Your Apology Sucks: Mistakes You're Making Trying to Say 'Sorry'

Def Jam Recordings
Def Jam Recordings

Contemporary Canadian philosopher, Justin Drew Bieber, once posited a question relevant to people in all types of relationships: "Is it too late now to say sorry?"

While the majority of his lyrics (and life actions) don't quite rise to the level of actionable relationship advice, this one actually nails it. You gotta say sorry, even if it might be too late.

The ebb and flow of dating (and marriage) can take its toll on people, leading even the strongest relationships to experience mishaps that warrant an apology, and THEN further mishaps that only make things worse in the course of attempting said apology. A doctor, author, and sociologist exploring sex and society, Chauntelle Tibbals helped us put into words exactly everything people do wrong while trying to apologize. So turn off the Bieber -- this will be far more helpful.

Giving a fake apology

"I think the biggest mistake anyone can make when apologizing is not actually meaning it -- apologizing automatically or out of feeling obligated," says Tibbals. "The issue at hand, which may be a part of a wider problem, is actually not being addressed."

The phony sorry-to-end-the-argument apology is the exact opposite of what you should be doing when you’re trying to mend a problem. By essentially sweeping the argument under the rug with a half-hearted and over-accentuated "sorry," the problem gets buried in the angriest part of your brain, allowing it to resurface in the most inconvenient of times.

Not taking a breather

"Taking a moment to engage and think through an issue, understand what happened, and determine if you are in fact actually sorry is important. One way to fix this is to fight the impulse. If you feel yourself starting out a heated conversation with something like, 'Look, I'm sorry, but...' maybe take a beat."

Try going outside, walking into another room in the house, or just closing your eyes and counting to 10.

"I'm sorry you feel that way"

Used by clever bastards everywhere, the "I'm sorry you feel that way" apology tricks the other party into thinking you're actually feeling remorse, while slyly attempting to let yourself off the hook. It's passive-aggressive, almost certain to lead to an argument, and insulting to the intelligence of the person you're "apologizing" to.

Telling someone you're sorry for how they've responded to your words is like saying, "I'm sorry you're bleeding that way" after you stab them.

"Don't look through someone’s phone and don't apologize with a ticket to Disney World... even though that's a great present."

Buying forgiveness with a gift

An apology may sometimes look like an expensive piece of jewelry or one of those fancy Amazon gift cards, but it’s definitely not the same thing. An apology with presents doesn’t carry any weight, as it doesn't actually address the problem at hand.

Let's say you were caught looking through your partner’s phone and, because of the guilt, bought her a huge bouquet of roses. Hovering in the room, like an elephant with wings, is the problem that still remains. That being said, don’t look through someone’s phone, and don't apologize with a ticket to Disney World... even though that's a great present.

Guilting them into forgiveness

Don't take the low road by guilt-tripping your partner -- that’s a low thing to do and a pretty petty way to end an argument. Sure, you may have had a bad day at work and Tom from sales may have been all up in your ass like a proctologist, but that doesn't give you the right to snap at them and use them as a proverbial punching bag.

Your bad day can't be the reason an argument begins or ends.

Holding it all in

Dr. Tibbals also talks about the issue of holding in your anger: "Another big 'apology mistake' is internalizing or holding on to the issue. If someone apologizes, it's sometimes regarded as a confession. But holding on to that 'confession' -- either as something that has greater meaning for your sense of self or as a weapon to be used in future arguments -- is not a productive practice."

Don't let a small argument become the fuse to the inevitable bomb that is an unresolved, lingering argument. Get everything out in the open and clear it up before it kills everyone -- metaphorically speaking, of course.

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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and only likes Bieber for his music.