How to Apologize

An apology is the most effective way to repair a rupture in close relationships.

In attachment theory, a rupture occurs when we feel disconnected from our loved ones.

A feeling of disconnection can result from something simple, like our loved one not answering a question we ask. Being ignored can cause us to feel alarm and frustration.

When we feel alarm and frustration, the fight/flight/freeze part of our nervous system is activated. Until this part is calmed, we might find ourselves in a cycle of attack and blame.

     Partner A: “Why are you ignoring me?”

     Partner B: “I am not ignoring you! I was just writing a text! Can’t you see that?”

     Partner A: “I DID see that, but what I want to ask is more important than that text!

     Partner B: “Why do you always think you’re so important?”

To prevent a spiral of attack and blame like this and re-connect, we can instead offer an apology.

An effective apology has 4 steps:

  1. Own up. Admit you’ve done something that caused disconnection.

“You’re right. I wasn’t listening.”

(Note that no excuses or explanations are offered at this stage.)

  1. Empathic apology. Express remorse and regret. Describe how you imagine your partner might have felt.

“I know I hurt you and I probably made you feel unimportant/ignored and I’m really sorry about that.”

(Note that no excuses or explanations are offered at this stage.)

  1. Commit. Resolve not to repeat the act that caused the disconnection and describe your plan to support this commitment.

“From now on, I will do my best to not do that. When I am looking at my phone and you ask me a question, I will stop texting, look up, and listen to you.”

(Note again that no excuses or explanations are offered at this stage!)

  1. Rebuild trust. Over the next while, keep your partner apprised of your struggles to maintain your commitment.

“Gosh, honey, I realize I’m finding it hard not to answer texts from work right away! I feel pressure to respond quickly and I get worried that I might lose that client.”

(This is the stage where you can offer an explanation. Focus on the feelings and sensations, such as the pressure and worry in this example, that get activated in you as you practice your commitment.)

Apologizing in this way calms your partner’s nervous system, re-establishes connection between the two of you, and avoids a spiral into attack and blame.

An effective apology is not easy to do because it demands a lot of us.

When there is a disconnection, there is work for both parties in a relationship. Each person must consider their own contribution (big or small) to the disconnection and take responsibility for making an effective apology using these steps.

Try practicing these steps when you sense a disconnection in your relationship. You may be surprised at how intimacy and satisfaction improve.

If you’d like help with effective apologies, book a free, 15-minute consult with me, Lucinda Flavelle. Call 403.457.3205 or book online at


*With thanks for Vancouver psychologist Marilee Sigal, PsyD for her 2016 presentation of this material.


Our registered clinical counsellor Lucinda Flavelle specializes in parent consulting and coaching, individual psychotherapy, and couples counselling. As a result of therapy, you will find yourself relieved of the burdens you were carrying, confident in your new way of being, and with a renewed sense of optimism and purpose about your life.



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