I messed up recently and it became clear to me really fast that I owed my friend the best apology I could come up with on the fly.
I thought back to when one of my boyfriends cheated on me and what he did right, and wrong, in his apology, and did my best to follow these steps.
- Name your error. If you made a mistake, own it. In the case of infidelity: “You and I had an agreement to be exclusive with each other and have a romantic relationship with just each other. I broke that agreement, and your trust” is a good example. “I’m sorry I hurt you” is not. Fully acknowledge all of your mistakes. Sometimes there’s more than one. In this situation you could add, “I also lied to you when you asked me about what was going on with this other person, further violating your trust, and hid the evidence of what was happening so you wouldn’t find out.”
- Express your understanding of the harm you created. So what you did was bad – you need to show your person that you get it by explaining that you understand the impact your actions had on that person. Good example: “You fully trusted me, and I violated that trust. You feel betrayed by me. You feel as if I don’t care about you, or our relationship. You feel unloved and unvalued.”
- Try to stay away from explaining the mitigating factors. Examples: “I was drunk” and “We haven’t had sex in a really long time, so I was already on edge.” It’s tempting to bring in mitigating factors to explain why you did what you did, so you can feel less bad about how you messed up, but try not to make those the focus of your apology. The mitigating factors don’t change what happened. You’re trying to show that you get just how badly you messed up, and no matter what your intentions may have been, it doesn’t change the action, or the harm your actions caused.
- Express regret. Are you sorry? Say so. But don’t just say “I’m sorry.” – that phrase is so overused so as to basically be useless. Explain what that means to you. Something like “I am deeply regretful of my actions. I wish I could go back and undo all of this. I hate that I have caused you this much pain.” And please for the love of God do not say “I’m sorry you feel that way.” – that’s the best way to basically tell your person that their feelings are invalid.
- Repair. So what are you going to do to make up for your error? How are you going to make it right? You probably can’t make it all better, but an attempt toward that end, if you can make it, would go a long way. If your actions don’t align with your thoughts, say so. For example: “I know you feel like I don’t care about you or our relationship right now, but I do. I’m willing to do what it takes to make us all right, even though I just did the exact opposite.” In the case of destroyed trust, agreeing to various actions toward the goal of rebuilding of trust would be an option. You could offer suggestions or promises for things you will do, or ask for ideas from your person that would help repair their pain. Some things, such as trust, cannot be rebuilt immediately, but you can acknowledge that, as well as the fact that you plan to be there over time to make that repair to heal the pain your initial error caused.
No, I didn’t cheat on my friend, hah. 🙂 But she did accept my apology, and is still open to being my friend, for which I am grateful. 🙂