The Apology Hack that Gets Better Results than “I’m sorry”

how to apologizeWhich of these apologies sounds more powerful coming from your man?

“I’m sorry your feelings got hurt.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

Have you ever gotten an apology that didn’t feel like an apology at all?

It didn’t really make you feel better, did it?

Apologies with qualifiers don’t work. Okay, so they kind of work. At bare minimum, they demonstrate an attempt to mend things. But they also come off sounding insincere. It’s a missed opportunity for healing.

An apology that seems to be focused on letting yourself off the hook just doesn’t have much impact. In contrast, an apology that focuses on acknowledging another person’s pain can be profoundly healing.

Men and women talk about their emotional wounds differently in close relationships. Ask a man why he is frustrated and he is likely to say he was “blown off” or “disrespected.”

In contrast, women tend to talk about “feeling hurt” by a partner’s actions. Sadly, the language we use to express our feelings sets us up for apologies that only go halfway.

Consider this hypothetical: You’re on your way to a party. He’s certain he knows the way, but he ends up getting lost. You’re not overly worried about getting there on time–it’s a party. No one’s going to be on time. So, to lighten the mood, you make a joke about his lack of navigational skills.

He clenches the steering wheel. He’s wondering why you would kick him while he’s down. He feels disrespected.

But you didn’t mean to disrespect him! You were only making a joke. So you say, “I’m sorry you felt disrespected. I was only kidding.”

That sounds like a good apology, right? But there’s a problem. Instead of hearing what you said, he’ll hear something totally different. Something along the lines of, “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I’ll jump through the hoop of an apology if it will help you to feel better. (Even though I really shouldn’t have to. Because I didn’t do anything wrong.)”

Telling him you’re sorry he felt disrespected doesn’t work because it does nothing to address his emotional pain. Instead of validating how he feels, he’s likely to think you’re doing the opposite. In trying to make the distinction that you didn’t mean to hurt him, you run the risk of making things worse.

So, what’s a girl to do?

Say you’re sorry the way he wants to hear it. The way he needs to hear it. Simply say, “I’m sorry I disrespected you.”

Wait a minute! Hold on. That makes it sound like you’re to blame!

You’re right. It does. But that’s not the point. The goal is to remove the obstacle that’s holding the two of you apart. If he needs to hear an apology that matches his perspective in order to let go of his emotional pain, isn’t that what really matters?

A lot of women worry the guy will take advantage if they say they’re sorry for something they never intended to do. However, the truth is that rarely happens. Even if he seems angry, underneath his rage he’s really just hurting.

When you address his emotions by offering a no-strings-attached apology, you’re freeing him from that pain. That paves the way for the two of you to reconnect.

What’s more, when things have calmed down, you can always clarify. It’s totally okay to tell him you never meant to disrespect him. He’ll even appreciate hearing it, so long as you’ve already apologized.

The emotional healing has to happen first.

It’s a tall order. I won’t deny that. When you feel 100% certain you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s hard to offer a simple apology. Even if you understand how much more powerful that kind of apology is, some part of you will want to choose words that clearly communicate you didn’t do anything wrong.

Avoid the temptation.

how to apologizeInstead, remember what’s truly important to you. The man you care about is hurting. It’s not about whether or not you meant to hurt him. At that moment, it’s all about doing what you can to help him move past his pain.

Embrace the power of a simple, no-strings-attached apology. It can spare you hours of unnecessary tension.


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43 thoughts on “The Apology Hack that Gets Better Results than “I’m sorry”

  1. pearl said:

    Thank you for your new letters they very helpful

  2. Ally said:

    Each of your articles are so insightful, James. Thank you!

  3. jennifer said:

    Hi James,
    This article is well done, but men need to hear how to apologize the correct way too. It’s been my experience that they always say “I’m sorry but…. which is not an apology at all and only gives me the flag that given similar circumstances they’re likely to do the same thing again, and they do. It’s called ” not owning the error/mistake they made”. And yes, the same does go for women. How to make an effective apology is so important to effective communication, which, in my opinion, is one of the most important keys to long lasting and happy relationships. That being said it seems to be one of the hardest things for us humans to do. It’s takes being a true adult to admit we made a mistake, truly regret it, and are sincerely sorry.

    • James Bauer said:

      That’s right, Jennifer. The article was written for this site (which has an almost exclusively female audience), or else it would have been addressed to men (because they need to learn this more than women). It’s a helpful insight for anyone who wants to get better relationship results when apologizing.

  4. Lori said:

    Oh, but in the heat of the moment, when emotions are high on both sides, how on earth does one remember that they are to say things a certain way? Even with great effort, learning, internalizing, and understanding the concept of saying “I’m sorry I disrespected you, ” what is the key to saying and doing it right? Every man responds differently, and your man can totally throw you with their response. What do you suggest we do, James? How do we put your theory into actual practice? Thoughts? Steps? Ideas? I’d love to know; I’m sure this is a challenge that many couples face daily. Thanks.

    • James Bauer said:

      Hey Lori. The only thing to remember is this. Instead of “I’m sorry you thought I…(fill in the blank),” you want to validate the way they actually experienced it, “I’m sorry I (fill in the blank).”

      Not Great: I’m sorry you thought I was ignoring you.”
      Better: “I’m sorry I ignored you.”

      There’s plenty of time afterward to explain your own perspective.

    • Jessica said:

      What helps me the most is when I recall what You, James, have reminded us before; If in the middle if a fight we could ask ourselves do I love this person, do I want it to work. Bottom line we need to be in it to win it, or forget it. Men will tell u :that if they didn’t want to try to work it out they would walk away. So… they are trying. Arguing and fighting is just a bad habbit I believe, because no one wins if the other loses. You both want to win the best relationship, so share the bad times as much as the good. Men expect women to be nurturing, perhaps so they are sometimes abrasive in the heat if the moment so they are not be seen as weak. So nurture your man’s ego woman, and be the emotional strength he needs. Putting it in to practice is easier than u think, I make it my mantra to praise and love my relationship and hubby all day. I put him in the forfront of my mind where I wanna be in his, so when we have a disagreement I already want to please him so I will not inherently direspect him. Thanks again for revealing the respect over love hardwire in men it has made my relationship sooooo much clearer James! I am soooo thankful we are blessed with your knowlege and willingness to share and help, you are a blessing! Praise Jesus!

      • James Bauer said:

        Well said, Jessica. You’ve given us a good reminder. Create your own destiny by choosing what you focus on.

  5. Donna said:

    You’re a great writer, James; so insightful, sensitive, with wonderful command.

    I will practice this. Fear may arise when I think apologizing for nothing will paint me into a corner in my relationship. When the other person is tight, contracted and upset, given a little time, my stubborn posture will relax, then I can invariably find something to own up to. I usually experience feelings of strength and confidence when he sincerely accepts my apology. We had an incidence of this the other day. We made an agreement as a result of dropping our stance with one another and moved on.

  6. NG said:

    yes! James this is amazing! Apology without resentment (attachement) is acceptable to every body both young, old, man and woman. i have come to realise that.
    it is the right thing to do even when you do not receive same, just be focuse.

  7. Katherina said:

    James, These concepts are pure gold!! Finally, clarity on how to give others what I want to receive myself! Well done and thank you for making this so clear!

  8. Melissa said:

    Thanks for this article James, its very helpful. What would be great, would be for these kinds of principles to be taught to young people more so they are better equipped to deal with life, and then they would make adults who have more effective tools to handle relationships. Many of us just don’t have very good role models as children and don’t really know how to communicate positively or properly. That’s why we have wonderful teachers like you and hopefully we women will then set the example for our men and children and do our part to create a better world! Woo hoo!! 🙂

    • Toni said:

      Melissa,
      I totally agree! When my daughter was in 3rd grade she was being bullied. Their incredibly insightful teacher sat them both down for an “eye to eye”. She asked them to each express how they FEEL, not dispute details of various incidents and give a real apology. They both learned a lot about human nature, learned to respect each other and by the end of that school year became close friends! Today, 6 years later, they are still friends and the other girl no longer bullies others. They both learned something some adults never get. My point, yes we can and should teach our young people how to truly right a wrong. I will always be grateful to that teacher for her genius in turning a negative into a positive.

  9. Gill said:

    First – Treat them mean and keep them keen! Works every time!!! I will never sell my own feelings short just to make a man happy.
    Second – If a man feels “emotional pain” over something as trivial as taking a wrong turn in the road then I wouldn’t want someone as anal as that as a b/f!
    Get a grip ladies, I’m all for saying sorry when it’s the right thing to do, but get real and value yourselves more…..
    Remember – They chase you, not the other way round.

    • Jessica said:

      But if tou don’t let them catch you what is in it for them! Men have feelings too! It is not a hostage situation! Even in business you must play the cat and mouse. We do need to wise up and remember, Women are the Goddesses, so we must realize the power we have. A man who mistreats a women has been mistreated by a woman in his past, gaurenteed! So if you want that particular man and he is seemingly unreasonable, try building him up. Im not saying be his door mat, but the foundation of a beautiful future is what he needs to feel safe to express his feelings to you. The rough exterior is always protecting a softer inside!

  10. Libby said:

    Is it wrong to apologize through text message if that is the only way that you can?

    • James Bauer said:

      You have to work with what you’ve got. Though, sometimes time and space have a way of repairing things and allowing a fresh start. Could this be a situation where trying harder might actually be the wrong answer?

  11. Jane Scott said:

    Oh, James,

    Can you tell me if an apology is too late or too little in my situation, please?

    My man (B) have lived together for 5 years.
    Over the last year he has gone cold on me. It’s been worsening for months, and so last month I broke up with him because I value myself and couldn’t bear to be treated as if I was just a friend he didn’t mind having around.
    Two years ago I told B I wanted to date others because I needed more romance and attention in my life, and so I got involved with another man, M.
    Only when B dated another woman did I go to pieces and feel heart broken. I stopped dating M then.
    After a few months, B and I sort of said we would try and make a go of it again. But his heart was never in it like before.
    A few months ago we argued, and B said that he didn’t trust me because of my past involvement with M.
    Is it too late for an apology? I cannot tell if B is in pain, or simply turned off and done with me.
    I’m wondering if he was never really willing to ‘try again’ with me, and that really he didn’t know how to vocalise “Who do you think you are, trying to get back into my heart? Get lost.”
    And at that point I could have said “I’m sorry for disrespecting you”.

    I value your take on the matter, James. What do you think?
    With gratitude,
    Jane

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi, Jane. It seems when things were going wrong you felt the need to move on. That’s not something to apologize for. And now he is repeating the same behavior, acting as if you are not that interesting. I don’t think apologizing is going to get you what you really want. You may have been on the right track before.

      However, if you really want to work on things, it’s time to discuss possibilities. Instead of working on problems, talk with him about possibilities. What does he want? What do you want? What kind of future looks beautiful to you? Can you convey that to him? Do you know what would make him truly happy? Those are the places your discussions need to move to if you really want to work on this relationship.

      James

  12. Holly said:

    My BF’s apologies are always stated as, “It was not my intention to hurt you.” Drives me crazy!!! I know he doesn’t intend to hurt me, if he did I would be long gone. The thing is when I try to explain that this does not feel like an apology he feels attacked. I know the intentions thing is his apology so I always let it go, is there anyway to get him understand? What is the man language for this???

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Holly. I actually think it would be fine just to show them this article. The concept is the same for either gender.

  13. Susan Edmond said:

    My friend, there is always room for forgiveness….betrayal to anyone Man or Woman is something that needs to be repeatatively soothed by the other person. There is NO WAY to make a relationship on your own and IF indeed he has decided”Who do you think you are, trying to get back into my heart?” then no one can change his mind…it’s really up to him and you can apologize, talk about how you disrespected him but the forgiveness is a choice he has to make. I hope he does BUT if not then you need to dust yourself off and KEEP your own Self-respect….Say “I realize that I’ve made some mistakes w/ you….I want learn how to be w/ you in a respectful way…please forgive me and let’s try again.”

    • Rachel Perese said:

      Hello James
      So I was wondering, is your book similar to “seduce your ex” ? And does this book help your partner not to cheat and lie? But what about if he is an abusive person? Can it help him to change in that erea aswell? Im not saying it’s happened to me, just in case.

      • James Bauer said:

        Hi Rachel. The method I teach is about enhancing your relationship in a way that makes it a stronger bond and causes you to be irresistible as a romantic partner. It’s not about dealing with an abusive partner or a partner who lies and cheats.

  14. Eden said:

    The notion of respect as being a critical emotional issue for men is an amazing insight. I have been struggling with a relationship in which the man I have been seeing pulled away from me during what was to be a reconciliation. What happened is I confessed that 5 months earlier , after several acquaintances voiced non-specific “warnings” to me about him, I ran a background check. What I found in the investigation was inconsequential and I never told him I’d done it.

    But in that reconciliation meeting, I was trying to give him the comfort of knowing I could cope with whatever he was hiding from me (I had only been seeing a sanitized version of him). My goal was to say “see, I already knew this stuff and I still love you”. But all he heard was that I respected him so little and trusted him so little that I had not only checked, but also withheld the information until this particularly suspect moment. He shut down and withdrew from me over the next few weeks.

    I have no idea if he will forgive me or ever feel the kind of safety and trust he did before. And having discovered this website soon after that episode I feel stupid at having said what I did to him. The importance to him of feeling respected, admired and “seen” as a good man is incredibly obvious to me now. And I am working on reinforcing his level of belief that I regard him that way (which I emphatically do). It’s challenging to relate to someone through this filter, and to stay awake to throwaway lines that can be interpreted as veiled insults or emasculating gestures. But I am grateful for the coaching and look forward to exploring this avenue in building this and other relationships.

  15. jabeen said:

    it is ok but as men and women wired differently and ego is high so who will do the apology. I tried with my ex .I never find a stubborn man like that.

  16. Kay said:

    This is such wonderful advice. I love the perspective that “being right” is secondary to helping your man move past the emotional pain. And that re-establishing a connection is the first and most important thing to do. Apologizing to men has been a major block for me so far and I have learned alot from your blogs and ebook. I really like the way you explain things. Thank you.

  17. Margie said:

    James, the more I read the more I go back over old fights, comments and the aftermath. So much of what you are saying clarifies why the reaction of what I wanted to defuse actually fueled the fire, I did use the simpler straight forward apologies as I analyzed things myself but these things have really made it clearer!

  18. Green Sea said:

    Hi,
    This is a very insightful article. In fact, it is of much use to me, given where I am (or not) in my relationship.

    I last spoke to my interest about five weeks ago, when we were in a nasty showdown. I didn’t hear from him after that. I had been hoping he would get in touch, but he never did.

    A month later, I wrote him a five-line mail and told him I had only happy memories of our interactions and that I wished him the best for his life. I also apologised by writing: “I apologise for any hurts caused. I hope you don’t carry around any of that in any way.”
    (I wrote it in the order mentioned … happy first, apology next)

    Do you think this, in any way, comes close to ameliorating his feelings? Or, should I have said: “Sorry, I hurt you.”??
    (I just want him to understand that, despite our differences, I only want him to be happy and fulfilled wherever he is.)

    Would truly appreciate it if you had any thoughts on this. Thanks!

    • James Bauer said:

      When a person has cooled off (several weeks later) you can get away with a more vague sort of apology and still have beneficial results. So this one is probably okay. I think it was a kind gesture regardless of the outcome. My guess is you felt good when you sent it (proud of your decision, and maybe a release of some tension), which is a good indication that it was the right thing to do.

      James

      • Green Sea said:

        Thank you! Your response is helping me build my faith in me again. I was equally to blame in how things went between us (in some matters, more so than him).

        I am reading your articles and gradually feeling more empowered.

        I believe we had a strong spiritual connection. He was a gift of destiny in quite a few ways; I didn’t know to handle things well. But you live, you learn. And, as Robert Frost said, “Life goes on.”

  19. Ember said:

    Thank you so much James for your articles like this, they are very helpful. The apologies have a subtle change in wording with two very different outcomes… It brings me comfort I’m knowing we have such a wonderful teacher as you. I would like to know your thoughts on why they don’t teach what you do in schools? I know many children don’t have perfect role models to teach them the correct social interactions, different ways of thinking, and wording (I didn’t, and I’m sure many other members on this site didnt).
    Many thanks,
    Ember

    • James Bauer said:

      Thanks, Ember. You are good at giving complements.

  20. Jess said:

    Is there a third option here? How about: “I am so sorry I disrespected you. I would never intentionally be disrespectful.”

    • James Bauer said:

      I have to say, that might be even better. Thanks for sharing that, Jess.

  21. Jess said:

    Wow. Thanks for the feedback; you made my day. Your blogs consistently enlighten and entertain. I have great respect for your.

  22. Jess said:

    That’s: I have great respect for YOU.

  23. Annelie said:

    I really enjoyed all your articles James but one thing I have realised is this: men ARE too complicated and too sensitive in relationships. Little boys can take and handle (not feeling quickly crashed or experiencing emotional “pain or hurt (that Men saw as disrespect) far better than ADULT men. Adult men are like “crying sulking willies”. Much too sensitive for their own EGOS. I agree with Jennifer above. Women will not even be bothered if a man is commenting on her ” lack of navigational skills”. Will laugh it off. But with men you as a woman must always “walking and speaking on egg shells” because of their little sensitive egos. Must say i saw this attitude more with European and American men. Sorry to say. I grew up with three older brothers and until today they are not like this and even my husband. Thank God for that..

  24. karena said:

    I understand what you’re saying, emotional healing is important, but (1) if you didn’t do anything wrong, you shouldn’t have to apologize for your actions; more to the point, you should never apologize for doing something you didn’t do, and (2) what ever happened to people being responsible for their own feelings; no one “makes us” feel anything, we do that on our own, rightly or wrongly.

    Now if a woman does actually say or do something disrespectful, she absolutely should apologize. But if a man feels disrespected, and no disrespectful words/actions were made (or intended), she should only apologize that her actions produced the response and find out why that is so, so it doesn’t happen again. And vice versa for women who react from a bad place. We’re talking about adults, here, not young children. We learn each other’s triggers this way, so we can avoid them, and hopefully become closer in the process, no?

    • James Bauer said:

      I think your perspective is correct, Karena, and it is the perspective I started with. Experience has taught me that we still react as if other people are responsible for our feelings (even though we should not react that way).

  25. Lia said:

    Thanks everyone for wonderful ideas.
    James,
    What about the quote from Erich Segal, in Love Story:
    …”In love you never say ” I’m sorry!”…?
    If there is love, it should’t be any reasons to bad behaviior and to apologize, isn’t it? And if there is bad behavior, maybe there is no love and the two shouldn’t be together anyway.

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