“Love means never having to say you're sorry” is one of the most insidious aphorisms ever to come from a cheesy romantic movie. If anything, love—especially the kind that includes living with someone—gives you extra incentive to apologize. Yes, saying sorry can be hard, but it's way better than suffering your partner's icy stares from across the kitchen table for three days.
Most of us aren’t very good at apologizing, especially after a fight. Of course, it would be great if you sidestepped an argument altogether by, say, waiting to talk until you’re more calm. Or until you’ve eaten. Or remembering that it's never you versus your partner, it’s you and your partner versus a problem. No matter how good you get at communicating maturely, disagreements will happen. Here’s how to say sorry afterward:
Should you apologize? In a word: yes. Apologizing isn’t always about being wrong, sometimes it’s about the way you said or did something, or how someone else was affected by what you said or did. Even if you feel that you were and still are right that you guys went to her parents’ for Christmas last year (and the year before), you can still apologize after your blow-out fight for how it went down. You also don’t need to hold on to sorrys like you only get 140 in your entire life. The key is to match the size of the sorry to the size of the conflict. If you were a total grouch last week because of work, you can acknowledge that you sucked to be around and that you’re sorry for it without sitting down and mapping out the steps you’re going to take to never be grouchy again. Simple sorrys are surprisingly effective. But when you do have a nastier conflict, and especially if you said or did something hurtful, you need to apologize and apologize well.
What if you’re not wrong? Saying sorry is, in some ways, a ritual; it’s lining up to shake hands after the game (God bless hockey). It’s a reminder that ultimately, no matter how corny this is to say, you and your partner are on the same team. You can admit you’re wrong without saying sorry (a favorite of men everywhere), and you can say you’re sorry even if you feel that you’re not wrong. The key here is to never say, “I’m sorry if that hurt your feelings; I’m not wrong, but I’m sorry that you’re upset.” That is not a good apology, and I, along with every other woman I can find, will haunt your ass if you pull that shit. An apology is never the right time to go back over who was wrong and who was right. Nor is an apology a time to defend yourself. Doing so is like blowing out the candles of someone else’s birthday cake; it makes things about you. So what should you do?
Apologize for what you’re sorry for. Take some time to think about what you could have done better in the situation. (There is always something! And if you can’t think of anything, you can always apologize for not being empathetic enough, since it’s probably true.) It can be as simple as “I’m sorry that I waited to tell you about these plans until the last minute and put you in a bad position.” It could be “I’m sorry for my tone earlier; that wasn’t cool.” Be as specific as possible. You can only apologize for what you did; you cannot apologize for someone else’s reaction, which is why “I’m sorry you’re hurt” doesn’t count. You can, however, say, “I’m sorry about spending money on a new denim jacket when I was supposed to be saving for our trip. I know the trip is important to you, and I’m sorry doing that made you feel like I don’t care.” A good rule of thumb is that the only subject that should come after “I’m sorry” is “I.”
The sorry formula. I’ve written and shouted about this a lot, so feel free to roll your eyes if I’m repeating myself, but if you’re an adult, you are responsible for both your intent and your impact. So even if you didn’t mean to hurt your partner’s feelings, you’re responsible if you did. I know; being an adult sucks. Just try telling a parking cop that you didn’t intend to stay in the space more than two hours. See what happens. A successful apology focuses on the results of your actions rather than what you wanted the results to be. It may help to mention—once!—what you intended. “I didn’t text you while you were out of town because I wanted you to have fun,” and then follow up with an understanding of how that didn’t work. “But I see how that came across as ignoring you. Sorry!” But don’t belabor the point. Another key to a good apology is actually knowing what you did wrong and then owning up to it. So if you don’t know what you’re apologizing for, but your partner is upset and you don’t want them to be, you’re not prepared to apologize yet. Talk it out first. Ask them what they’re upset about tactfully, if need be! You can literally say, “Hey, I want to make sure I don’t f***up like that again. What is it that bothered you about what I did?” Which brings us to the last step of a good apology.
Don’t ‘f’ up like that again. Or at least make a concerted effort not to. Find fun, new ways to f***up! Don’t be the person who has to be reminded about the same thing every three months