Here's How To Apologize to a Friend—and Fix Your Relationship

Updated 05/15/19
  Ba Hoang Duong Ly / EyeEm/Getty Images

Why are apologies so difficult? Saying you are sorry can be one of the most difficult things you do. People have a hard time with admitting they made a mistake, and it can be tough to put your ego aside and put the focus on how your friend feels. 

But we all make mistakes, so if you are friends with someone long enough, you'll probably have an occasion where you need to apologize. Perhaps you had a big blow up and realized later you reacted poorly. Or maybe you just didn't show support when you needed to. Whatever the reason, apologizing can help you both heal and move on from the situation. Apologizing the right way, however, may take a little practice.

Saying You Are Sorry Can Help a Friendship

Apologies benefit friendships in a variety of ways. First, you acknowledge that you did something wrong, which is extremely powerful when it comes to friendship. With an apology, you take responsibility for your actions, which allows your friend to forgive you. Without an apology, it can be difficult to move forward and make up after an argument.

Second, an apology gives you credibility as a friend. Sometimes our pals forgive us easily for the minor things we do wrong, but that doesn't mean you still shouldn't apologize. If you're the type of person who immediately takes responsibility for what you did wrong, it shows that you have integrity and are a down-to-earth individual, which will gain you respect from friends and acquaintances.

Things Never to Say When Apologizing

Note that the art of apologizing involves taking responsibility. Never apologize as a way to "shut someone up" when they are saying you hurt their feelings and you don't think you did. If you really believe you did nothing wrong, you should talk things through with your friend until you see why they are hurt or how you came across. You'll really need to self-reflect so you can see things from your friend's point of view.

Avoid saying:

  • "I'm sorry if I hurt you." (If, in this case, means you do not take responsibility. The person you're apologizing to knows you aren't taking responsibility and the rift between you will continue to grow.)
  • "I'm sorry you feel that way." (Again, you're not taking responsibility here, and instead, belittling the hurt your friend feels. Instead of saying this, probe to find out more about why the person is upset.)
  • "I'm sorry you think I did that." (Even if your friend is mistaken about something you've done, discuss it further so you are both on the same page rather than make this statement.)

Elements of a Proper Apology

The way you apologize is going to be slightly different depending on what the offense was, where it was done, and who you are apologizing to. In general, a good apology should consist of:

  • A request for their attention. ("I wanted to talk to you about what went down at our dinner party the other night.")
  • An acknowledgment of what happened. ("I know I hurt your feelings when I said the salad was the worst I'd ever eaten.")
  • Sincerity in admitting you did something wrong. ("It was wrong of me to say that. You worked so hard on dinner and I had no right to try and diminish your wonderful meal.")
  • The words "I'm sorry" or "I apologize." ("I'm truly sorry for that, Ava. You didn't deserve that.")
  • Some humor to mend fences (optional, depending on the situation). ("Who am I to talk? I can't even dial the phone for takeout half the time.")

Allow Time For Your Friend to Forgive You

The amount of time it takes your friend to forgive will depend on what happened, of course, but ideally, if you sincerely apologize, your pal should be able to put it behind you fairly quickly. Some offenses, however, take longer to get over. Respect that and give your friend time. You don't need to beat yourself up over it after you apologize because by acknowledging what you did you are also (perhaps silently) vowing to change. The point of apologizing for our goof ups is to help us grow as friends and do better the next time.

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