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Restoring Relationship: How to Apologize the Right Way

Paige Smith

I was wrong.

These are three words that have the power to change the course of any wounded relationship.

It is almost inevitable there will be pains and offenses in deep meaningful relationships.

We are all imperfect despite our best intentions–and other times, if we are honest, as a result of our ill intentions, we have hurt those closest to us.

When we realize our wrong or when it is pointed out to us, apologizing can be the last thing we want to do.

Yet if we want to see our relationships restored we all have to learn how to apologize.

One of my greatest friendships, a friendship turned sisterhood that has spanned over ten years, was restored because I learned the power of apologizing.

Another word for apologizing is repentance and it suggests a complete turning away from a wrong behavior, mindset, or attitude that is intentional.

A true apology goes far beyond simply saying “I’m sorry”. Those words are only the outward result of an inward heart change and actions that follow suit.

If there is someone in your life today you know you have hurt or offended I encourage you to apologize to them today.

We can feel afraid of how the other person will respond, embarrassed we ever made the mistake to begin with. We may be so discouraged by the severity of our offense we don’t think there is any hope of reconciliation.

While these emotions are valid and common to many, they aren’t grounded in the truth.

We can’t let fear, shame, and discouragement rule our relationships or our actions in attempting to preserving them.

It takes courage to apologize but it can make the difference between a relationship that’s forever torn and one that is rebuilt, stronger than it was to begin with.

Already you may be thinking of mistakes you’ve made to your loved ones. Maybe you have been avoiding that person beating yourself up for what you said or did.

I’ve been in that place before. As I mentioned earlier just recently I reconciled with one of my best friends from child hood after I made the huge mistake of telling her I didn’t agree with her beliefs. In my zeal and immaturity I thought I was being a good friend, when in actuality I wasn’t showing true love at all.

After that conversation I thought our friendship was irreconcilable. I left regretting my words and replaying the conversation many times wishing I could undo the damage.

It wasn’t until I spoke to a trusted mentor that  this negative mental cycle was interrupted. They gave me this this simple advice: Go and apologize. Do whatever you can to make things right.

The word instructs us the same: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

God values our relationships so much, when others are offended with us, He wants us to drop everything, even the “good” things we may be doing and go to them to reconcile.

This is so important to remember. Many times we can think we are too busy for relationships. Too busy to call our parents or cousins. Too busy to visit our in laws. Too busy doing important, noble things. We are working for non profits, involved in ministry at our churches, providing for our families, and the list goes on.

Yet here we see God is not impressed with these “gifts to the altar” these acts of good service, if we have relational issues that we haven’t resolved.

Although all of these things are good, a reconciled relationship trumps them all.

If there are wounded relationships in your life today, I encourage you to begin the process of mending and healing them.

Here are 7 practical steps to apologize to your loved ones:

1. Sincerely see where you were wrong.

When others are upset with us it can be easy to get in the defensive, and think of all the reasons you didn’t mean to hurt them or they shouldn’t have taken it that way. The fact is you did hurt them. Without condemning yourself it is good to reflect on how your actions were wrong.

2. Consider how your actions may have affected the other person.

This can also be difficult but will help tremendously in having a truly repentant attitude about your actions.

3. Think about what you want to say.

Don’t spend too much time here or you can begin getting anxious or overthinking the apology. But this is a good time to gather your thoughts, whether that is writing a letter or journaling to make sure your apology achieves what you want, which is a restored relationship and doesn’t add more hurt to the situation.

4. Allow the other person some space.

Depending on how recent or severe the offense is, you do want to allow some time and space for your loved one to be able to process how they are feeling about the situation.

For a married couple, this wait time may be a few minutes. For a friend you may agree to talk again in an hour. But whoever you’ve fallen out of unified relationship with, do everything you can to resolve it before the day is over.

5. Contact your loved one.

Apologies are done best in person or at least over the phone so that you can fully repent without there being any confusion about what you said or meant.

In conjunction with giving respect to their time and schedule, try to arrange a time you both can talk face to face.

6. Apologize.

This is what it all comes down to.

When you apologize remember to:

1. Be specific in what you are apologizing for
2. Take ownership of what you did without justifying it
3. Show true sorrow in hurting your loved one
4. Affirm the importance of the relationship
5. Express that you will change your behavior
6. Ask for forgiveness.

Example:

“I am apologize  for (state what you specifically did). It was very unloving/disrespectful/inconsiderate and I was wrong (this is a way of taking ownership for your wrong and not justifying it). I also apologize for how I’ve hurt you and how this has affected our relationship.  It deeply pains me that I have caused you pain because I truly value the relationship we have and want to make things right (affirm to your loved one their importance to you). Please forgive me.”

The key words here are, “I was wrong” this is more than being “sorry”; it is verbally admiting to and acknowledging your wrong doing.  This creates healing.  Also using emotional words such as, “It hurts me” or “It pains me” that I have caused you pain brings comfort (the alleviation of pain).

7. Change your behavior

This is the last and most important step. Changed behavior more than anything else will show your loved one that you are truly sorry. However there’s no need to condemn yourself. Don’t think it means more to your loved one by continually bringing up your past mistake and apologizing anew every time you talk. Simply change your behavior.

If your child was upset you missed their little league games, make sure to make it to the next one and the next, and become their biggest fan. If you told your friend you would pick them up and forgot the next day come early to get them and make a reminder on your phone to not forget again. If you hurt your spouse take them out on a special date night showing them how much you care.

However don’t only change your behavior, but change your heart.

Many times when our loved ones are upset with us, it is for what our actions spoke to them about the lack of importance their relationship has in our lives.

The greatest way to restore a relationship is to decide in your heart to esteem that person highly.

We all mess up at times and can hurt those we love the most, but the good news is we all can choose to apologize and see our relationships restored!

Do you need advice in restoring a relationship today? Have you been inspired to apologize to a loved one? We encourage you to share in the comments below, we love hearing from you!

1 reply
  1. Laurin
    Laurin says:

    Thank you!

    “The greatest way to restore a relationship is to decide in your heart to esteem that person highly.”

    This quote especially stood out to me as I read the article. I’m reminded of a time I had a disagreement with a friend. I was hurt but my response to the situation didn’t make it any better. I spent a while trying to justify my response but when it all boiled down I realized I hadn’t stopped to consider their feelings and how they could have been affected by my response. When I began to put myself in their position my heart was softened. I realized I needed to apologize not because I may have felt bad but because I realized, wow I have caused hurt to a friend and it’s not all about me. I began to think about how hurt I was and imagined how much more they could have been hurt by my actions. That really helped me see things from a different perspective and our friendship actually became closer.

    Reply

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