How to Give a Perfect Apology

Follow this three-step apology to make amends and get the forgiveness you want.


how to apologizeHave you ever heard the words "I'm sorry" and instantly thought, "Oh no you're not." You knew the apology sounded insincere from the moment your spouse opened his or her mouth.

Or maybe you were the one who put your foot in your mouth when you criticized your spouse during dinner with friends. Or perhaps you revealed something personal to your parents that embarrassed your honey.

Whatever your slip-up, don't allow it to ruin a nice evening or a good relationship.

When a simple "I'm sorry" isn't enough, it's time for you to use the perfect three-step apology, which will give you the forgiveness you want in five minutes or less.

Step 1: Make a mountain out of a molehill.

While it's our natural instinct to minimize our mistakes by saying "I didn't really mean it" or "It's no big deal," doing so will only aggravate your partner.

Instead, if you go big and maximize your error with a comment like, "I made a huge error" or "It was really awful of me to do that," then your mate will be relieved knowing that you get how wrong you were-and that sentiment will go a long way toward reducing the anger.

Step 2: Use the "because" clause.

When someone is mad at you for your wrongdoing, it's because they feel disrespected, insulted, hurt, or ignored. What seems like a small thing, such as telling your children about your husband's flaw (such as his forgetfulness), is more than that to your husband. It's disrespectful and rude to put him down to your children (or anyone, for that matter).

So dig deep and say you're sorry for the deeper value that was undercut. Use the word "because" to share exactly how you hurt your mate, as in "I'm sorry I talked negatively about you to our children because it was disrespectful of me and it makes them think they can put you down too."

Step 3: Prevent and repair.

This is the crucial part of a perfect apology. Without this step, you won't win forgiveness. Complete your five-minute apology conversation by explaining to your mate how you will fix the damage done, or offer a plan of action to prevent the mistake from recurring.

For instance, if you opened your big mouth to your children, you can't fix the damage. But you can assure your mate that in the future you will share your frustrations directly with him or her, not with the kids. Plus, you can grant your partner permission to interrupt you and remind you of your agreement if you say something negative about him/her.

But what if you're not the guilty party and, instead, your mate is. Since that person doesn't know the three steps in a perfect apology, you can coach him or her into telling you what you need to hear.

Tell the offending party-in this case your mate-that a quick two-word "I'm sorry" doesn't work for you, and that you need to know exactly what he or she is sorry for. After he or she lists some reasons, ask how this mistake can be prevented from happening again. You will probably need to offer some suggestions here. Once your mate agrees to a practical prevention plan, bury the mistake and move on to enjoy your time together.

Use this perfect apology strategy to fight less, love more, and keep your homefront a peaceful, loving place.

Our monthly relationship columnist Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, pregnancy and parenting blogger at, and best-selling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America," and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. She lives in Westchester with her husband and two children.

See more articles by our relationship columnist Laurie Puhn