We Asked an Expert: Why Is Apologizing So Hard? (And How To Do It Better)
Updated: May 11
Do you struggle to apologize to your husband or wife when you're wrong? Why is it so hard? Blissful Blue Jays had to ask an expert on this one! I got in touch with the AMAZING Suntia Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and couples therapist with a masters-level education in psychology and social work. She has years of experience helping couples resolve conflict, reconnect and rebuild. She's known for her unique therapy style and I knew she was perfect to connect with.
I only feature top notch resources and people that I believe in, so I could only hope she would agree to give us some of her thoughts. Of course she provided some fantastic help without a second of hesitation. She has such a warm and bubbly personality, just listening to her talk on her YouTube videos puts you at ease right away.
Anyway, back to apologizing... why is it so hard? You guys are gonna love this.
Take It Away, Suntia!
You messed up, and you know it.
You didn’t do the thing you promised you were going to do. You said something hurtful… about your husband’s mamma… on her birthday. You were a little too late, you stretched the truth a little too much, you spent a little too much money or you flirted a little too enthusiastically with your ex-boyfriend (while your husband was not far away).
Whatever it was, it was not your finest moment. There is no denying it. And the regret, the sadness sits in your belly like a brick. It taunts you and haunts you. It is not going anywhere until you make it right.
You know what you have to do: You have to apologize, and you have to do it soon.
But that is easier said than done. Where do you start? What do you say? What will the consequences be? Will you appear weak or stupid? And why did you do what you did in the first place?
Why? Why? Why?
Why is apologizing so hard? Seriously.
Whether your partner tells or shows you through body language that an apology is needed or you just know deep in your gut that you need to say you are sorry, apologizing is so difficult because you are admitting that your actions hurt the person you love. You are saying, “I was wrong. I was cruel. I was not the person I want to be. And I treated you badly. Forgive me.”
As I tell my couples counseling and therapy clients, admitting the pain you have caused puts a mirror up to the aspects of your life that you still need to work on: anger, judgment, dishonesty, selfishness, insensitivity and so on. That process can be very uncomfortable and even painful.
You are human, and like all humans, you have an ego. The ego is the image that you have of yourself and the image you want others to have of you. The challenge comes when you become driven by your ego, when your ego rules over you. You are so focused on how you are perceived and maintaining this image of poise, perfection and strength that you try to control how others see you.
So when you feel the need to have control in a relationship — to preserve your ego — it does not allow for vulnerability and transparency. And let’s be honest, apologies are not sincere without vulnerability. When you are able to be vulnerable, you are willing to allow those “shadow sides” of yourself to be seen and acknowledged.
What’s a shadow side?
Well, it is the side of you that you do not usually show to others. It is the opposite of your ego. It’s the angry part of you, the jealous or insecure parts of you, the hurt parts of you. These parts sit in the “shadows” until they are triggered. Usually, they are created because of experiences that were painful, and they arise when you experience a similar type of pain.
If your partner gets upset with you and says they are going to leave, you may be triggered and get angry. You start yelling. Because you were abandoned by a parent as a child, your anger is triggered when you are trying to prevent the feeling of abandonment. You see, your shadow sides are always trying to prevent you from feeling pain.
But when you embrace your shadow side, when you show your vulnerability, you can heal. You can use your shadow side as an alarm system that notifies you that something is off mentally, physically or emotionally. When you do this and talk about it in your relationship, then you feel safe in your relationship, which leads to being able to say you are sorry for getting angry and to own your stuff while having the vulnerability to ask for help.
You open yourself up to your partner, and you allow your partner to see the person beyond the ego. That creates understanding and acceptance — for both you and your partner.
However, when you do not allow for vulnerability in your relationship, it means you have a wall up, and that wall is blocking your partner from who you really are, the good, the bad and the ugly imperfections. If you refuse to admit that you make any mistakes, you continue to make that wall bigger and stronger.
How can you be in a relationship with someone who's perfect? You can't. That’s because we are all imperfect beings.
This is why you can speak until you are blue in the face, telling your partner how they hurt you, but they will NEVER sincerely apologize if they are being driven by their ego and think that admitting to a mistake will dull their shiny persona. Which, in turn, makes you feel silenced, insignificant and maybe even a little crazy. That’s because you may start thinking you are seeing it wrong, feeling it wrong or hearing it wrong. You start to question whether or not your thoughts and feelings are valid.
This is how you make your partner feel if you refuse to apologize or if you apologize insincerely. If you refuse to admit your mistakes, you silence your partner and make her or him feel unimportant.
So, how do you apologize?
As I have said, you need to harness that apology from a vulnerable space. You cannot apologize while still maintaining that ego-driven persona. Remember, you are human. You make mistakes. In fact, I hate to be the one to say it, but your partner knows you make mistakes. They know you are flawed. You are not fooling anyone. They are not looking for perfection; they are looking for sincerity and honesty.
Sincere apology: I am sorry that I said those hurtful things to you.
Ego-based Apology: If what I said hurt you, I’m sorry. But you know how you are sometimes.
Sincere apology: I apologize for picking the kids up so late, which made you late for your rehearsal.
Ego-based Apology: I’m sorry, but you never told me what time I needed to get the kids.
Sincere apology: I am sorry I became angry and started yelling.
Ego-based Apology: Yes, I did yell, but let’s talk about what you did.
As you can see, ego-based apologies usually have “buts” in them. I want you to remember that “buts” cancel out everything that is said before them. They negate the apology. You can also see that a sincere apology focuses on you and your actions. You need to forget about the XYZ that your partner may have done or the XYZs that may have compelled you to lie, yell, break trust, be careless and so on.
This is about you.
Now I want to be clear that sometimes when you have a hard time apologizing, it is not always ego. It is sometimes a fear of facing the fact that you hurt the one you love. As a therapist, I know that can be a difficult thing to face for most people.
To make these apologies, you have to feel safe in your relationship. You have to trust that your apology will not be used against you or it will not be used to manipulate you.
How do you create a safe place for apologies?
When it comes time for you to be on the receiving end of an apology, do not demand it. Do not passive-aggressively force it. And lead by example. Simply talk about what happened and how it made you feel. If your partner naturally gives a sincere apology, say thank you. Do not make it into an interrogation. Do not hunt for more apologies or more sympathy. Don’t ask questions like, “Well, why are you sorry?” or “How are going to make sure you do not do it again?” or “How can I trust you?”
Do not sarcastically respond with, “Wow, an apology. That’s a first!”
Now some of those questions and concerns may be appropriate for another conversation, but when your partner offers an apology, a simple, “Thank you. I accept your apology.” will do wonders for your connection and trust. And next time you mess up and you are the one giving the apology, you will have helped create a space that is safe for vulnerability. The more you nurture this space, the more your apologies will be accepted and acknowledged with love.
Apologizing is not about right or wrong because this brings a power struggle into your relationship, and relationships are not the place for winners or losers. This may be difficult for you or your partner (or your egos) to acknowledge and accept.
However, when you and your partner give sincere apologies, you are able to grow in your life journey together. Because you know neither of you are perfect, and you will need grace and compassion throughout the relationship. This is love. You have the courage to hold up the mirror to yourself and your relationship because you know, no matter what appears in the reflection, you will be loved unconditionally.
I recently posted a YouTube video about this exact topic! Check it out!
Ahh... so now you understand why I wanted to feature Suntia Smith! She has truly dedicated her career to helping people and clearly knows her stuff when it comes to couples therapy. She has created so many resources that can help. One of my favorite resources is her fighting fair online course. This course is perfect to work through your differences as a couple or even on your own. Learn how to express your wants and needs respectfully, and grow closer together through conflict resolution.
Thank you so much Suntia.
Blissful Blue Jays
*This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated to feature Suntia Smith.
Suntia Smith, MSW, LISW, CP
If you need support in working through conflict with your partner and creating a space within your relationship where apologies and vulnerability are accepted with love, I encourage you to book a session with me. Our sessions will be a welcoming space where you can talk about your relationship challenges and goals.
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If you are in the Greenville, SC surrounding area and want to book an in-office appointment with me go here. If you are out of the SC area and want to book a virtual coaching session email Suntia directly at email@example.com
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