It’s no one’s favorite moment, but it happens all the time. You make a mistake, lose your temper, break a confidence, forget a commitment, tell a lie, complain, criticize or about a million other screw ups and what comes after is critical to repairing trust,  healing wounds and restoring relationships- apologizing. Few of us learn how to apologize maturely. Often, as children, we are taught simply to parrot words our parents say to our siblings or a friend with little thought about the meaning or little remorse on our part.

Say you’re sorry to Katie.

I’m sorry Katie. 

And life goes on, without any meaningful acknowledgment of the hurt on either side. While that may be enough for resolving petty childhood squabbles, the stakes are much higher in adult relationships. Fortunately, there are three relatively simple steps in offering a real apology when you recognize you are in the wrong.

I was wrong. Start with taking responsibility. Explain what you did and why you understand it was wrong. Do not B.S. (blame shift) or even explain “why” as that is often a subtle attempt to not take all the responsibility for the wrong. Simply put- own it.

I am so sorry. Express sorrow for the hurt, frustration or inconvenience that the other person may have felt. Do not divert into a conversation about your feelings at this point. Those can be expressed at another time, but this is not the place to say “I feel so guilty” or “I feel so bad that I did _____” because it is not the other person’s job to console you during the moment their hurt is being addressed. This is a good place to ask for forgiveness if that is needed.

What can I do to repair our relationship? (or the situation) In many cases, the solution is not repeating the hurtful behavior. But sometimes, part of restoring relationship might involve something more concrete like having a conversation with a third party or offering to pay for a financial burden created through a mistake. Truly being sorry involves the willingness to right the wrong if possible; if the other person has a step they’d like you to take, doing so is a meaningful way to show your sincerity.

It’s not easy to take responsibility and admit a mistake or sin to another person, but the Bible is clear there is healing in doing so. James 5:16 says “Confess your faults to one another and pray for each other, that you may be healed.” A real apology does not guarantee the receiver will immediately, or ever, be willing to forgive but it does create a place where healing is possible and is often the catalyst to softening the other heart toward rebuilding.