How to Say Sorry

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Has your communication or relationship with someone broken down?

Are you feeling bad over something you said or did?

Are you unsure of what you did? 

How can you take responsibility for what you’ve done if you can’t see it?

Ask God to give you insight into what happened and what you have done wrong from His perspective – and from the other person’s viewpoint. When you see this you can genuinely confess our sin to God and to others – and so you can seek God’s forgiveness. You may need to ask God for the power to forgive the person you are offended by or have offended. Matthew 6:14-15 And when you pray, make sure you forgive the faults of others so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you withhold forgiveness from others, your Father withholds forgiveness from you.” Study Matthew 18:15-17 where Jesus sets out steps in a process for restoring broken relationship with a fellow believer if they have sinned against you. These principles also apply when you are saying sorry.

How can you communicate your repentance and restore trust, and the flow of communication, and hopefully relationship?

In many of these instances, a genuine apology is not only necessary, but perhaps the only thing that can repair the broken relationship.

An apology is not about retaining or regaining power.

You apologise in order to offer resolution toward mutual understanding and peace and hopefully restoration of true relationship. So even when others contributed to the breakdown in communication, you can still humble yourself and express regret and apologise for your part in it to break the circuit.

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I hope these steps will be helpful to you and those around you.

1. Approach the person respectfully.

First pray and forgive the other person for any part they had in what happened. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in what to say. When your heart is clean, approach them to ask if they would be willing to receive your apology. This gives them time to prepare themselves to really listen to you.

If the incident has just occurred, you could say, “I’d like to apologise for what I said just then. Are you okay if I do this now?” They may prefer to do this at another time, when they are more prepared or available.

If the matter was from a previous time  you could approach them verbally or in writing to say you would like to apologise for what you said/did and arrange a time to meet.

It is best to apologise face to face, so you can both be sensitive to each other’s feelings expressed in body language and responsive in how you communicate.

If your interaction was traumatic, they may prefer to meet in a public place and have someone with them. You could offer to bring with you the person you are going to be accountable to. (Matthew 18:16)

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2. Sincerely express regret.

If they are willing for you to proceed, begin by sincerely expressing your regret.

You could say, “I am really sorry for what I said/did. It was wrong and I want to take responsibility.”

There are several things that could invalidate your apology.

  • Do not say, “Please forgive me if you felt I offended you” because this implies the other person was overly sensitive in reacting to your innocent remark or action.
  • Do not make excuses for what you did. Benjamin Franklin said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”
  • Do not blame the other person.

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3. Acknowledge what you did wrong.

In making an apology it is vital that you openly and honestly acknowledge what you did, naming the specific words or actions and their consequences, so you demonstrate that you understand that what you did was wrong.

This is particularly important when the offense has been repeated over time as a pattern of behaviours. To trust you again the other person needs to know you have insight and take responsibility for what you did and that you are committed to change and to being held accountable so you do not do this again.

“I know when I said/did …….. I was disrespecting you and it caused ……”

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4. Ask for forgiveness. 

You could say, “will  you please forgive me?” Then wait for their response.

When we ask for forgiveness, we need to give the other person a chance to react and respond. Give them time before proceeding.

If they hesitate and are at all reluctant to proceed:

  • You may need to ask them if there are other things you also need to apologise for.
  • Ask them if they see this as a repeating cycle.
  • You may need to say you’ll offer them as long as they need, that you are willing to wait and address this again in a few days, weeks, months.
  • You may need to ask what you could do to set things right.
  • You may need to say you’ll offer them as long as they need, and that you are willing to wait and speak of this another time.
  • You may need to apologise multiple times.

Don’t expect that the other person is immediately able to let things return to normal. Respectfully allow them healing space.

If they say they refuse to forgive you, repeat your regret and your offer to stay open to resuming communication and relationship but do not keep seeking their forgiveness. Even if they never come around, you have fulfilled your part in forgiving them and offering restoration.

Even if they forgave you there may still one more vital step.

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5. Say you want to be held accountable. 

Even if they were willing to accept your apology it can be eye opening to ask if your behaviour is a repetitive pattern.

Most of us can agree that an apology is meaningless if nothing changes afterward. If you can see that your behaviour is part of a repetitious pattern, think through how you plan to change your behavior to avoid this problem in the future. You may need to get back to them to share your plan with them. Who will hold you accountable to follow through with the change? You might ask a mentor to do this, and even invite this person to hold you accountable. It is a sure way for the other person will know that you are really sorry.

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