Have you ever found the words “I’m sorry” fall short of accomplishing anything? Sometimes they seem to hover ineptly above us. Not only do they fail to penetrate the hurt of the other person, they leave us feeling foolish, confused, and frustrated. Rather than repairing the damage, they increase the divide leaving us both feeling angry and misunderstood. As the apologizer, we may even come to the conclusion that it isn’t worth the trouble. And yet, without it, our relationships suffer.
Here’s why it often goes wrong. For the words “I’m sorry” to hold any true meaning, two fundamental things are required: Head and Heart.
When we are hurt, especially by a loved one, we want them to know the reasons we feel hurt or injured. Our desire to feel understood is profound, even if it is never verbalized. That is why an apology that lacks clear understanding, whether it’s made out of pity or love, falls short of repairing the damage.
To get it right: Ask questions to learn, or clarify, why the other person is sad or hurt. Seek to understand them and your apology - if sincere - will have true depth and meaning.
Being understood is important for any apology. But so is the feeling that we matter. We want the other person to feel a concern that we were hurt and a desire to make it better. Without that, the words “I’m sorry” seem intended only to appease us, not to repair. And they fail to do so.
To get it right: Genuinely show you care about the other person and their concerns. Validate their feelings. Acknowledge the reasons you are sorry and find out what they need (from you) to move on.
When both our head and our heart feel satisfied, an apology feels sincere and is easy to accept. We can move forward with renewed trust and a deeper more meaningful love and understanding of each other. With head and heart, our apologies are accepted, and our relationships can be repaired.