Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.
If you've been married or in a serious relationship for any length of time, you already know that there is no such thing as a perfect partnership. Everyone stumbles. Everyone makes blunders. But making mistakes is part of what makes us human. Still, there comes a time in every relationship when knowing how to say sorry will make all the difference in the world.
There are plenty of reasons a husband or wife might need to say sorry to their spouse. Maybe they forgot an important date, like an anniversary or a birthday, or they said something hurtful in the middle of an argument. Whatever mistake you made, knowing how to say sorry with sincerity is the first step in repairing your relationship and getting things back on track.
In this article, you will find the following:
- Tips on how to say sorry to your wife, girlfriend, husband, or boyfriend.
- Phrases to help you apologize to your partner.
- Seven steps to saying sorry to your husband or wife.
- "I'm sorry" gift ideas for your spouse or significant other.
- When to say sorry to your partner (and when not to).
- The difference between "I'm sorry" and "I apologize."
Obviously, some mistakes are bigger than others (i.e., infidelity and physical or emotional abuse) and can’t be easily forgiven, no matter how much you want to say sorry. But on those other occasions when you messed up unintentionally, saying you're sorry should always be done in a kind and thoughtful way. Continue scrolling to find out how.
Tips About How to Say Sorry to Your Spouse
Apologizing to your spouse involves more than just saying "I'm sorry." There are many things you can do—from taking responsibility for your actions to resisting the urge to pull out the so-called "scorecard"—that will make your apology come across sincerely.
How to Give a Sincere and Heartfelt Apology
- Avoid using the word "but."
- Don't take your spouse's forgiveness for granted. Ask—but don't demand—that you be forgiven for your mistake.
- Don't blame your spouse for how you behaved. Take responsibility for the hurtful things that you said and did.
- Express your gratitude for your partner's patience.
- Choose words and phrases that are soft, gentle, and sincere, but make sure they sound like things you would actually say. Don't try to be someone else when you apologize for your blunder. Being fake is the worst way to say sorry!
- If you are writing a note to say sorry to your wife or husband, put some thought into your writing materials. A handwritten card is far more personal and sincere than a message sent by text or email.
An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything.
— Lynn Johnston
- If you feel the need to apologize right away but can't reach your loved one, a voice-mail message is better than a text message.
- Don't invalidate or dismiss your partner's feelings with phrases such as "If you were offended" or "If I hurt your feelings." Sometimes you need to apologize long before your partner has expressed hurt or regret. Always apologize as soon as you know, in your heart, that what you said or did was wrong.
- Don't bring out a scorecard of past hurts and emotional transgressions.
- Let go of your expectations for how your spouse will react when you say you are sorry. He or she may need time to let your apology sink in, and forgiveness may not be granted right away. You can't control how your wife or husband will react to your apology, so give your partner the space he or she needs to process what happened. No matter how you say sorry to your spouse, how they react is up to them.
- Find a way to show your partner—through words and actions—that you’ve taken sincere steps to make sure you won’t mess up again.
How to Apologize to Your Wife, Husband, Girlfriend, or Boyfriend
Whether you choose to write your apology in a letter or you decide that saying sorry face-to-face is the best way to show your spouse you regret your actions, you may need help getting started.
Here are some helpful phrases to use when you need to say you're sorry. Don't just copy them word for word, though. Find a way to add your own thoughts and feelings to the expressions. Put your own voice into the phrases so that your loved one will be able to hear your sincerity.
- I’m so very sorry for all the things I didn’t say and do when you really needed me to be there for you. Please forgive me.
- I am deeply sorry that I hurt you. I know these words alone can’t make things right. I want you to know how much I regret what I did to make you sad. I love you with all my heart, and I will do whatever I can to make it up to you.
- I don’t expect to be forgiven for what I’ve done. I just want you to know that you didn’t deserve what happened between us. I am really sorry.
- I deeply regret that I couldn’t be there for you on [occasion]. Even though you've been so patient and understanding, I wish more than anything that I could have been with you to share that important moment. I’ll make it up to you in any way I can.
- I never want to lose sight of what’s truly important ever again. I’m so sorry I let you down.
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Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
- I want to tell you how sorry I am. I see now that I was wrong and I treated you unfairly. Please accept my sincerest apologies for the pain that I've caused you.
- I’m so sorry that we got into a fight the last time we were together. Please believe me when I say that I didn’t mean the hurtful things that I said. Your love and respect mean so much to me. I hope you can forgive me.
- I’m very sorry for the pain and embarrassment I caused you. You are a devoted partner, and you didn’t deserve my thoughtless [words/actions]. I hope you can forgive me and give me a chance to make things better between us.
- I can see it in your eyes that I have caused you pain. I wish there was something I could do to take back the hurtful things I said. All I have to give you is my deepest apology for what I have done.
- It was foolish of me to take you for granted. I am truly blessed to have you in my life.
- Please accept my deepest apologies for the way I behaved [when]. I am truly sorry for letting you down.
Steps to Saying Sorry to Your Husband or Wife
- Admit your mistake. The first step to a sincere apology is admitting you were wrong. Not only will accepting your mistakes, taking responsibility for them, and learning from them make your apology come off as genuine and heartfelt—it will also make you a better spouse, in general.
- Acknowledge you have hurt your spouse. For this step to work, it's important not to use language like "I'm sorry, but," "I know, I just," or even "I'm sorry you feel that way." None of these convey the understanding that your actions were at the root of your spouse's pain, which is essential. Instead, try something like "I'm sorry for [what you did] and for how it made you feel. I take full responsibility, and I will make sure it never happens again."
- Show your spouse you are sorry. Use "I" statements to apologize to your spouse. It's important to show that you've internalized your mistake and learned from it, and saying things like, "Well sometimes you do the same thing," just isn't going to help or sound sincere.
- Ask for your spouse's forgiveness. As hard as it is, when you ask for forgiveness, you need to be ready to hear "no." Your spouse may not be ready to forgive you yet, and that is okay. You can't demand immediate forgiveness, so if your spouse says they aren't ready to forgive you yet, you need to be able to take it in stride. Even though it can be painful, tell them that it's okay and that you understand.
- Give your spouse some time to process. This step goes with the one above. Depending on the degree of your slip-up, it may take your spouse a little while to forgive you. This is okay, and it's important for you not to rush them through this process. Make it clear that you're sorry, and then wait it out.
- Forgive yourself. In the meantime, work on forgiving yourself. This is often easier said than done, but showing yourself the same compassion you're asking for in your spouse is crucial to moving forward.
- Commit to not making that mistake again. The best apology in the world won't make a bit of difference if you keep on making the same mistakes. So come up with a plan to prevent that from happening. For example, if you forgot to take care of an important task (i.e., taking the dog to the vet or paying the phone bill), try setting yourself reminders so that it won't happen again. This will show your spouse that you take their feelings seriously and that you're committed to making your relationship work.
"I'm Sorry" Gifts for Your Spouse
When you've made a mistake, it's natural to want to say sorry with words, whether written or spoken. But sometimes the thought of giving a gift or token of your love to your spouse feels like the right thing to do to start making amends. Here are some gift ideas to help soften the blow after you messed up.
"I'm Sorry" Gift Ideas for Her
- A gift certificate for a relaxing spa treatment and a note acknowledging her need for a bit of alone time to refresh her spirit.
- Flowers delivered to her workplace to brighten her day.
- Light and humorous homemade coupons redeemable for simple pleasures and little indulgences, such as a relaxing foot rub, a handyman project done around the house, or an offer to tackle an unpleasant household chore.
- A cute jar full of slips of paper with reasons you love her.
"I'm Sorry" Gift Ideas for Him
- A personalized playlist with songs that are reminiscent of happy times between the two of you.
- A gourmet cake with a one-of-a-kind greeting written in icing.
- Small, humorous gifts that will put a smile on his face.
- A home movie night, complete with popcorn, treats, and cuddling.
Gifts Can Supplement Apologies, But They Can't Replace Them
These gift ideas may ease some of the pain you've caused your spouse, but don’t rely on money or fancy gifts alone. The presents shouldn't be given as bribes in exchange for immediate forgiveness. The offerings are meant to help your aggrieved spouse feel less stressed and more relaxed so that he or she can come to terms with what happened and process your apology with an open mind.
When to Say Sorry to Your Partner
Naturally, your partner may need some time to cool off before you make your apology, but it's usually better to apologize sooner rather than later. Though it might feel tempting to wait—maybe you even think waiting long enough will spare you from having to apologize at all—this can backfire in a big way. If your partner's initial anger subsides, but you fail to make amends, this can upset them all over again, prolonging the cycle of frustration and anger.
Ideally, you and your partner should be both quick to apologize and quick to forgive.
When Not to Say Sorry to Your Partner
Though apologizing is key to maintaining a healthy relationship, it's important to know when they are unnecessary (and even a bad idea).
8 Things You Shouldn't Have to Apologize for in a Relationship
- Your Hobbies: Being in a healthy relationship means being with someone who supports your passions (and vice versa). There's no need to say you're sorry for taking some time to do what makes you happy, so instead of apologizing for it, show your partner why it's so important to you and make it clear that you support their hobbies as well.
- Your Opinions: Your partner doesn't have to agree with you about everything, but they should respect your opinions. Apologizing for expressing your opinions unconsciously communicates that they don't matter, so stick up for what you believe and make sure that your partner doesn't make you feel bad about it.
- Your Quirks: "Be yourself." How many times has each of us heard this advice? And for good reason? Being able to be your true self is one of the most important things in a relationship, and even if you have one or two core quirks that your partner doesn't love, you shouldn't be expected to continually apologize for them. You should never have to apologize for being who you are.
- Trivial Mistakes: It's easy (especially for women) to fall into a pattern of apologizing for little things that do no harm to those around them or that other people don't care about. If whatever little mistake you might have made is innocent and perhaps even unnoticeable to your spouse, you shouldn't feel obligated to apologize for it.
- Something You Didn't Do: Sometimes, it can seem easier to apologize for something you didn't do just to avoid a fight. This empty apology will do more harm than good to your relationship, so avoid the urge to say sorry just to get your partner off your back.
- Feeling Sad or Vulnerable: It is perfectly normal to feel these things, and as long as you aren't taking your feelings out on your spouse, they're nothing to apologize for. After all, relationships are all about love and support, so your partner should be there to pick you up when you're feeling down (or keep you company down there if you need to wallow for a little while).
- Expressing Your Needs: Even if your partner can't meet your every want and need, they should be there to listen and try to compromise, and you should never have to preface that kind of conversation with "I'm sorry, but." Openly communicating about your desires is something to be proud of, not to apologize for.
- Nothing: If you find yourself apologizing to your partner all the time, and for no particular reason, it may be time to seriously reevaluate your relationship. If you're being walked all over and falling into an abusive cycle where you find yourself making excuses for your partner and apologizing for things that you shouldn't have to, it's time to take a long, hard look at your relationship and evaluate whether or not it's still healthy.
Note: Though it can be harder to recognize, emotional abuse can be just as serious as physical abuse. Here are a few signs you're in an emotionally abusive relationship. If you think you might be experiencing this, you can reach out to a domestic violence hotline for help.
Is There a Difference Between Apologizing and Saying Sorry?
Yes and no.
Many people use the expression "I'm sorry" to express their regret about something they've done and to begin the process of making amends to the person they've hurt. But when we look at the expression closely, there is a subtle difference between saying "I'm sorry" and "I apologize."
The word "sorry" is an adjective that describes how you feel. That is, you feel sad that you hurt someone. But does that mean that you are asking for forgiveness and willing to make a change? That's where the verb "apologize" can be more explicit in helping you to show your desire to make things right again.
To apologize means that you are doing more than just feeling something, you are acknowledging the impact that your mistake had on another person. It is about you taking an action (apologizing, giving an apology) directed outwards to the other person.
In short, saying you're sorry merely expresses a fact. It is about you and your internal state. So if you want to make sure there's no confusion between how you feel and your intentions to make the other person feel better, try saying: "I'm so sorry I hurt your feelings. I apologize for being so thoughtless and inconsiderate and I will not [describe action that you are apologizing for] again."
Nothing wrong with apologizing, but saying I’m sorry does nothing when you continue to make the same mistakes.
© 2014 Sadie Holloway