Have you ever heard the words, “I’m sorry,” and instantly thought, “Oh no you’re not!” You knew the apology sounded insincere from the moment your spouse opened his or her mouth.
Or maybe you were the one who put your foot in your mouth when you criticized your spouse during dinner with friends, or perhaps you revealed something personal to your parents that embarrassed your honey.
Whatever your error, don’t allow it to ruin a nice evening or a good relationship.
When a simple “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, it’s time for you to use the perfect three-step apology, which will give you the forgiveness you sincerely want in five minutes or less.
Step 1: Make a mountain out of a molehill
While it’s our natural instinct to minimize our mistakes by saying, “I didn’t really mean it,” or “It’s no big deal,” doing so will only aggravate your partner.
Instead, go big and maximize your error with a comment like, “I made a huge mistake,” or “It was really awful of me to do that.” By doing that, your mate would be relieved knowing that you “get” how wrong you were, and that sentiment will go a long way toward reducing the anger.
Step 2: Use the “because” clause
When your spouse is mad at you for wrongdoing, it’s because he feels disrespected, insulted, hurt, or ignored. What seems like a small thing, such as telling your children about your husband’s flaw (like his forgetfulness), is more than that to your husband. It’s disrespectful and rude to put him down to your children—or anyone for that matter.
So dig deep and say you’re sorry for the deeper value that was undercut. Use the word “because” to share exactly how you hurt your mate, as in, “I’m sorry I talked negatively about you to our children, because it was disrespectful of me and it makes them think they can talk that way, too.”
Step 3: Prevent & repair
This is the crucial part of a perfect apology. Without this step, you won’t win forgiveness. Complete your five-minute apology conversation by explaining to your mate how you will fix the damage done, or offer a plan of action to prevent the mistake from recurring.
For instance, if you opened your big mouth to your children, you can’t undo the damage. But you can assure your mate that in the future you will share your frustrations directly with your mate, not with the kids. Plus, you can grant your mate permission to interrupt you and remind you of your agreement if you say something negative about him/her.
When the Tables are Turned
But what if you’re not the guilty party, and instead, your mate is? Since that person doesn’t know the three steps in a perfect apology, you can coach him or her into telling you what you need to hear.
Tell the wrongdoer that a quick two-word “I’m sorry” doesn’t work for you and that you need to know exactly what he or she is sorry for. After he or she lists some reasons, ask how this mistake can be prevented from happening again. You will probably need to offer some suggestions here. Once your mate agrees to a practical prevention plan, bury the mistake and move on to enjoy your time together.
Use this perfect apology strategy to fight less, love more, and keep your homefront a peaceful, loving place.
Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, relationship expert, and bestselling author of Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationshipwithout Blowing Up or Giving In. She appears on Good Morning America, 20/20, Fox News, and CNN, and is a wife and mother to two young children. Visit her interactive site.