Relationship maintenance is often about apology. But what is apology? Is it saying sorry, or admitting we were wrong, or making what we did wrong right again, or trying our best never to do it again, or is it seeking forgiveness?
Well it depends on who we are apologizing to, and the circumstances, but the following 15 tips are considerations toward acceptable apologies.
3 Ways to Express Regret
þ Does our body language line up with our words? Sincerity is important in expressing regret.
þ Sorry, for what? The communication of our regret has to be meaningful. We need to ensure our regret is for right reason. They may be asking, “Do you really understand?”
þ No buts or manipulation – any expression of apology that quickly reverts to what we want renders the apology useless. Saying I am sorry needs to be unconditional – said with a pure intent.
3 Ways to Accept Responsibility
þ The phenomenon of partial responsibility is evident in all relationships. Sometimes we do the wrong thing by reacting to someone who did the wrong thing initially. It’s best that we accept responsibility for our portion of what fell short of the glory of God.
þ Accepting responsibility is easier when we admit we make mistakes. None of us is perfect. We will make mistakes. So why not admit them. The mature person does; they honor the truth.
þ When we focus on what we could have done better and not on what they should have done better we are able to not only improve, relationally, but we exercise grace towards them.
3 Ways to Make Restitution
þ Making amends has great power when we learn what it is that they need. We cannot know what they need without asking and engaging with them in conversation. So what reconciles the relationship is engagement with them initially and then the making of amends.
þ There is also a place for making amends in a special way without the other person’s prior knowledge, but we must expect that they might not receive it as we have planned for them to receive it.
þ Making amends has the best effect when we target the amends toward what is meaningful to the other person. Do they want to hear the words? Or is it a gift they would like to receive? Or is it time that we need to give them? Or do they require our help?
3 Ways to Genuinely Repent
þ Some people just want to hear the words, “I don’t want to do this again to you.” Sometimes it’s just the intent of repentance that is enough, so long as we are sincere and genuine.
þ Real change is about making small but significant shifts in the way we relate to people. But to change we must be deliberate and intentional. A plan for change is generally a good thing.
þ Repentance and forgiveness tend to work together. If we fail in our repentance we need to forgive ourselves in order that we are able to try again.
3 Ways to Request Forgiveness
þ Forgiveness is about the actual recognition of restoration in the relationship. When we ask to be forgiven we are asking for the slate to be wiped clean. We are asking for the mistake or error not to be held against us. We need to understand it is a request and not a demand. It’s up to them whether they will forgive or not. Because it is a request we can’t hold it against them if they refuse to forgive. We have to accept it as it is.
þ Because it is a request, and we put our fate in their hands, seeking forgiveness involves fear. We have to get over our fear before we ask. If we just ask we have gotten over our fear.
þ Seeking forgiveness involves surrendering control over the situation. Just for a moment we have to agree that surrendering control is a worthy cost for the potential reconciliation of the relationship.
Saying sorry, accepting we were wrong, making it right again, agreeing to change, and seeking forgiveness: these are the bases of apology.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to Dr. Gary Chapman and his book The Five Languages of Apology. I have used Dr. Chapman’s five-point structure.