You might have had an experience where you were having an argument and all of a sudden you blurt out, “I’m sorry” in an attempt to end the conflict quickly. Or, maybe you were on the other side of the conflict and when you heard “I’m sorry,” you realized the other person just wanted the conversation to end and you felt like your feelings hadn’t been heard.
We know that conflicts in relationships are unavoidable. It is important to realize that when there is conflict, however, there is an opportunity for a resolution. In many instances, the end of a conflict between relationship partners begins with an apology, but the act of apologizing is not always easy.
If you are a partner offering an apology you may wonder, “when is the best time to apologize, and how should I apologize?” It’s a common belief that it’s best to apologize as soon as possible. The sooner the apology is made, the sooner the conflict is resolved, right? However, you might know from experience that this isn’t always true.
It’s important to give your partner time to explain how they feel before you apologize. Your partner will appreciate the opportunity to be heard. Also, going beyond “I’m sorry” by explaining what you are apologizing for and acknowledging your partner’s feelings makes the apology more sincere. Asking for forgiveness is a great way to close an apology.
If you are receiving an apology, give your partner your full attention. Whether or not you choose to accept the apology and forgive your partner is your choice, but communicate to your partner that you appreciate their act of apologizing. If you choose to accept the apology, take time to inform your partner about your decision and thank them again for the gesture.
Apologizing may seem like a small part of a relationship, but research shows that it can have an impact on how satisfied partners are with the communication in their relationship. The more understood partners feel about a conflict and the more sincere they believe an apology to be, the more satisfied they are with communication and discussions about conflict.
Whether you are giving an apology or receiving one, learning to go beyond “I’m sorry” and showing gratitude for apologies can benefit you and your relationship partner in future conflicts.
Ebesu Hubbard, A. S., Hendrickson, B., Fehrenbach, K. S., & Sur, J. (2013). Effects of timing and sincerity of an apology on satisfaction and changes in negative feelings during conflicts. Western Journal of Communication, 77(3), 305-322.