Ten Characteristics of a Great Apology

A great apology can be a powerful agent for healing, both for the person you harmed and your relationship. It’s a crucial first step toward rebuilding trust. A lousy apology, on the other hand, can be like acid on an open wound.

To be certain your next apology heals rather than harms, review these ten characteristics of a great apology. Then, choose your words carefully and let your humility do the talking.

A great apology fully acknowledges all wrongdoing.

A great apology accepts complete responsibility for wrongdoing.

A great apology empathizes with the offended person.

A great apology gives priority to the good of the offended person over self.

A great apology rejects excuses and avoids defensiveness.

A great apology refuses to presume upon grace.

A great apology places no expectations on the offended person.

A great apology accompanies restitution, when possible.

A great apology strives to heal the offended person’s injuries.

A great apology embraces humility.

Share your most memorable apology story with us. Were you healed or harmed by it?

4 thoughts on “Ten Characteristics of a Great Apology

  1. I completely agree with these characteristics. With this knowledge I also now more closely see when an apology is weak or just a show. These characteristics are critical for healing. I hope more people read and apply this knowledge.

    1. Oh, yeah. Don’t you just hate apologies for show? Or selfish apologies? Remorse and regret are so healing.

      What we long for most when injured by another is empathy. Even more than justice. The sorrow expressed by an offender dulls the pain, but when he or she expresses a desire to understand the depth of our pain, healing really begins.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I emailed you before about my husband’s changed behavior, but no verbal apology. I have another question. When I try to tell him (sometimes the right way, sometimes not) how he hurt me, and caused me so much agony, he gets defensive, and reminds me of how I too have been wrong. I have admitted to my failures, but I was not an abuser. I have also shown true repentance, and have asked him to please tell me how I have hurt him so I can better understand. I have repeatedly asked forgiveness. I have invited him to come to me as often as necessary until he feels healing is taking place. However, he refuses to do the same for me, and I’m stuck. How do you move forward and begin to trust someone who will not acknowledge their narcissitic, abusive tendencies? As I stated earlier, he has changed many of them. I still can’t understand why he would change them, w/o true heart repentance. If he really had a heart changed, which in turn caused a change in behavior, why wouldn’t he be able to offer an apology and verbally acknowledge his wrong doing? I feel angry that I suffered under his angry, rageful, controlling, manipulative behavior for so many years. I wish I had a physical bruise so he could understand the anguish he caused me! In short, how can you change your behavior w/o a heart change? AND if a heart change has occurred, why would you STILL defend yourself with anger, blame, minimizing, and “not remembering”? I don’t get it. I feel I am living with the same man who just cleaned up the outside, but is still a “brood of vipers” on the inside. Do I pursue reconciliation and continue to express my pain, or just be content living with a man who doesn’t abuse me anymore? By the way, if he knew I described his behavior as abusive, he would laugh at me and deny it.
    Thank you so much for responding to my emails. I’ve often thought I would pursue “redemptive divorce” when my kids are older. It’s difficult b/c I can’t name any consistent patterns of abuse, just denial of them in the past. NO ONE knows what it is like to live with the wounds of an abusive person until you have. I know I need to give these wounds to Jesus, and pursue forgiveness in my own heart. Boy it’s tough!!! Thanks Mark for your help.

    1. Hi, Alicia
      I do recall your earlier question (found here with my response: https://markwgaither.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/ill-change-i-promise-six-signs-of-genuine-repentance/#comment-301) and I’m sorry to see how much pain comes through with each line in this latest posting.

      When I replied earlier, I was reminded again of the healing power of a good apology. It’s amazing how the right words, spoken with genuine, unselfish empathy, can accomplish so much emotional restoration . . . and how long the suffering of betrayal lingers without an apology. Believe me, I am experiencing this firsthand, although not with my wife. So, while I can appreciate the anguish you now endure, my pain is nowhere near what you’re suffering. The person who is supposed to be your most intimate, trusted ally continues to treat you with disdain.

      My heart breaks for you.

      You may have misunderstood my earlier reply. I didn’t mean to suggest that your husband’s heart has fully accepted responsibility for the pain he caused you. If so, the verbal apology would have been offered already. I mean to say that, for some people, complete repentance begins with steps in the right direction and gradually grows more complete and more “genuine.” From what you had originally described, I hoped he was headed in the right direction. Apparently, not.

      His response to your attempts to have him understand your pain is very concerning. He may not have the ability to empathize, which is not uncommon for narcissistic personalities. I don’t know if that’s your husband, but it is possible. At any rate, you ask a couple of questions that, unfortunately, I’m not in a good position to answer. How do you recover from the wounds of the past and continue to live with this confusing situation? The specific answers must come from a qualified, Christian counselor guiding you, helping you heal, and encouraging growth.

      I can say, however, that redemptive divorce is not appropriate in your case—not at this time. As you have stated, the abuse has stopped. Not to minimize your current pain, but rather than focus on trying to fix the broken marriage, it’s probably best that you focus on your own healing and growth. You don’t have to walk this path alone. Find someone qualified to guide and support you.

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