It’s so important to make goals that are attainable and realistic in life and our relationships. Most of us have accidentally or inadvertently said or done things that upset our partners. That’s why knowing how to apologize genuinely and effectively is key to maintaining a healthy relationship. Which of these sound like a more beneficial relationship goal: never making a mistake in your marriage, or knowing how to apologize to your husband or wife effectively when you do make a mistake?

Not only is the latter option more beneficial—it’s more realistic, too. After all, occasional mistakes are a part of the human experience. Still, we could all use a little more grace in the moments we fall short.

So, how can you express your remorse genuinely and lovingly toward your spouse? Here are the six characteristics of an effective apology for your spouse, according to research.

1. Express your regret clearly.

Keep it simple. The phrase “I’m sorry” is a great place to start. Also be mindful of the tone of your voice, your body language, and the surrounding environment when the apology is offered. Offer your thoughts on how it may have made them feel and how you would have felt if they had done the same thing to you.

2. Explain what went wrong.

Use your own words to describe what you did that was not loving, thoughtful, or otherwise in your partner’s best interest. This shows your partner that you understand the expectations or norms you violated, and also gives your partner a chance to clarify their perspective. If you don’t know why you said or did something that upset your husband or wife, tell them the truth.

3. Acknowledge your responsibility in the issue.

It should be clear to your partner that you’re apologizing for your action or inaction, rather than trying to justify or defend yourself. It’s fine to give some context, but the main message to communicate is that you’re “owning up” for your role in the conflict. Offer your partner words of affirmation, telling them how much you care and how important it is for you to carry your weight in the marriage.

4. Express empathy.

Consider that what you did (or didn’t do) probably triggered an emotion or feeling in your partner. Show empathy for that by trying to put yourself in their shoes. What sort of feelings or thoughts might they feel as a result of your behavior?

  • Worry?
  • Fear?
  • Sadness?
  • Anger?
  • Disappointment?

If they start to open up about their feelings let them express them openly and do not go on the defensive. Only they know how they feel.


5. Offer repair.

Show your partner that you’ve thought about what you could do to avoid a similar mistake in the future. Saying, “Next time, I will…” is a great way to communicate your desire to learn from this misstep.  Make sure you live up to that promise though, because a disingenuous promise that is repeatedly broken in a relationship can be toxic.

6. Request forgiveness.

Show some humility and literally ask for forgiveness. It’s helpful to maintain a sense of non-attachment here, knowing that you ultimately cannot control how your partner feels. For whatever reason, it may take them a little time to forgive. See if you can make space for that.

Be watchful for any feelings of guilt or shame inside, and understand that being able to forgive yourself is not necessarily contingent on your partner’s forgiveness.

Putting it all together, here’s one example of an effective apology:

I’m sorry I raised my voice at you earlier. I was so stressed from work and from the long drive home, but I know that doesn’t excuse my behavior. That must have really hurt your feelings. Next time, I’ll try taking a few deep breaths in my car before coming inside to make sure I’m in a better headspace. I hope you can forgive me.

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Jennifer Long

Jennifer Long is a writer, author, and multiple hat wearer with experience across many different industries.