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Apology Accepted: How to Accept an Apology Without Making Things Worse

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You’ve been hurt, wronged, let down, and now your spouse stands with an apology. What goes on in your mind? Let’s pause the scene, a mental pause, and play out different responses.

Scenario 1: You’re mad. You want to make your partner squirm a bit longer. Don’t you, as the wronged party, have the right to exact retribution? Maybe, you think, your partner shouldn’t get off easy. They need to feel the hurt and anger their actions have caused. Turn away, go in the other room, make your spouse work at extending the apology and earning forgiveness. If you give in too soon, your spouse will hurt you again. Make them wait until you are ready.

  • Scenario 2: You have questions. Until you understand what happened, you won’t accept the apology. If you understand what happened, it won’t happen again.
  • Scenario 3: You feel tense, uncomfortable, confused; you don’t know what to say, what to feel, and you can’t figure out what to do. Your partner looks earnest and expectant. But you have no words. Fight an urge to flee. If you act like nothing happened, maybe it won’t happen again.

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You can probably think of many more scenarios since each situation, relationship, and apology is unique and may require a different response. In my 20 years of practice as a therapist, I have seen couples struggle with both making and accepting apologies so they can return to an emotional closeness. If the situation for which your spouse apologizes is extreme, such as an affair, physical abuse, or lies, then acceptance of the apology is more complex. But for those day to day transgressions, here are some acceptance speeches I’ve seen work—that is, they are able to return to an emotional closeness after the apology.

  1. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Let your partner finish saying their piece and listen attentively. Make good eye contact and say, “It’s okay. Nobody died. I’m over it already.”
  2. Acknowledge specifically what they’ve said. You could say, “Your actions hurt my feelings. It felt awful, and I hope it doesn’t happen again. But I’m feeling better since you spoke to me about it.”
  3. Be mindful of your own feelings. If you still need some reassurance or amends, let your partner know, say, “I’m glad to hear you say you’re sorry. We need to talk more about this. I’m still hurt, and although I want to feel close to you again, it’s going to take time.”

My advice to you. When you accept an apology, give yourself mental pause to decide the best course of action for you, your spouse, your situation, and the particular wrongdoing. Keep in mind the long-term consequences to the relationship. Your goal is to return to emotional closeness.

© Copyright 2009 by Pamela Lipe, MS, therapist in St. Paul, MN. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Buzz December 7th, 2009 at 3:13 PM #1

    They say its difficult to render an apology but I think accepting an apology is an equally difficult thing to do. But as I have discovered, delaying the acceptance has , more than once, led to me and my girlfriend swapping sides(me saying sorry because I didn’t accept her earnest apology)…haha ;)

  • Paige December 7th, 2009 at 3:56 PM #2

    I know for sure that when I am not in the right frame of mind there is no way that I can accept an apology gracefully, and really that is not the way it should be at all. If someone is opening themselves up enough to suck it up and apologize, then I need to have enough style to accept it without making things worse. This is not always my strong suit but goodness knows that I try.

  • Tabitha December 7th, 2009 at 7:41 PM #3

    I have no problem accepting apologies. Giving them is very difficult for me though. I feel as if the words literally stick in my throat. I would like to see a follow up article on how to give them gracefully as well please Pamela.

  • Craig December 7th, 2009 at 8:09 PM #4

    I never apologize because I’m never wrong and I’ll argue to the death with anyone that says different. Oh yeah? Yeah!

    Kidding. Good article Pamela!

  • Katherine December 7th, 2009 at 8:14 PM #5

    When I leave the room it’s not about making them hurt longer and drawing out the suffering. It’s about knowing deep down that the apology is sincere. You need breathing space between you in the heat of the moment.

  • Elizabeth R. December 7th, 2009 at 9:16 PM #6

    I have to be ready to hear the apology before I can truly accept it in my heart. I get hurt very easily and don’t get over hurt fast.

    Apologies that are blurted out two minutes afterwards aren’t real apologies. Nobody has thought through why you’re hurt if they can apologize that fast. They just want to end the unpleasantness.

  • travis December 8th, 2009 at 3:37 AM #7

    I would accept the apology if I’m not feeling terrible about me being wronged. But even if I am, I just say “its okay” anyway and not talk to the person for an hour or so…thats how I usually go about…

  • NANI December 8th, 2009 at 10:12 AM #8

    I agree that it is difficult to accept an apology when you are hurt but such a situation needs to be dealt with with maturity… as an example, just shouting out at the other person because you are not in a condition to accept the apology is unacceptable and will surely worsen the situation.

  • Dionne S. December 10th, 2009 at 3:12 PM #9

    So you shouldn’t shout if that’s how you feel and just meekly accept it NANI? No way! Shouting is still communicate and I’m not taking an apology that’s inadequate just to make them feel better! I had an ex that would say “I’m sorry you’re hurt” and call that his apology because it had the word sorry in it. You know what? That was an observation, not an apology.

  • Pearl December 10th, 2009 at 7:40 PM #10

    My mother taught me to keep the peace no matter what and that as long as someone said sorry that should be it over with. I am now in the unenviable position where I fall over myself to apologize even when it’s not my fault to just stop arguments. I get hurt and yet I apologize for being sensitive instead of being straight and saying you hurt me. It’s so stupid and weak.

  • Yolanda December 10th, 2009 at 8:28 PM #11

    Hey Pearl, at least you got to open your mouth! Least said, soonest mended mine would say. That’s a polite version of shut up if a fight’s brewing. Try growing up with that! Icy silences are better than talking it out: yeah right.

    So much ill feeling was swept under the carpet that we needed a stepladder to walk on it LOL. ;)

  • larry February 18th, 2013 at 1:01 AM #12

    i fail to find the words to accept someone’s apology.

  • Bbh May 29th, 2013 at 9:25 PM #13

    I just had an old friend walk up to me out of the blue. She Burst into tears and said I am so sorry for somehting she had done 9 months ago. I had tried to make things right at the begininging with texts and a couple of phone calls and had written her letters with no responce. My life is much simpliar with out her
    I don/t know if I want friendship or nor, :(

    Bren

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