Like many good stories, this one begins with a Justin Bieber song. The song “Sorry” is about trying to apologize, which is such a pervasive and common feeling, it’s no wonder the song is played out on nearly every pop station in America. Because nobody in a relationship has ever not made a mistake, apologies are an integral part of any good couple.
That’s why pencils have erasers.
Some pencils have really shitty erasers, though. They muck up the page with smeared lead so bad that it might have been better if you just hadn’t tried using it at all.
Just like erasers are meant to rectify a mistake, so too are apologies. And just like a bad eraser will sometimes leave you worse than you were before you used it, so too will bad apologies. I’ve had partners on both ends of the unproficient apology spectrum. I’ve had some who won’t utter any phrase close to an apology, even when they knew full well they were wrong. I’ve also had partners who will gush the word sorry at the nearest sign of dissatisfaction; they apologize for everything from looking at you wrong to saying sorry too much.
Apologies are a powerful tool in any relationship. I’ve always preferred partners who don’t use them so much that the phrase loses meaning. But I’ve also been frustrated by partners who are too stubborn to acknowledge their own flaws. As far as apologies go, I’ve found some winning strategies for giving and receiving them…
Proficiently Giving Apologies:
- Ask Yourself the Question
What did I do wrong?
Apologies are about recognizing mistakes that you’ve made. While you may not feel like you’ve done anything wrong, you’re partner probably wouldn’t be upset if you were right about that. Spend some time thinking about it. Nobody bats a thousand. You’ll probably find something to apologize about if you put enough thought into it.
- Don’t Give a Fake Apology
These insults include phrases that start with something like:
I’m sorry that you feel…
I’m sorry if something I did…
They start as an apology, but quickly just shift the blame onto the recipient of the “apology”. Which I find worse than not apologizing at all. Giving people these conversational wolves in sheep’s clothing is tantamount to saying “Things are bad, I understand that it’s your fault and you have my pity.”
When I’m apologizing, I think it’s important to own my behavior. I’ll start an apology with:
I’m really sorry that I…
I’d like to apologize for when I...
There have been times I’ve felt I shouldn’t apologize and that they were overreacting. But even then, I feel like I’ve gotta take some ownership of the mess and start off with “I’m sorry for saying…” and then wrapping it up with “…if I would have known [XYZ reasons why I should be more sensitive to the issue], I wouldn’t have done that”
- Be on Time
Don’t give your apology too late. Don’t give it too early either. Apologies don’t always have to be Gandalf punctual, but it’s best to pace yourself so you don’t make yourself look reckless. I’ve had people waste an apology by trying to give it when I was still fired the fuck up and not ready to hear them say anything. I’ve learned that I need to give myself time to calm down before I am capable of forgiveness. Similarly, I’ve had people deliver an apology after so long that I had already resolved myself to have a life without them and there wasn’t an emotion left to salvage.
- Use a Peace Offering
The olive branch comes in many forms. Flowers with an “I’m sorry” card? Cook them their favorite meal? Get them tickets to that thing they really love? Maybe do the weird stuff for them? I’ve made an olive branch out of doing stuff in the bedroom that I know they like, but I am less than excited about. Sexual antics that I am sparsely interested in make excellent fodder for an overdue apology. I have a few items that aren’t hard limits, but they’re certainly the kind of thing I’ll only do for a birthday/valentines present, or when I fuck up real bad and need to show them that I’m willing to put my preferences at a lower priority than their satisfaction. Giving someone a verbal apology is swell, but it helps make the apology feel real when there’s something tangible exchanged as well.
- Forward After Forgiveness
If you had the stones to muster and craft a proper apology, that is an achievement. I don’t mean to downplay those efforts, but the best that will get you is a chance to show that you can fix things. Face front, true believer. I always feel like I have a greater sense of closure when I’m giving/hearing an apology that ends with something that can be changed to mitigate problems in the future. The art of apologizing up until this is just foreplay to establish a method of preventative measures.
Apologies, like buttsex, rely heavily on someone who knows how to give well. But it still won’t be any good if the recipient doesn’t know how to take it. That being said, consider the previous five guidelines as just the tip of my apology experience. Take a deep breath, relax and consider:
Proficiently Receiving Apologies
- Ask Yourself the Question
What did I do wrong?
When a relationship hits a snag, it’s exceptionally rare for the blame to fall solely on one person’s shoulders. Sure they might be due a much bigger chunk of the fault, but you probably could have handled something better too. If you expect them to acknowledge their fault, you should be ready to admit something as simple as “I could have handled things better too”.
- Don’t Force an Apology
Never use the phrase “You owe me an apology”. Saying that invalidates any apology you might receive because after you say it, you can never be certain you’re receiving an earnest apology and not just an empty concession. Telling someone they owe you an apology is -at best- a power play that’s a hefty bit of basic. It establishes that you don’t actually want to talk; you want them to admit to being wrong. If you have that little respect for the person, why do you even want to resolve your issues?
While it’s a bad idea to force an apology, it can be really great to guide someone to the opportunity to apologize. I try bringing up the grievance that I have without saying something that will put them on the defensive. A favorite of mine is “I was uncomfortable with the way you ENTER SHITTY BEHAVIOR HERE. Could we talk about that?”
- Give one Back
They had the fortitude to initiate this recognition of faults. They started with themselves, which takes guts. Seeing as how they’ve cast themselves on the ground, go meet them down there and come back up together. If it’s a one-sided apology, the delivering party can leave feeling like their emotions aren’t valued. Even a phrase as simple as “I’m sorry I put you in a situation where…” or “I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough when…” If you’re too dang proud to use the S word, at least give them some empathy with “That was very unlike you, I was mostly worried. Are you doing okay?”
- Seal the Forgiveness
The person apologizing might feel indebted to you in some way. Even if they are, that’s a really unpleasant way to feel in a healthy relationship. Make a joke about it all at their expense. Tell them they owe you a foot rub. Have makeup sex…but hatefuck them. Let them do something for you that makes them feel like they’ve repaid the transgression. I’d hate to think you resolved your differences, but still have a sink full of dirty dishes…
- Forward After Forgiveness
Just like it takes two to fuck things up, it takes two to fix ’em. The person most grieved is unfortunately the most responsible for coming up with the solution. Given that the other person was more wrong, it falls on you to show them the right way. If the person who fucked up knew how to act in the first place, there wouldn’t be a need to apologize. If I’m ready to forgive them, I’ll start of with a “In the future, I would appreciate if you…”
I limit myself to a good, metric ten guidelines, but I’m sure I missed a few great ideas! What works for you? What do good apologies look like? How’s about bad ones? Any good olive branches that you’ve had? Post in the comments and happy hunting for forgiveness!