How to Apologize When You Mess Up (Because We All Do)

Saying you're sorry is hard, but it's easier if you know how to apologize in a way that shows how much you care.

Published May 2, 2024
Upset small schoolgirl having trustful conversation with compassionate young mother, sitting together on sofa.

We all mess up sometimes; it's just part of being a human. Knowing how to apologize in a way that really makes the other person understand how sorry we are can help us keep our relationships strong and repair any damage that has been done. Whether you need to apologize to a family member, friend, or romantic partner, there are some things you can do or say to make your words especially meaningful.

How to Apologize to Someone You've Hurt

In its most basic sense, an apology is our acknowledgment that we've hurt someone else. It could be anything from an accidental physical injury like bumping into someone in the grocery store to an emotional blow like infidelity. There are many ways we hurt each other in life. No matter what the injury is, the apology needs to include a few basic things.

Quick Tip

Not sure if you need to apologize? If you're in doubt, it's always better to say you're sorry if you think there's a chance you upset someone else.

1. Take Responsibility

Start by taking responsibility for the pain you've caused the other person. Be specific and try not to shift any of the blame to anyone or anything else. Owning up to your mistake or misdeed is very important for showing the other person you see their pain. You can give a little background information here, but be sure you're not trying to excuse your actions.

This part can be really hard, especially if you feel truly awful. It's natural to try to protect yourself from the guilt you may feel. Remind yourself that this is the most difficult part and that by giving an apology, you're taking action to repair the damage.

2. Own Your Feelings of Remorse

You're sorry, so it's important to make sure the other person understands your remorse. "Sorry" is a good word, but it's not always specific enough to feel genuine to the person you hurt. You may feel guilty, ashamed, disappointed in yourself, or embarrassed. Take a moment to think about how this really made you feel and express it as clearly as possible.

There is a deep vulnerability in owning your feelings. It can be really hard to be that emotionally open — especially if the other person is upset or angry. This is part of what makes apologizing hard, and it's also why it's important.

3. Say How You Will Fix Things

It's not always possible to fix what went wrong, but most of the time, there's some way you can offer to help. If you've broken something, you can offer to replace it, for instance. If you've betrayed someone's trust, you can acknowledge that and tell them how you plan to work to rebuild it.

If you're not sure how to fix things, it can help just to say you know you hurt the other person and you'd like to do whatever they need to make things better.

Quick Tip

Depending on the relationship you have with the person, you can also add a statement about how important they are to you. Saying something like, "You're my best friend, and I'm really sorry I hurt you" can help the other person see how much you value them.

Example Apologies to Help You Say the Perfect Thing

Exactly what you should say depends on the specific situation and the person you're talking to, but these examples can help you get started. Tweak them to fit your needs.

Apologies for Friends

If you stood your friend up, forgot their birthday, crossed a line, or hurt them in some other way, knowing how to apologize is important. Your apology needs to focus on how important the friendship is to you and how you'll try to do better in the future.

  • I just realized I completely forgot our coffee date on Saturday. I feel terrible, especially because having time to talk to you is something that's really important to me. I know you've got a lot going on, but if you have a little time to spare, I would really appreciate a chance to buy you a latte.
  • I should never have flirted with Skylar at that party last weekend. It was way out of line, and I'm really disappointed in myself for hurting you that way. Your friendship matters more to me than anyone else. I understand if you need to take some time, but I'm hoping you'll give me another chance to be a better friend.
  • Okay, so I looked at my calendar just now, and your birthday was six days ago. I feel really bad for forgetting it. I need you to know it isn't a sign that I don't care. I really care about you, and I'd love a chance to take you out for dessert this week for a belated celebration.

Apologies for Family Members

Sometimes, we hurt the people we love the most, whether through our own carelessness or just by not prioritizing them. If you said the wrong thing to your sister or haven't called your grandma in a long time, knowing how to apologize can help them see just how much they matter to you.

  • Grandma, I know I haven't called you in weeks, and I feel terrible about that. No matter how busy I am, I love talking to you. Would you be able to chat on the phone later today?
  • When I made that joke about your test score at the family dinner last week, I should have thought about how that would land. I should never have said it, and I feel really bad. I promise to be a better sister in the future.
  • I'm so sorry to have disappointed everyone by not showing up to Thanksgiving dinner this year. I should have called to communicate my plans, and I feel terrible for worrying you. Family is really important to me, and I will communicate better from now on.

Apologies for Romantic Partners

Knowing how to apologize to your boyfriend, girlfriend, crush, or partner is crucial for keeping a relationship healthy. Whether it was a little mistake like forgetting to call or a big one like cheating on them, how you apologize matters a lot.

  • I fell asleep when I got home last night and woke up thinking about you, and I suddenly remembered I didn't call when I said I would. Doing what I say I will do in this relationship is a big deal to me, so I'm disappointed in myself. I'm sorry I didn't call. I promise to do better.
  • I was thinking about that party we went to, and I realized I totally jumped in and answered for you a bunch of times when we were talking to people. I'm really upset with myself for that because I love how you express yourself and would never want to get in the way of that. I give you my word I'll try to never do that again.
  • When I kissed another person, I broke your trust and really hurt you. I feel awful because hurting you is the worst thing. I'm going to do everything I can to regain your trust, but I also understand you may need some time or may not forgive me at all. Please let me know what you need.

Related: 35 Sorry Love Quotes to Make a Heartfelt Apology

Show the Other Person You Care With a Thoughtful Apology

You're going to mess up sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes and bad choices. The key here is knowing how to apologize to your girlfriend, your bff, your dad, or anyone else you hurt. A lot of the time, the apology does more than just repair some of the damage; it shows the other person how much you care about them.

How to Apologize When You Mess Up (Because We All Do)