How to Apologize to Friends and Repair Relationships

You know the feeling.
That pit in your stomach when you realize you said something wrong.
That "thing" you weren't supposed to mention, or that "sore spot" that you forgot about.
Intentional or not, we've all said something to a friend that was not helpful.

With some people, the situation goes away easily. No one takes offense, and the matter is laughed away. Sometimes our compassionate friends know that we didn't mean to hurt them, and because they recognize the look of terror on our faces, they forgive us without a word. Other times, the tension simply goes away after a couple days, and things return to normal. I am grateful for friendships that fall into each of these categories. Sometimes I simply don't think before I speak, and I'm glad I have been forgiven!

However, other times my careless words have been misunderstood. Maybe she didn't recognize the movie I was quoting. Maybe she didn't hear my entire sentence, and so I sounded mean. Either way, I have said the wrong thing to people who have not given me the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, friendships were damaged, and some of those friendships have not been repairable. Occasionally I wish that I could go back and change those conversations, but over the years I've learned that if people want to be offended then they'll find a way to be offended. If people want to think that you are a decent human being, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt when you make a mistake.

When you inevitably make a mistake and offend a friend, you must apologize. Even if the offense happened with one of your best friends who forgave you the moment you said it, at least acknowledge that you goofed. 

Apologizing to "other people" can be more difficult.
The people who are on that precipice between acquaintance and friend. You know, the people that may not give you the benefit of the doubt. The people whom you want a friendship with (because they are co-workers, in-laws, or your husband's friends' wives) but with whom the bond doesn't come naturally.
Yet apologizing to these "fruaintances" (he he, like my made-up word?) is vital!

These are the people you see on a frequent basis, and they play a role in your happiness and comfortability during office parties, birthday celebrations, family reunions, and Superbowl games. If your words (whether misunderstood or not) seem to offend someone, make it a priority to apologize. Tension can divide groups; tension can burn bridges; and tension can evolve into rumors, backbiting, and gossip. None of which are desirable for a "fruaintance" relationship. Instead of crossing the offended person off your friend list and avoiding them like a plague, simply apologize.

Here's how to apologize:

-Take them aside, one-on-one, and say you are sorry for your careless words or actions.
-Or, write them a note and mail it to them.
-Or, send them an e-mail the next day.
-Just do something to acknowledge your indiscretion! Include an apology.

An apology does not need to be some inflated message. Only take responsibility for what you genuinely feel guilty about saying or doing. It is okay to acknowledge that tension exists without apologizing for every aspect of blame. Keep your apology genuine and your words respectful. Let your spouse or another calm adult read your apology to help you filter out any tension-evoking phrases.

Do not apologize that the person “feels” a certain way. The common statement, "I'm sorry you feel angry," is not an apology. It is actually kind of a mockery. He or she is allowed to have feelings. Instead, apologize for your own behavior. Also, do not use an apology as a way to justify your behavior. Sending a note that further explains why "you are right, and they are wrong" is unhelpful and rude.

If you do not feel like you were in the wrong, but someone took offense, it is appropriate to address the situation. Acknowledge that he or she looked upset, and describe your behavior's intention. Even if you don't apologize, the person will feel validated, and the relationship can recover. A difference of opinion does not have to be a deal breaker for "fruaintances."

Have courage, apologize, and be kind.
"When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it," writes Stephen R. Covey. If you need to repair a relationship, show kindness. Respect their feelings, and be honest about your feelings. Show mercy and forgiveness, and apologize frequently. The world could use a little more kindness.

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