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Is it hard for you to apologize to your partner? Is your partner apology-challenged?

Your relationship communication will improve when your “sorry” becomes more effective. Today we’ll look at how to apologize better:

  • We’ll look at 3 types of lousy apologies so we can spot the bad habits
  • We’ll clean those up with 4 specific steps to make your apology shine
  • I’ll offer you a date night discussion to help you listen with love to your partner instead of proving that you’re right and why that makes all the difference


If you’d prefer to read a transcript of this episode, click here.

A deeper apology will strengthen your relationship

The truth is, if you’re going to live with your partner, day in and day out, for years, you’re going to hurt each others’ feelings. The good news is that a rock-solid apology can actually strengthen your relationship.

Why? Because an insightful apology acknowledges the pain of your conflict, then imagines how you can learn from it and grow: together.

A deep apology at my house contains 4 steps:

  1. Say the word “sorry” or something similar
  2. Take responsibility for your behavior
  3. Acknowledge your partner’s feeling
  4. Offer a plan for change

Here are the prompts for how to speak aloud these intentions:

  • I’m sorry…
  • I did…
  • You feel…
  • I want to do better, so my plan is…

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How do you turn my lousy apology into an effective one?

We’re gonna look at an example of a bad apology. Then we’ll tweak that apology to foster intimacy and connection.

But before we do that, let’s talk about how damaging it is for your relationship to boil things down to I’m right and you’re wrong.

Instead of these I’m right/you’re wrong labels, let’s notice the behavior each person wants, instead of blaming them.

Remember what Chantel taught us in episode 48? We want to assume positive intent.

You and your partner are both trying your best to connect, there’s just something in the way. When we can find that something and offer compassion, the problem usually solves itself.


“But” cancels out your good apology

In this situation River and Ash have 2 kids. They’ve agreed family dinners are important and the kids need to be in bed by 8:00 to get a good night’s sleep.

River has a demanding job, and works late on a regular basis, arriving home at 7:45. Ash feels resentment, and loneliness each time River comes home late.
Ash complains at the late arrival.

“I’m sorry,” says River, “but my co-worker really needed my help on this project. I’m the one everyone leans on at work and I can never get out of there on time.”

Lets look at what River could have done better in their apology:


Step 1: Say the word “sorry” or something similar

In this case the word “sorry” is canceled out with the, “but…”

As we’ve talked about previously, the word “but” erases everything that was just said. If you say (or hear) “I’m sorry but…” you’d be better off with no apology, because this one ain’t gonna bring any healing.


Step 2: Take responsibility for your behavior

This portion of the apology is meant to be a confession. But instead of a confession, River uses this opportunity to talk about how important and indispensable they are at work.

River is justifies their actions instead of taking responsibility.


Step 3: Acknowledge your partners feelings

River skips right over this step. River doesn’t try to understand how Ash feels as a result of their behavior.


Step 4: Offer a plan for change

Instead of a promise to do better in the future, River emphasizes why they’re right. “I’m the one everyone leans on.”

How does this non-apology feel to Ash? Ash now feels even more invisible and unimportant than if River have said nothing at all. These two are now further alienated than before.

Date Night Discussion

This week let yourselves talk about step 3: how does your partner feel when you’ve hurt their feelings?

Do these two things as your partner begins to tell you how they feel:

  • Listen to your partner’s feelings
  • Calm your inner lizard who is terrified that listening in this way means you’ll be indicted

You can read the full date night discussion here.

Your apology will improve when you find your worth

I used to suck at apologies. That’s because I found my worth in being right. Being functional. Having it all together. And I didn’t let myself value what I wanted as much if not more than I valued what my husband wanted.

When you’re locating your worth in being right or in your accomplishments, it’s difficult to apologize.

The thing about worthiness is that the more worthy you feel, the less compelled you are to prove your worth.

When you know you’re worthy, you reach for the connection, because you want to be close to your partner. You want to understand your partner. You want your partner to know and understand you.

Try this: 

This week’s habit for your happily ever after is to practice apologizing to yourself. Use all 4 steps. Speak your apology out loud, or write it in a journal.

When you learn to apologize to yourself, you become infinitely more gracious to others.

Here’s an example:

Step 1: Hey Rebecca, I’m sorry I didn’t take better care of what I fed you yesterday.

Step 2: I get tired in the afternoon, and, instead of just laying myself down and taking a rest, I eat junky food and watch some inane clip on YouTube.

Step 3: I know this is a frustrating cycle for you. I know you feel out of control when I don’t feed you well. And I know it’s overwhelming when I don’t let you rest when you’re tired.

Step 4: In the future, I’m going to try a little afternoon habit of laying down. At the end of that lay down, I’ll take a moment to notice how hungry you are. And I’ll also notice what food you’d truly like to eat.

You have realizations about your own needs when you purposefully go through these steps to offer yourself a true apology.

If you want to get better at apologies with your partner, start by offering a strong apology to yourself.

Click here to read the full text of this podcast episode.

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