The Complete Guide to Saying You’re Sorry and Moving Forward in Relationships

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You’re not perfect.

There. The world isn’t burning, buildings didn’t fall, we’re all still alive. For some people this fact is an earth shaking revelation, threatening to ruin their perception of personal perfection. But I believe there to be a far greater threat: creating a society of people who think they’re never wrong.

It’s not easy though, we all know that.

Identifying your shortcomings, admitting you’re wrong, asking for forgiveness, it all takes practice to get comfortable with. It’s hard for us to accept the fact that we’re not perfect, and that that’s okay.

I put together a few thoughts to guide you through the messy process, and I hope these points can be a helpful guide to creating more rich relationships. Some of what’s said below might sting a bit. But my hope is that you’ll experience the freedom that comes with recognizing that there’s no need to keep up an exhausting facade of perfection.

Here’s a short and simple guide to say you’re sorry:

1. Pick one: you can always “be right” or you can have strong relationships.

You can’t have both. If you are too prideful to recognize and apologize for the areas where you’ve been wrong, you will never have right relationships. The fact is, deep relationships are made up of repentance and forgiveness, not arrogance and stubbornness.

2. Understand it’s not your job to change the other person.

In the midst of conflict, I often think, “Well if I apologize, they’ll just think they’re right and they’ll get away with it!” I get it, it’s a struggle. But now, when tensions are high and people are feeling hurt, is not the time to try and “fix” the other person.

Want to help them grow? Push them upwards when your relationship is doing well- instead of pulling them down when you’re in a conflict. Recognize that you won’t help somebody change for the better by proving to them all the ways they’ve failed.

3. Believe that the other person is probably right.

We always think we’re right. We’re blind to our own imperfections- we simply can’t see the areas where we’re weak. Otherwise, why would we do what we do? But one of the most useful tactics I’ve ever learned is this: whenever a friend/partner/family member points out something you’ve done wrong, automatically think to yourself, “You know, they’re probably right about this. I’m not a perfect person, and I’m usually blind to my weaknesses. I should actively consider what they’re about to say.”

Starting with this mindset radically alters the way you listen to their concerns, and more importantly, it changes how you respond. This becomes even more important the more history you have with the other person. If, after careful thought, you decide that they’re incorrect, you can address that at a later date.

4. Own your part.

It doesn’t matter if you were 1% or 100% wrong- forget the percentages. We are all culpable for something, and the point is take ownership of your part. Were you rude? Disrespectful? Did you lie? Were you lazy, sarcastic, insensitive, manipulative, prideful, or greedy?

Very often, we fit into many of those categories. Call them out; bring them into the light and let them lose their power by naming your actions and calling them wrong.

5. Just say it, and then shut up.

This is the hard part: after you’ve owned your part, it’s time to apologize. Look the other person in the eyes and sincerely say, “I’ve wronged you, and I’m sorry for that.” Then don’t say anything else. No excuses. No explanations. No, “…do you have anything you’d like to say to me?”

There’s humility and strength in apologizing without defending yourself or attempting to justifying your actions.

6. Talk about how you’re going to do better.

The mark of a person who is truly sorry is somebody who desires to put in the work to love the other person better. Make no mistake, it is work; but it’s worthwhile, life-giving work.

Ask the other person how you can do better next time and tell them you’re going to do everything in your power to improve, because you love them. Ask for patience when you fail at that.

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