by Philippe Lewis

If you hurt someone, an apology is the most powerful way to clear things up / dissipate karma. Apologies are crucial because this is where we get to learn how we hurt someone, or crossed a boundary, how we impacted them, or how we missed cues for various reasons. This is how we get to step into the steep and sometimes challenging learning curve of learning to care for someone much better than we did before. In this process, it’s possible that a lot of shame or guilt might come up. Most people have a difficult time realizing they hurt someone they love, and they often want to sweep it under the rug or make it all better. Sometimes even the person who is hurt wants to do the same. This is why it’s important to slow down and and gently go through this process, with as much love and support as possible:

1. Ask the other person to tell you the impact your actions had on them. Make sure the other person knows you really get it.

For this step, you need to be okay about asking how you impacted someone – and also okay with someone being asked to share how they were impacted by you.   We’re not mind readers; just let your partner know the impact! I would suggest that the success of an apology is dependent on someone’s knowledge of the impact they had on another person.

The impact could look like (similar to non-violent communication):

  • When you said/did X, I felt sad, angry, hopeless, judged etc

  • When you said/did X, I made it mean that you actually meant X
    (Note, in this case, there’s what you said and then the story they made around it. It’s important that they recognize what story they were creating even if it’s not what you really meant or intended)

  • When you said/did X, it reminded me of how my mother/father/etc used to treat me as a child/teenager/etc

Make sure you get what the person is saying (and they get that you get it) by using a process called "mirroring". It looks like: "If I understand correctly, when I did X, the impact was Y”. Use their words as precisely as possible and take the time to really feel how it was for them to be impacted, and do your best to not take it personally. Go back and forth until you really understand the impact.  Note: this is not the place to argue what the impact is as it's mainly a matter of opinion.  Whatever your partner’s truth is, IS the truth for him/her.  

Finally, words and actions can have negative impact even if we never intended them to.  Now is not the time to say something like "I want you to know I didn't mean [to impact you this way], and I get that you were still impacted.”  or "Even if I didn't mean it, I get that I messed up." If apology goes well, there might be space to discuss that in the end.

2. Genuinely apologize, stating the impact as it was heard (word for word is okay, as long as you really get/feel it). We usually say something like,  “I apologize for doing X.  I recognize that the impact I had on you was Y." Again, you use the actions and impact from the previous step to once again let the other person know that you get what happened and you are apologizing for it. (PS An apology is NOT: I’m sorry you’re so messed up around this -- ie you don't want to make it about making the other person wrong)

3. Ask the other person if they feel heard, and if there's anything else you need to know to really get the impact. We usually say something like, “Did I understand you?  Did I fully get it? Is there anything else?” Sometimes there’s just more and sometimes when the words are reflected back to your partner, she/he realizes that something different was actually going on.  Don’t make him/her wrong for changing/adding stuff!

4. Ask the other person if they are ready to forgive you (this part is mainly for the other person!). Ask: "Will you forgive me?"

5. If ready, the other person forgives, in other words he/she lets go of the right to be angry and hurt for the impact stated above. Sometimes the person isn't ready to forgive yet.  In this case, you let them know that you are willing to do more work around this, and they can either let you know when they are ready or you can check-in with them later. We usually find when the person impacted feel really seen and heard, they are willing to let go of the anger and hurt much more easily.

6. Afterward, you can ask the other person if there's anything you can do to clean things up or make it up to them. 

7. If ready, the other person can tell you and you can then step into the process of repair, which will look like coming up with all the details for how this will happen. This is a way for the other person to see your commitment to getting back in right relationship with them, and your willingness to learn how to better care for them.

NOTE: When in conflict, at first you may find that you are competing with the other person for who gets the apology first. It's important to remember that after an apology, the other person can immediately ask for an apology too. In the end, both people will have apologized. With practice, this process becomes simple and automatic. It allows two people to clear upset/misunderstanding/hurt/etc quickly and without too much fuss and festering.


by Philippe Lewis

PS Other articles on apology I found:

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Philippe Lewis is a Sex & Intimacy Coach, Certified Sexological Bodyworker, and Event Producer. For the last 18 years, he has been exploring relationships, intimacy, sensuality and sexuality with individuals and communities through teaching, writing, coaching and (sexy) events with the goal of growing men and women into better lovers and better humans. He is a father, a lover, a partner, a husband, a teacher, a producer, a writer, a social artist, a social engineer, a coach, a counselor, and many more. His love for life is as polyamorous as his love and sex life.