How To Give The Perfect Apology

Yikes — you made a mistake, your honey’s upset and now you’re eager to make peace and move past it. But how? Try these three steps for making the perfect apology from communications expert Laurie Puhn.

By Laurie Puhn, J.D.

aybe you put your foot in your mouth when you said your date’s friend was stupid. Or perhaps you intended to be on time, but a last-minute glitch at the office made you 20 minutes late to the restaurant where your date was waiting. Or, it could be that you “should” have remembered your honey’s birthday, but you didn’t and now your partner’s on
Embellish, don’t diminish your wrongdoing.
the warpath. Whatever your error, you don’t have to let it ruin your relationship for hours, days or forever. When a simple “I’m sorry” doesn’t bring on the forgiveness you crave (and it seldom will), you have no choice but to issue a perfect five-minute apology to resurrect your relationship. This persuasive apology technique is found in my new book, FIGHT LESS, LOVE MORE: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In (Rodale Books, Oct. 12, 2010). Here are the three steps to follow to gain forgiveness in five minutes or less.

Step 1: Do Make a Mountain out of a Molehill
Embellish, don’t diminish your wrongdoing. Rather than saying, “It’s no big deal” or “You’re overreacting,” inflate your misstep with a comment like “I made a big mistake,” or “It was really awful of me to do that.” When you apologize profusely, you steal away your partner’s need to beat you over the head with how big and bad your mistake was by acknowledging it yourself first.

Step 2: Dig Deep
Beauty may only be skin deep, but a mistake can dig into the soul. What seems like a small thing — being 20 minutes late, for example — is more than that to the person left waiting for you. It’s disrespectful, rude and it may be a telltale sign that someone or something else is more important to you. So dig deep and say you’re sorry with absolute sincerity and avoid the temptation to make excuses. The key to digging deep is using the right “B” word: don’t say, “I’m sorry, but it was my boss’ fault…” when you can instead say, “I’m sorry I was 20 minutes late because it was rude and disrespectful to keep you waiting.” Using the word “because” instead of “but” will guide you toward telling your date exactly how you hurt him or her in such a way that your date knows this won’t become a pattern.

Step 3: Repair the Damage, Plan for Prevention
This step is crucial in making a perfect apology. When it’s missing, your apology becomes unacceptable. Don’t end your
When it’s missing, your apology becomes unacceptable.
five-minute “I’m sorry” conversation until you’ve repaired the damage done and/or offered a plan of action to prevent it from recurring in the future with your sweetheart. But how can you make amends for something that’s already happened and is now in the past? Let’s say you revealed something personal that betrayed your girl or guy’s trust. Then offer to go to the person with whom you shared such sensitive information and beg him or her not to share what you’ve said with anyone else in the future. Though this example is not a 100 percent guaranteed repair, it shows you care enough about your mate to want to make amends.

And what if your mistake caused damage that can’t easily be repaired? Then focus on devising a prevention plan you and your partner can agree on. For instance, if you were late getting to the restaurant for your date, assure your mate that, in the future, you will give yourself some “wiggle room” time between leaving the office and meeting up in case of unforeseen delays, and promise that you will confirm the details of your plans together earlier in the day to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Can you actually achieve forgiveness in just five minutes? Yes, because saying the right words at the right time means you understand how your mistake affected your relationship with each other from your mate’s perspective. Once your special someone feels you’ve really listened to his or her concerns and knows you will adopt a plan to prevent it from happening again, you can both move on and get back to enjoying your time together.

Laurie Puhn, J.D. is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, relationship expert and TV commentator. She is the author of the new book, Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In (Rodale Books, Oct. 12, 2010). Learn more about her by visiting her website at A happily married mom, Laurie has been known to seek forgiveness — and often gets it.

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