09 Jun How to accept an apology

No one likes being hurt, but in healthy relationships and marriages it does and will happen occasionally.

For partners who want to grow closer over time rather than drift apart, knowing how to give and to accept an apology is really crucial.


When we’ve been hurt by our partner, all we really want is for him or her to understand and acknowledge what they’ve done, right?

We hold out for the “I’m sorry”. It feels like the only thing that could make things better.

When I work with couples it’s a totally amazing and unforgettable feeling to be there in that moment when an apology happens.

But I’ve noticed that some apologies create really positive change and others don’t. I’ve seen that the way an apology is received has a big impact on what happens next.

When your partner offers you an apology, how do you receive it?

An apology that’s well received is a spine tingling moment of immediate healing. A badly received apology, on the other hand, is a missed opportunity that at best achieves nothing, and often creates more harm.

It’s also a great disincentive for partners to apologise again. Why would you, if even when you do, it makes no difference?

When your partner apologises, how good are you at really taking that apology on board? Do you refuse to let it land?

Do you refuse to believe it, and respond indignantly with something like “You’re saying it, but you don’t really mean it”?

Do you take a “one up” position, and respond with a scornful “You’re sorry?… So you should be!”?

Or do you accept it, but in a dismissing way, and respond matter-of-factly with “Yeah OK, you’re forgiven. Whatever.”

When I see couples do this, I witness first-hand how even the most genuine of apologies can fall terribly flat.

The partner who has apologised usually feels rejected.

The partner who has been apologised to usually feels just marginally better than they did before. They’ve got the “I’m sorry” that they’ve been after, but they’ve refused to let it land.

It’s not a wonderful spine tingling moment, and there’s no great love in the room.

If you find that real healing hasn’t happened when apologies are made in your relationship, maybe this is why?

Here’s how you might like to respond next time your partner says “I’m sorry” to you:

  1. Stop what you are doing.

  2. Look at him or her. Really look.

  3. Listen. Really listen.

  4. Acknowledge the apology and what it has been made for.

  5. If there’s stuff preventing your acceptance, share it, or flag it for discussion at another time.

  6. Accept the apology. Really accept it. Even thank him or her for it.

Apologies are moments in relationships and marriages when there’s potential for something really special to happen.

A moment of shared heartfelt love. A moment of true relationship healing. Moments we all deserve to experience, whether we’re the one offering, or the one who receives.

Hurts happen in all relationships. When partners learn to deal with them constructively, healing does too.

Contact me if you are on the Sunshine Coast and need help getting your marriage or relationship back on track. I love helping relationships thrive.