We are human and therefore fallible. We make mistakes all the time, and in order to have good relationships with the people in our lives, it is important that we learn to apologise for the times that we WILL hurt people.

It is not enough to merely say “I’m sorry”. These words often sound shallow to the person hearing them, because often we are apologising because having someone we care about being cross with us is inconvenient for us. We say we are sorry because we do not like them being upset, because it means for the duration that they are mad they stop giving us the privileges that come with having good relations. For example, an upset wife will stop having sex with the husband who has hurt her. So he chooses to say “I’m sorry” in order to get back inside her thighs. This is a selfish way and thus a wrong way to apologise. The person on the receiving end of the apology will sense the insincerity and they will not accept the apology driven by self interest.

I read somewhere that a good apology is in three parts. These parts are easy to remember because they all begin with an A.

The first and most important part of an apology is to acknowledge the wrong that you have done. You need to be clear in your head as to why the other is upset. For example, you cannot say, after making an inappropriate comment about someone’s weight, “I am sorry that you are fat and over-sensitive about your unhealthy weight.”

Utterances such as this will make the other more upset. You will be fuelling the argument and not making anything better. You need to take complete responsibility by saying things like, “I am sorry that I body-shamed you by expecting you to live up to my beauty ideal when you do not owe me thinness,” or, simply, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I have no right to judge you in any way.”

After the initial crucial phase of acknowledging your wrong, you need to apologise. You need to tell the other that you are remorseful for your wrong. This is when you can say how sorry you are.

In saying you are sorry, please understand that sorry and forgiveness are not twins. Just because you have offered the apology does not mean that the person you wronged now owes you forgiveness. I have seen cases where a person errs in a huge way, then they do the adult thing of acknowledging then apologising for the wrong. But then they expect that this will make it all better. These first two steps are crucial but on their own they do not unlock automatic forgiveness.

A father can, for example, abandon his children after a divorce, and then later realise the error of his ways. He comes back to acknowledge the emotional damage he did to his kids, then and apologise for it. Doing this is an important first step. However it will not entitle him to immediately regain all the affection and authority that comes with being a father. He would have to earn those privileges anew.

The final step in an apology is making amends for your wrongdoing. This means you need to compensate for your wrongs. This is the part most of us want to skip when apologising because it is too much effort. It is important, though, that we attempt to make amends, because this act is proof of remorse and it can almost guarantee forgiveness.

Of course there are instances where you cannot restore what you have taken. In these instances it is important to take advice from the person you have wronged on how to make it up to them.

Compensation is not on your terms. You cannot call someone fat, and as compensation offer them gym membership as an apology. You have to hear from them on how to make it better. This is when you really need to listen.

Recently a friend with two young sons had her children at odds because the older boy had woken up early and eaten the younger one’s leftovers. The younger boy woke up to the horror of seeing an empty plate where they had left their sticky pork ribs. The little boy was inconsolable, especially since the food treachery was committed by a loved sibling.

The older sibling, being nine years old and a complete gentleman, owned up to eating the ribs. He apologised to the younger sibling for the dastardly act, and he made amends by using his meagre savings to buy his brother a big slab of chocolate. He managed to execute a flawless apology.


Tell us: do you find it easy to apologise?