13 November, 2023

No one likes seeing a loved one upset, especially if we’re the cause.

It can be tough to know how to say we’re sorry when our intentions were good. But if you’ve accidentally offended a friend, relative, or partner, it’s important to acknowledge the mistake and let them know they can feel safe around you.

A genuine apology can save a relationship – and an insincere one can make things worse.

We share some advice to apologise sincerely and rebuild trust so your relationship can move forward.


Have empathy

Take time to reflect on the situation and consider how it might feel from their perspective.

Understand that your intent does not equal impact, and your loved one is entitled to their feelings – even if they interpreted your words or actions differently than you’d meant them.

Chances are you can remember a time when someone hurt you without meaning to. How did it feel? Did they try to understand your point of view and apologise? Or did they get defensive and make you feel like you were being too sensitive?


Take accountability

Accountability is key for a sincere apology.

No genuine apology starts with “I’m sorry you’re upset” or “I’m sorry you feel that way”.

This doesn’t express regret for your actions or admit you did anything wrong. Instead, it puts the blame on your loved one and invalidates their feelings.

Make sure you use the words “I’m sorry I did/said X” to take accountability for your actions and show you respect their feelings.


Be specific

It’s easy enough to say sorry for your actions, but this doesn’t always show that you understand why they were hurtful.

Specify what you’re sorry for and validate your loved one’s reaction.

For example:

“I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to the dinner. I can see how it made you feel excluded. I should’ve been more considerate.”


Don’t make excuses

While it may be tempting to explain what you meant or how they may have misunderstood your intentions, this will likely cause more harm than good.

Avoid slipping any excuses into your apology. Instead, take responsibility for your actions and focus on moving forward.


Assure it won’t happen again

It’s important to remember that there may be long-term impacts of your actions, even if your loved one forgives you.

Providing a resolution in your apology can be a huge step to healing the relationship and moving forward faster.

Explain the steps you’ll take to ensure the mistake won’t happen again, and ask your loved one if there’s anything they need from you to help make amends.


Saying sorry can be difficult for some people. It might raise feelings of shame, or we might not be comfortable being vulnerable.

If you need support working on these internal obstacles, speaking to a professional counsellor can help.

You can call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment or to learn more about our counselling services here.

If you found this advice helpful, you might like our blog post How to Have a Difficult Conversation