Every relationship includes the dreaded “I’m sorry.” We all make mistakes. Many times one needs to be sorry, while the other one needs to be able to receive the apology. This exchange restores the experience of love.

Apologies are necessary. But more often than we like to admit, saying I’m sorry can actually be a way of saying, “Now, get off my back.” If that’s where you are, then move past that attitude and consider what you really want. Do you want the experience of love? Do you want peace and harmony? Are you past playing games? If so, then take the time to plan what you will say when you find yourself in hot water.

Apologizing needs to include what happened so that both of you are talking about the same thing in the same way. Admitting the hurt or upset you may have caused will ease the tension. Saying I’m sorry begins a natural conversation for your partner to express how they feel. Then asking for forgiveness will lead to what’s needed to restore the relationship.

What if they don’t accept?

This is the hardest part. Sometimes, no matter what you say or do, it isn’t enough. This includes apologies to anyone. Sometimes people may hesitate to forgive because they need something from you or just need more time. Or perhaps you are someone whose I’m sorry has become impotent. You’ve used it loosely so often that your partner can’t even hear you. Ask them then, what can I do to make this right, can we brainstorm together? This shows that you are willing to do whatever it takes to fix things. You may not understand their emotions, but it is important to allow for their experience.

A formula to accept an apology

Accepting an apology isn’t always easy either. Sometimes it’s the depth of the trespass that gets in the way. We all have a line and perhaps that line has been crossed. Maybe your partner has done the same offenses again and again. Then it might feel like a throwaway when they say I’m sorry. It’s a big deal, but if you are going to stay in the relationship, then regardless of your opinion or how you feel about it, you must get to a place where you can authentically accept the apology.

Cathy and Kirk after 15 years together have had their opportunities to say I’m sorry. And just like all Loving couples they always look for better ways to eliminate distance between them. Thank you and the do-over game is a winner!

Listen to the apology with “all of you,” not just your ears, but with your heart and your soul. Be honest about what you will need, and if you need more time, ask for it. You might not get everything you want or need, but the conversation can help you begin to authentically accept the apology.  To forgive is to ‘atone’ and atonement (at-one-ment) allows you to close the gap and become one again. 

Can an apology be replaced?

You’ve likely been taught that an apology, when needed, cannot be replaced with anything else. Or can it? Instead of avoiding and saying nothing, try replacing that I’m sorry with two different words—thank you. Not an off-handed kind of thank you but one that could change a mistake into a learning moment for you. If you have an impotent I’m sorry, then thanking your partner for working through something yet again might land much better. It could open up a new conversation that makes a difference.

Naturally, you will need to test this out yourself—which is exactly what I expect you to do. It will take some thought as you start because there will be times when a regular I’m sorry will seem to be the only choice. Try thank you a few times, and you will see where it can be a favorable option. When I practice, I find that it takes some consideration as to how the thank you might fit.

For example, I was walking deep in thought through the house to get to the kitchen. I passed my spouse along the way and he asked me a detailed question. One that I didn’t have the mental space for at the time. I was sharp-tongued as I told him, “I can’t deal with this right now.” Argh! I realized right at that moment that I had slipped into a bad habit of being dismissive when I don’t have time. Never having time to do it right but always having time to do it over, I went back to him and got his attention. I said, “Thank you—thank you for not having a reaction to my attitude, can I do that over?” And I did! You can see in this instance I’m sorry would be the usual response and might have gotten the job done. Saying thank you though gave us a different kind of do-over that I’m sorry may not have. The remorse and feeling bad went away immediately.

Swapping out these words is a small change to make. It will take a bit more effort at first, but it’s worth it for the amazing impact. Sometimes you might have noticed feeling guilty when you say I’m sorry so often. It can cast a dark shadow over the conversation—like starting things off on the wrong foot. Switching that negative I’m sorry to a positive thank you can move you more quickly to recovery. You will spend less time mentally obsessing over your screw-up.  Because your genuine thank you provides a natural segue to being together with ease.

I have found this approach handles more than about half of the I’m sorry(s) I deliver. With practice you will learn when I’m sorry or thank you is better suited. As an example, I accidentally knocked over a good friend’s favorite vase. It went crashing to the floor. I hardly think thank you would have been appropriate. The better response was “I’m sorrylet’s get you a new vase.”

You will find your communications improve if you put this practice in place.  It will transform uncomfortable exchanges into something constructive and upbeat. 

What more could you ask for? 

You’re welcome 🙂

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