The Art of Apology
Five Tips For Men

By Genie Joseph, Ph.D.

The fact is -- being in a relationship means you are going to do things – or not do things – that displease your woman. It is a fact of life that women have all kinds of mysterious things they want and need, and don’t always know how to ask for them in kind or direct ways.  I say mysterious, because it probably feels mysterious to you, whereas to her it is totally obvious what she needs and why. This means that you are going to miss a beat when it comes to something important to her.  If this relationship is important to you, you want to master the art of apology, because it saves time and quickly gets you back on track with good feelings. .

Some men think that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  Get over this idea, because it takes a lot of strength and sense of self to be able to apologize.  Women appreciate a genuine apology and take it as a sign that you take her feelings seriously.

There is not just one way to resolve hurt feelings and disappointed expectations, which are usually at the basis of a woman’s need for an apology.  There are as many ways to apologize as there are apologizers.  Some methods are more effective than others with your partner.  A simple “I’m sorry” may really do it for some women. Others need to know that you understand what they are feeling, or what need of hers didn’t get met, or to understand that you regret your actions.  In this case, a simple two-word apology is not going to do the job.  But the right kind of apology will work like a charm.

According to Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, who wrote the book The Five Languages of Apology, there are very specific ways to get the job done. If you have offended your woman by missing a beat that was important to her, disappointed her, or forgot something that she valued, or used words that she interpreted as hurtful, or didn’t meet some need – you are a candidate for an apology. It is a sign of strength to be big enough to apologize if you have done something that triggered an upset.

Here is a summary of five principles to help you understand the art of apology in a manner that will best meet her needs. Remember, this is not so much admitting you are wrong, as it is acknowledging that she had a need (or expectation) that wasn’t met.

The Art of Apology Tip # 1 – Express Regret

Women who are feeling hurt by you often need to know that you truly regret her pain. You may or may not regret your action, or may have been unable to prevent this action, but she needs to know that you are sorry or sad to see it caused her pain. If this is her issue, make sure to include words that indicate that you know she is suffering, and that this wasn’t your intention. If this is her need, these words will be like a combination lock to her emotional safe. She will open right up when she feels a GENUINE expression of regret. Here is an example of the art of apology, with  expressing regret:

“I am really sorry you had to wait at that bus stop in the dark. That must have been scary in that neighborhood  I am sorry my phone was dead, and I couldn’t reassure you I was on my way.”

The Art of Apology Tip # 2 – Accept Responsibility

For a woman whose need is to know that you “get it,” that you did something that triggered a response in her, it is very important that your apology include the specific words that acknowledge that something you did (or didn’t do) didn’t meet her needs. You do not want to get into a verbal tango about who did what, who didn’t ask for what, because this is argumentative. What you want to do is immediately and directly address the fact that your actions didn’t meet her needs. If she needs you to accept responsibility, this will go a long way to making her feel loved.  Here is an example of accepting responsibility:

“Listening is such an important part of a strong relationship, but once again, I blew it. You needed me to listen and hear you, and I basically just ignored your need.”

The Art of Apology Tip # 3 – Make Restitution

If this is not the first instance of a particular upset, it may be particularly important to her to hear a short, direct statement of your commitment to behave differently in the future. This is re-committing to her happiness and will go a long way to redeeming yourself in her eyes. She is probably feeling a host of emotions if this is not the first transgression. She may be feeling sad as she imagines you don’t care about her issue, or frustrated that this pattern hasn’t changed, or angry that you are not considering her needs. All of these feelings (and more) mean she needs a declaration from you that you wish to do better in the future. It is best not to assume that you know exactly what she needs, because you might have an idea that is different from her actual need. In this case, ask the question!  Find out from her what you can do to make it better. Here are some examples of how to make restitution that will melt her heart:

“What can I do to make sure I don’t take your feelings for granted in the future?”


“I realize now that you needed more help.  What can I do to fix it now?”


“In the future, how can I know what you really need?”

The Art of Apology Tip # 4 – Genuinely Repent

If she needs you to repent, this means she really needs to know that you get how much what you did (or didn’t do) to upset her. You need to show her that you understand the depth and breadth of her upset. She will not give up or let go of her upset until she sees that you are truly sorry for what you did or didn’t do. To do this effectively, you show her that you empathize with her upset.  You are expressing your own true desire to change, for your own growth, as well as her happiness.  You are not just trying to wiggle out of the situation and get laid!  If she needs genuine repentance, she needs to see that you are a wiser man.  Be very specific about what actions you will take and how you plan to change. Don’t make generic character promises like “I’ll be nicer.” Those are impossible to fulfill. Here is an example of the art of apolgy with genuine repentance:

“I realize what I said was wrong. It hurt you. That wasn’t what I meant to do. I will not make insensitive comments about your family again.”

The Art of Apology Tip # 5 Request Forgiveness:

After you have used one or more of these methods of apology, come right out and ask for forgiveness.  She may not be able to give it in the moment you are asking, but by putting that request out there, it gets her mind focused on doing that, even if she is not ready right now.  You can also ask her specifically, “What can I do to get you to forgive me?” Again this gets her mind focusing on a positive future, and redirects her attention from what you have done wrong, and onto what you can do right next time.  Here are a couple of examples of how to apologize by asking for forgiveness.

“I am sincerely sorry and ask you to forgive me.” Or “I know you are hurt.  But can you ever forgive me?”  or “I blew it. Can you forgive me?”

The moral of the story is that apology is a part of relationship life, and both partners need to help each other learn how to do it promptly and effectively. If apology is new to you, it may seem like you are giving something up. What will discover is that if you do it well, you gain harmony and happiness. You save a lot of time and effort by ending fights faster. That is the art of apology.

The bigger person will apologize first and be a good role model for the other.  We are more likely to apologize quickly if we trust that our partner consistently does the same.  Remember, whatever you are fighting about is probably not even going to matter a year from now, so why not get busy apologizing, and get back to loving right now!

We offer coaching sessions to help couples identify what they need to do to get their love lives back on track. Give us a shout!

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