If you're just saying the words "I'm sorry," you're doing it wrong.
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Credit: Erich McVey

Most of us would agree that saying "I'm sorry" isn't always an easy thing to do-especially when you didn't intentionally set out to cause your partner pain or sadness. Still, delivering a sincere apology is a necessary step in ending a conflict between two individuals. Unfortunately, giving a good apology requires more than simply saying "I'm sorry"-how we apologize is key and can set the tone of our relationship going forward.

"It can set in motion whether we harbor resentment or use one-upmanship to hold things against each other or whether we take responsibility from mistakes, learn from them, and can move forward with a blank slate and greater wisdom," explains Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., psychologist, director of My Dating & Relationship School and author of Dating from the Inside Out. "If we can learn and reassess where we falter and the other person can truly forgive, then our relationship can have many lives."

To smooth things over with your partner when issues or arguments arise, try avoiding these all-too-common apology mistakes.

Not creating an action plan to fix the problem.

Saying you're sorry but not actually doing anything moving forward to prevent the issue from happening again is pointless. You may fall into the same trap and find yourself apologizing for the same thing again, which only makes your future apologies less sincere. "This is unhealthy in the relationship because it can foster distrust when someone says one thing but continually does another," says Dr. Sherman. "Instead, make sure your actions match your words before you say something and only promise to change when you're willing to put in real effort to follow through."

Not taking responsibility for your part.

It takes two to tango, as they say. Even if you feel completely in the right, you'd be wise to own up to whatever it is that you may have done to cause or exacerbate the issue or argument. "If you hold the position that your partner is the only one who needs to apologize, you might feel 'right,' but you're creating a dynamic that will leave your partner feeling resentful that you don't take responsibility for your reactions towards them," says Colleen Mullen, Psy.D., L.M.F.T., founder of Coaching Through Chaos. "Even saying 'I apologize for saying the things I said,' or 'I didn't mean it that way' can go a long way and is important for a healthy relationship."

Saying "I'm sorry" but not actually meaning it.

If you're saying those two words just to mend things quicker but you don't actually mean it, you're hiding a deeper problem, warns Audrey Hope, celebrity relationship counselor. Her best advice is not to say the words until you know from the depth of your soul that they are being uttered for the right reasons-because you actually are sorry.

Justifying what you did that wound up upsetting your partner.

The point of saying you're sorry isn't to totally place all the blame on yourself-it's to own up to your part and have your partner own up to his or hers. Going off on a tangent to justify what you did or said will only infuriate your partner more. "This isn't helpful or healthy in the relationship because it makes the other person feel like everything is one-sided and difficulties can't be discussed," says Dr. Sherman. "Instead, examine your actions and find some way you might have contributed to the disruption in the relationship. Own up to it and try to learn from it."

Not acknowledging your partner's pain.

One of the first things you should do when you know your partner is upset is to listen to him or her and acknowledge his or her feelings. "Sometimes this is the most important part of what the other person wants so they can release the pain, forgive, and move on," says Dr. Sherman. "Instead of just focusing on the solution, this person can strive to listen to the other person's emotions, to validate them, comfort them, and feel sorry about their pain."


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