How to stop over-apologizing in your relationship

Discover how apologizing too much affects yourself and your relationship and learn how to break the habit of over-apologizing!

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Have you ever found yourself uttering “I’m sorry” more than necessary, even when you’re not at fault? Over-apologizing is a common habit that can undermine your confidence and negatively impact your relationships. It’s important to remember that apologizing has its place, but when it becomes excessive, it can create a dynamic that’s neither healthy nor empowering.

Let’s delve deeper into what over-apologizing is, why people tend to over-apologize, and how to break this habit. To further equip yourself with strategies for dealing with relationship hurdles, explore our guide on dealing with conflicts and challenges in relationships.

What is over-apologizing?

What is over-apologizing?

Over-apologizing is the tendency to say “I’m sorry” excessively, often in scenarios where an apology is not truly needed. This includes instances when you find yourself apologizing for circumstances beyond your control or for merely expressing your own feelings and views.

At first glance, this pattern might seem harmless, but it can have a significantly negative effect on your personal and relational health. It’s crucial to understand the impact of over-apologizing and the reasons behind it.

If you want to learn more about the subject of apologizing in relationships, check out our guide on how to effectively apologize in relationships.

Why do people over-apologize?

Apologizing excessively can be rooted in various underlying factors. Understanding these reasons can shed light on why individuals tend to over-apologize. Let’s explore three common causes in more detail.


Many over-apologizers are people-pleasers who prioritize the happiness and approval of others above their own well-being. They may harbor a fear of disappointing or upsetting those around them, leading them to over-apologize in an attempt to maintain peace and avoid conflict. By constantly saying sorry, they hope to ensure that others perceive them as accommodating and agreeable.

Low Self-Esteem

Individuals with low self-esteem often over-apologize as a reflection of their self-perception. They may habitually assume blame even when they are not at fault, believing that they are inherently in the wrong. This over-compensatory behavior with frequent apologies stems from a lack of self-confidence and a tendency to prioritize the needs and feelings of others over their own.

Fear of Conflict or Rejection

The fear of conflict or rejection can also drive people to over-apologize. This fear stems from an intense desire to maintain relationships without encountering disagreement or potential rejection. By excessively apologizing, individuals hope to smooth over any possible conflicts and preserve a sense of harmony, even at the expense of their own boundaries or personal needs.

Do you struggle with over-apologizing, or do you have a hard time saying sorry? Find out what couples get wrong about apologies!

Is over-apologizing bad in a relationship?

Apologies, when sincere and appropriately placed, can undoubtedly enhance interpersonal trust and improve your relationship. According to a study, even apologizing for factors beyond your control can have a positive impact on your relationships. 1 For instance, imagine you’ve organized an outdoor event, and suddenly, there’s a downpour. In such cases, offering an apology for the weather-related inconvenience can contribute to fostering interpersonal trust. In essence, such gestures of consideration and empathy seem to bolster bonds.

However, research indicates that if someone apologizes in a situation where their skills or abilities matter, it can actually make others see them as less competent. In other words, when someone admits fault in a context where being competent is important, it can affect how others perceive their overall competence. 2 . So, especially in a work context, it is essential to consider when apologies are genuinely necessary.

Research indicates that in some cases, individuals experience regret after apologizing. Why is this so? One possible reason that an individual feels a sense of regret after an apology is when they say sorry for something they don’t believe was their fault to begin with. Often the fear of negative consequences or retaliation can compel them to apologize, even if they don’t feel responsible for what happened. 3

Also, societal norms and expectations around politeness often play a significant role in this regard. Individuals may end up saying sorry, not out of genuine remorse, but to align with these norms, effectively making their apology a performative act. These apologies, stemming more from fear or societal pressure than sincere remorse, often leave behind a lingering feeling of regret. 3

An effective way to gauge if over-apologizing is becoming a problem in your life is by tuning into your feelings post-apology. If you often sense regret or discomfort following your apologies, it’s a sign that you may need to reassess your approach. This could indicate that it’s time to deeply reflect on the circumstances that genuinely warrant an apology. By doing so, you can ensure that your apologies are meaningful, sincere, and appropriate rather than becoming a reflexive habit.

Too much can be just as bad as too little! Discover possible reasons why your partner refuses to apologize.

4 Steps to Stop Over-Apologizing

Apologizing is a valuable social tool, but when it becomes excessive and unnecessary, it can hinder our self-esteem and undermine the authenticity of our interactions. Breaking the habit of over-apologizing involves becoming more aware of your emotions, beliefs, and triggers.

Here are four steps to help you on this journey:

1. Pause and Reflect Before Apologizing

Many of us are quick to say “I’m sorry” before we’ve fully assessed a situation. This immediate reaction, often driven more by habit than necessity, can be changed by learning to pause and reflect before jumping to an apology. As simple as it sounds, this mindful pause is a powerful tool that provides time to understand the context and your role in it more clearly.

Use this pause to objectively evaluate what just happened. Did your actions or words cause any harm? Was there a misunderstanding? If so, an apology may be warranted. However, if you’re inclined to apologize for expressing your feelings, asserting your boundaries, or for something beyond your control, it’s time to reassess.

Remember, you don’t need to apologize for:

Ask yourself: “Am I genuinely required to apologize, or am I defaulting to an ingrained pattern?” This self-evaluation can be challenging, especially if you’re accustomed to frequent apologizing. However, with practice, this mindful approach can lead to healthier communication, improved self-esteem, and more balanced relationships.

2. Understand Your Triggers

The next step involves identifying your personal triggers that lead to over-apologizing. These triggers can range from particular situations to specific emotional states or even your partner’s certain behaviors.

For instance, you might find yourself over-apologizing when disagreements or conflicts arise in your relationship. This could be a sign that you’re using apologies as a defense mechanism to avoid confrontation or to quickly restore peace. Another trigger could be moments of vulnerability; you may over-apologize when expressing your feelings or needs, interpreting these acts as potential inconveniences for your partner.

Even certain behaviors or moods of your partner can act as triggers. You might notice a surge in apologies when your partner is stressed or upset, driven by a desire to placify the situation or to prevent further conflict.

Upon identifying these triggers, it’s crucial to delve deeper and understand the associated emotions and beliefs. Does conflict in your relationship make you anxious, causing you to resort to unnecessary apologies? By understanding these triggers, you can consciously differentiate between when an apology is genuinely required and when it’s a reflexive response.

3. Rephrase Your Concern

Changing how you express yourself can help you stop over-apologizing in a relationship. Instead of constantly saying, “I’m sorry,” you can use more confident and assertive language that reflects your viewpoint without undermining your self-esteem.

Let’s consider a situation where you’re running a little late. Rather than starting the conversation with, “I’m sorry for being late,” try expressing it as, “Thank you for your patience.” This subtle change not only acknowledges the situation but also conveys your gratitude, reinforcing positivity. Adopting this method of rephrasing concerns can be an empowering move towards mitigating the habit of over-apologizing, consequently fostering healthier communication within your relationship.

4. Practice Self-Awareness & Self-Compassion to Avoid Reflexive Apologies

Fostering self-awareness is a pivotal strategy in curbing the habit of over-apologizing. It involves keeping an eye on your thoughts, emotions, and responses in various situations, particularly those triggering reflexive apologies. For example, noticing your impulse to apologize when your partner is upset can help you understand this as a reaction pattern rather than a genuine necessity for an apology.

Equally important is practicing self-compassion, the act of extending kindness to oneself, particularly during challenging situations or perceived missteps. This means instead of resorting to an immediate “I’m sorry” when you’ve made a mistake, take a moment to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes—it’s part of being human. A response such as, “I see that I made a mistake here, and I’m learning from it,” can replace a knee-jerk apology while acknowledging the situation.

Inculcating self-awareness and self-compassion is a journey, not a destination. It may take time and practice to replace reflexive apologies with these mindful responses. However, in the long run, these practices not only reduce the urge to over-apologize but also contribute significantly to your overall emotional health and the quality of your relationships.

Unlearning over-apologizing is a journey that requires time, patience, and above all, kindness towards yourself. The key is to start small, and gradually, you’ll see a positive shift not only in the way you communicate but also in how you perceive yourself in your relationship. To explore more about nurturing effective communication in relationships, check out our communication guide for couples.

  1. Brooks, A. W., Dai, H., and Schweitzer, M. E. (2014). I’m sorry about the rain! Superfluous apologies demonstrate empathic concern and increase trust. Soc. Psychol. Pers. Sci. 5, 467–474. ↩︎

  2. Chaudhry, S. J., & Loewenstein, G. (2019). Thanking, apologizing, bragging, and blaming: Responsibility exchange theory and the currency of communication. Psychological Review, 126(3), 313–344. ↩︎

  3. Exline, J. J., Deshea, L., & Holeman, V. T. (2007). Is Apology Worth the Risk? Predictors, Outcomes, and Ways to Avoid Regret. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(4), 479–504. ↩︎ ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

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