology shows a lack of understanding and intimacy. “You don’t want to give the same gift every time you say you’re sorry, especially if it’s frequently, because the gift will lose its meaning,” she says.
6. Give space for your partner to respond
Your partner may not be able to forgive you for certain things right away, and that’s OK. “They might want to reaffirm boundaries or perhaps ask for more space, but it is imperative to give them the opportunity to express their needs,” Miranda says. “This is your opportunity to not only make amends but to grow as you learn from your mistakes.” Take time to listen to them.
7. Think beyond today
Your relationship is bigger than this one issue. “Forward thinking helps your partner feel like you care enough to think about the future,” Craig says. “Use statements like ‘Next time I will do X instead’ or ‘I think in the future I want to do X because I care about your feelings.'” And then, follow through. Otherwise, your apologies are vacuous.
8. Actions DO speak louder than words
Verbal apologies are important, but your behavior is what your partner will notice. If you say I’m sorry for leaving your shoes in front of the door, but you continue to leave them there every day after work, your words mean nothing.
“After an apology, you need to show your significant other that you have changed, and the only true tell-tale sign that you have changed is time,” Bronstein says. “That’s why it’s important to say, ‘Please, let me show you that I can do better. I know it will take time, but I promise you won’t have to deal with this again. Once again, I am truly sorry.'”
Words flow easily for some. You may say the right things but not show that you respect your partner by hearing their hurt and making meaningful change. “A genuinely remorseful partner is one that is willing to show you with actions, not just words, that they are accountable and ready to make amends,” Miranda says.