6 common things couples get wrong about apologies

Discover six common mistakes couples make when it comes to apologies and learn how to avoid these pitfalls.

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Apologies play a crucial role in nurturing healthy and flourishing relationships. Many studies underline the power of verbal apologies in fostering forgiveness and reestablishing harmony between couples. 1 2 However, even though apologies hold such significance, it’s all too common for couples to stumble upon misconceptions and make mistakes when it comes to offering heartfelt apologies.

In this article, we’ll explore six errors that couples make during apologies, shedding light on how these missteps can hinder healing and impede relationship growth. By understanding these misconceptions, couples can improve their apology skills, fostering stronger connections and facilitating resolution.

Learn how to overcome any relationship hurdles with our comprehensive guide on dealing with conflicts and challenges in relationships!

1. Saying sorry without meaning it

Apologies hold immense power when they come from a place of sincerity. Yet, one common mistake couples make is saying sorry without truly meaning it. An effective apology and the subsequent act of forgiveness require us to acknowledge the existence of a problem and recognize its significance. 3

When we offer an apology without sincerely grasping the impact of our actions or the hurt we may have caused, it can undermine the healing process in our relationship. It’s crucial to take the time to reflect on the situation, empathize with our partner’s feelings, and genuinely acknowledge the problem. By doing so, we lay the foundation for a more meaningful and heartfelt apology that paves the way for true resolution and strengthens the bond between us.

2. Over-apologizing

Another common mistake couples make when it comes to apologies is over-apologizing. While it’s important to take responsibility for our actions, constantly saying sorry for every minor inconvenience or perceived mistake can diminish the impact and sincerity of our apologies.

Over-apologizing can create a dynamic where apologies lose their meaning and become a mere reflex rather than a genuine expression of remorse. It may inadvertently convey a lack of confidence or assertiveness in our own opinions and actions, potentially eroding our self-esteem and credibility within the relationship.

Are you struggling with over-apologizing? Here are effective steps you can take to stop the cycle of over-apologizing in your relationship!

3. The belief: “I apologized. Now you need to forgive me.”

Couples often hold the misconception that once an apology is offered, forgiveness should automatically follow. While apologies indeed have the potential to facilitate forgiveness and reduce negative emotions following an interpersonal transgression, it’s important to understand that forgiveness is a deeply personal and individual process. 2

Apologies act as an important step towards reconciliation, expressing remorse and a genuine desire to make amends. However, it’s crucial to recognize that forgiveness cannot be forced or expected immediately. Each person has their own unique journey of healing, and it takes time for wounds to heal and trust to be rebuilt.

Understanding the complexities of forgiveness means realizing that it extends beyond mere words. It requires a commitment to genuine change, open and honest communication, and a willingness to address the underlying issues that led to the mistake.

4. Not giving an apology in the first place

Although apologies play an essential role in repairing and rebuilding relationships, some people shy away from them. Perhaps this is due to a fear of vulnerability, a sense of shame or guilt, or simply the discomfort of exposing our mistakes.

However, not apologizing not only harms our relationship but also leaves us with feelings of unresolved guilt and regret. A study from 2007 showed that individuals tend to experience more regret about not apologizing than about offering an apology. 4

One possible explanation for this comes from research on regret, which suggests that people are more likely to regret acts of things that they have failed to do than acts of things that they have done. Furthermore, non-apologizers may miss out on the personal and relational benefits that come with extending a sincere apology. 4

Apologies not only have the power to facilitate forgiveness but also predict reconciliation and satisfaction with the outcomes. When individuals choose not to apologize, they unintentionally impede the healing process and overlook opportunities to repair and strengthen their relationship. It is understandable, therefore, that refraining from apologizing often leads to more regret than actually offering an apology.

Learn how to effectively apologize to your partner with these powerful steps!

5. Making promises you cannot keep

When it comes to apologies, one common misstep couples make is making promises they cannot keep. In the aftermath of a hurtful incident, the victim wants to be assured that the wrongful behavior will not be repeated in the future. 2

However, it is important to be cautious about making promises. Empty promises not only undermine trust but also set unrealistic expectations. It’s important to remember that rebuilding trust requires more than just words.

Instead of relying solely on promises, focus on actions that demonstrate your commitment to positive change. By actively working towards personal growth and taking responsibility for your actions, you can rebuild trust and provide the reassurance your partner needs.

6. The way of delivering an apology

One of the most important mistakes couples often make is not considering the way they deliver their apology. How an apology is communicated can have a significant impact on the willingness of the person receiving it to empathize and accept it. 2

Sincere apologies have the power to motivate forgiveness. When the person offering the apology expresses genuine remorse, it increases the effectiveness of the apology in reducing negative consequences like blame and punishment. Furthermore, research shows that a sincere apology can facilitate the cognitive and behavioral changes associated with the process of forgiveness. 5

To deliver a meaningful apology, there are key elements to consider: sincerity, empathy, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. It is crucial to genuinely and authentically express remorse, demonstrating an understanding of the impact of your behavior on the other person. 2

Discover effective strategies and techniques for delivering your apology with our guide on apologizing in relationships!

For more valuable insights and guidance on communication in relationships, visit our communication guide for couples! Discover strategies, tips, and resources to improve your communication skills and foster a strong relationship.

  1. Forster, D. E., Billingsley, J., Burnette, J. L., Lieberman, D., Ohtsubo, Y., & McCullough, M. E. (2021). Experimental evidence that apologies promote forgiveness by communicating relationship value. Scientific Reports, 11(1). doi.org ↩︎

  2. Lewis, J. T., Parra, G. R., & Cohen, R. M. (2015). Apologies in Close Relationships: A Review of Theory and Research. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 7(1), 47–61. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  3. Jeffries, V. (2010). Handbook of public sociology. Choice Reviews Online, 47(09), 47–5351. doi.org ↩︎

  4. 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. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎

  5. Davis, J., & Gold, G. J. (2011). An examination of emotional empathy, attributions of stability, and the link between perceived remorse and forgiveness. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 392–397. doi.org ↩︎

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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