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Why Your Apology Isn't Being Accepted

So you've really messed up and have apologized to someone you've hurt, but they aren't accepting your apology. There might actually be some good reasoning as to why your apology isn't being accepted.

An apology is a way of showing that you are sorry for what you did. It can help fix relationships and mend hurt feelings. We all make mistakes. However, not owning mistakes and not making a sincere apology can lead to long-term damage to the relationship.

In a previous blog from Evolve Therapy, we'd outlined the framework for how to make a genuine apology.

There are three critical steps in truly making progress when expressing genuine remorse.

  • Owning Your Piece. When you know you are at fault for a problem, the mature and responsible thing to do is stand up and own up to the mistake. Recognize where you went wrong and be prepared to fully own what you did. Talk to your partner and tell them what went wrong. Then, move on from the situation, knowing you will do better next time.

  • Validating Statements. The hurt partner is looking for validation of the pain that they are feeling. They want to know you recognize that they are hurting. Can you identify, with honesty, how you tried to deal with the fact that you hurt your loved one? A good statement of validation might be: "I know I caused you pain, I understand why you would feel the way you do-it makes sense why you are upset."

  • Making a complete apology. Show your partner that you know what part of their feelings you have hurt, and that you truly feel bad about it. Don't try and shift the blame or make assumptions. You can't undo what has happened but by letting them know how much you regret your actions they will see that you are sincere and really do care about them.

Why making an apology is difficult

Being able to apologize is a sign of strength, but it's also incredibly difficult.

When you apologize, you send a message to the person that they are important and you think about them. You say sorry, show that it will not happen again and promise to do better instead of showing anger. An apology should be made when the person feels hurt by your words or actions. This is a good way for the person to feel safe with you again.

According to Toronto-based psychologist, Nicole McCance:

The best way to prepare for an apology is to put yourself in the other person's shoes: Imagine how you would feel if someone said or did the same offense to you. Contemplate the many potential impacts, even if you don't fully understand why this person reacted the way they did. The exercise builds empathy, which you can feel and express regardless of whether you agree with or understand what you're apologizing for. (

This is important because in order to be forgiven we have to make the other person feel what we are feeling. We need to show that we are sorry and that we really understand what it feels like for them. Showing that we understand the parts that hurt them is a key to an effective apology.

When we don't have empathy for other people, it is hard to apologize. It's hard because you don't think about how your behavior or attitude has affected the other person. You need to imagine how they feel in order to apologize. This is what people mean when they say a heartfelt apology.

Why couples should develop empathy

The best way to develop empathy is to listen. If you want to know what it feels like when someone does something mean and hurtful, just imagine yourself in that person's place. Practice feeling others' feelings by listening to them. This will help you be more sensitive to how your behavior affects others and if necessary learn how to do things differently in order not to make them feel bad.

Much like "love languages," there are "apology languages" that couples should understand. To improve this quality of relating, try three practices:

  • Pay attention. Reflect on your own needs before fulfilling those of others (e.g., as a child or an adult). What did it feel like when your needs were fulfilled? You will recognize that everyone wants his or her needs met but may respond very differently when their needs are not fulfilled. Identify those feelings, and then imagine what you would have needed at that time to feel better (e.g., a hug or an explanation)? What do you need now, in this situation, to make things right between us?

  • Be curious. Learn about the experiences of others by making inquiries into their thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and behavior. Asking questions is one way we come to know people and understand how they see things differently from ourselves. When you show interest in other people's lives it makes them more willing to listen to your life as well –see if this works! It's also important to ask yourself how your behavior reflects on you—what does it say about who you are and what you want from relationships with others?

  • Be kind. Kindness enables us not only to know the happiness of giving but also the joy of receiving. Learn about how different people give and receive kindness, for example: some people like being thanked while others would prefer a hug; it's helpful to know whether they would rather be given something or experience something (e.g., live through something together). It will make them feel valued if we show that we know who they are by taking the time and effort to get to learn about their needs. These three practices – awareness, inquiry, and kindness - are powerful ways to build empathy. They can help you understand why other people act as they do and thus develop your ability to apologize effectively.

4 types of ineffective apologies in a relationship

Ineffective apologies, or a faux apology, will often make the situation worse rather than better.

When a person doesn't accept your apology it's because you didn't take responsibility for what you did or said wrong in the first place. So be honest with yourself and really think about how to change your behavior after reading this article!

According to Harvard Business Review:

In order to apologize effectively, you need to develop the capacity to control your emotions and stay humble and focused on the experience of the other person, even when you might be seething inside or unsettled with guilt. It’s not easy to do, especially when emotions are hot. If you feel like emotion might get the best of you, you should take a break. You only get one chance to make an apology without coming across as excessive, so make it count. (read the full article here)

Some examples of apology languages that are completely ineffective are:

  • The Empty Apology. An example of the empty apology is when someone says, "I'm sorry. I said I'm sorry." The empty apology is all form but no substance and it the embodiment of a faux apology. It's what you say to someone when you know you need to apologize, but are so annoyed or frustrated that you can't muster even a modicum of real feeling to put behind it. So you go through the motions, literally saying the words but not meaning it and that ends up being pretty clear to the person receiving the message.

  • The Excessive Apology. Apologizing is meant to rectify a wrong and rebuild a damaged relationship, but with excessive apologies, you do no such thing. There are a couple of forms that this type of ineffective apology might take shape. One form of the excessive apology is when it seems over-the-top for the situation and you forget to distribute copies of an agenda ahead of time. Another form is when you apologize too many times for the transgression that you've committed, but lack the follow through of corrective action. When hurtful actions become habit, the apology comes across as insincere. In both examples, the focus is on you instead of the person you've harmed or repairing the relationship, which will ultimately destroy the original purpose of an apology.

  • The Incomplete Apology. The incomplete apology is an ineffective apology because it's only a partial apology. These kinds of apologies have parts of the three key components needed to make a sincere apology. An incomplete apology fails to take complete responsibility, express regret, and ask for forgiveness. They also lack promising it won’t happen again or suggesting that the person will try to prevent it in the future.

  • The Denial. The denial apology is when someone says, "This simply wasn't my fault." Sometimes, your ego gets the best of you and you don't apologize at all. Perhaps you're so frustrated or angry. Unfortunately, instead of apologizing, you defend, deny, or self-protect. Someone offering a denial apology grits their teeth, digs into their own worldview, and denies culpability. As hard as it is to admit guilt, for some of us, this is as far as we'll ever get. But as much as it might feel strong in the moment, denial does little to repair a fractured relationship and likely exacerbates it.

Don't be ashamed to apologize to someone you love

Many people complicate feelings about their hurtful actions. Some people feel shamed by apologizing, while others feel ashamed until they have apologized, consumed by feelings of guilt.

The importance of a sincere apology and expressions of remorse when appropriate are critical for healthy relationships. Never apologizing in a relationship is a way to risk losing trust or permanently damaging the relationship.

Ask any relationship expert or relationship therapist and they'll tell you—the most important thing when asking for forgiveness is that you do it with sincerity. By opening a dialog with the person that you have hurt, they can process their feelings and move on without blaming themselves for what happened.

Owning up to your mistakes not only benefits offended person, but it also benefits you as well. You'll be able to reflect on and take responsibility for your actions, restoring your integrity in the eyes of others.

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