How to Respond to an Apology in a Relationship

Compassionate touch can communicate that all is forgiven.
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Everyone experiences situations where an apology is necessary -- someone says or does something inappropriate and perhaps hurts your feelings. In ideal situations, the person who did something inappropriate offers you an apology and you feel certain that he is sincere and won’t repeat the situation again. How you respond to the apology could depend upon the severity of the incident.

1 Minor Mishaps

If you’re passing your partner and she accidentally bumps into you or she sneezes when sitting near you, you could receive a quick apology such as, “excuse me” or “sorry.” It’s fine to dismiss the apology with a similar quick response, such as “No problem, Honey” or something similar to denote the incident isn’t an issue, according to Miss Manners in “The 3 Degrees Of Responding To An Apology.” You might give her a quick hug or pat to let her know everything’s fine.

2 Unintentional Missteps

If you’ve ever said or done something inappropriate, you know it happens and is worthy of forgiveness, writes Billy Ready, Jr., a pastoral counselor and therapist with a Ph. D. in clinical counseling, on his Ready4Life Counseling website. What your partner thought would be a cute response falls flat, he forgets your birthday, shows up late for a date or leaves his clothes on the floor for you to pick up. These things are annoyances, but he probably did not commit the offense intentionally. Accept a sincere apology by letting him know that you are willing to let it go. You might say, “Thanks for the apology and I understand that you’re sorry. I’m sure you won’t do it again.” If you absolutely must correct the situation, respond with kindness. You might say, “Thanks for letting me know you’re sorry. The next time, would you please...” and follow through with your preferred action.

3 Mutual Apologies

Sometimes both of you will have transgressed and you could feel the need to respond with an apology of your own, such as after a conflict, suggests the handbook from the Ombuds Office at the University of Colorado. You could say, “I forgive you. I hope you'll forgive me, too.” When you take responsibility for your part it’s easier to let it go and move on. Commit to do a better job of working together next time.

4 Grievous Transgressions

Sometimes the offense is hard to forgive, such as when your partner cheats or does something very insensitive. You might not be ready to forgive yet, so an apology isn’t enough to let go. Let your partner honestly know how you feel and what you are willing to do about it, suggests Ready4Life. You might say, “I need more time before I can forgive you, but I appreciate the apology” or “I need more than a verbal apology.” Leave the door open for reconciliation with options for reconciling.

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.