The Right Way to Say “I’m Sorry”

Remember that old catchphrase from the seventies, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”?

Whether it’s true or not, Divorce very often means you, or your ex, really should be saying you’re sorry. But just uttering those words is not enough. To really do its job, the apology needs to be offered correctly. So what’s the proper etiquette for saying you’re sorry?

As summarized in this article from the NY Times, citing the book “Why Won’t You Apologize” by Dr. Harriet Lerner, Rule Number One is do not follow your “I’m sorry” with a comma and then a “but.” Adding that “but” is making an excuse, which completely negates the sincerity of the apology. Similarly, when the offender says “I’m sorry you feel that way,” he or she isn’t truly apologizing, but rather making it about the injured party’s reaction instead of the act that caused the pain. (How often have we heard a politician “apologize” by saying he’s sorry if anyone was offended by what he did or said?).

The article also quotes Dr. Lerner as saying that a request for forgiveness should not be part of the apology. Again it undercuts the sincerity of saying “I’m sorry” when you also add something you want. Dr. Lerner explains that one can accept an apology, yet still not be ready to forgive.

Interestingly, though, she disputes the notion that offering forgiveness is an important part of healing. We’ve covered this topic before (here and here, for example), believing it’s really the best thing for the person who’s been wronged. It doesn’t mean you have to forget what he or she did, but letting go of that anger and bitterness will help you move forward sooner, and more easily. Dr. Lerner contends that there are lots of non-forgiving ways to heal, including “therapy, meditation, medication, and even swimming.”

What do you think about both the apology issue, and forgiveness? Are you the one who owes the apology, and understands better what you need to say and not say? Or, are you waiting for that “I’m sorry,” and will now be additionally aware of how it’s offered?

And what about forgiveness? Has your ex asked you for it? If you’ve given it, did it help you move forward? Please share in the comments section below…