Most people who hear "I'm sorry" are not expecting an apology, but more or less just want a caring, empathetic response.
When we start by saying "I'm sorry," we're giving people a message that we don't think their feelings were important enough to receive that, so we apologize for making them upset and reiterate that we should have been thoughtful in our delivery and the words we used.
It's frustrating to receive a generic, generic apology when you're hoping for more. I don't think apologizing properly is a sign of weakness or ineptness, but it can be seen as such.
When someone does something that could make another person uncomfortable, that person is often so focused on not making the other person feel bad that they don't give them the chance to reciprocate the empathy that they want.
Apologizing not only acknowledges the pain the other person experienced but acknowledges that you were and continue to be responsible for the pain you have caused.
If the person being apologized to is blaming you or seeking to justify their actions, the apology is only valid if it has the ability to repair the relationship.
Apologies can fix a lot of things in a relationship (e.g. if you have let someone down, to apologize and acknowledge the harm you caused, and in doing so, open the door for them to forgive you and be forgiven).
However, apologizing just to make someone feel better, for the sake of being nice, is not an apology at all, nor is it a foundation for a relationship.
There are lots of different ways to apologize, so it's worth taking the time to think about what you'd prefer to say.
Apologies can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the best way to apologize is to simply say the words and get it out in the open.
If you're not sure how to express your apology, a friend who has already been in the situation or maybe even a counselor might be able to help you find the words.
If you find yourself looking up the exact words you need to say in a self-help book, then you're already going off the rails, and no amount of study is going to make up for the fact that you've hurt someone.
Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and open your mouth when the time comes.
There's no need to put on a super-chic fake smile or make an overly-theatrical attempt to apologize when you're not sure what to say.
Take your time to think it through and simply say, "I'm sorry if I hurt you by saying this, or if I hurt you in any way. I care about you and want to make things better."
If the issue is more about one person than the other, it can feel better if you apologize as though it's something that affects all of you, rather than just one person's feelings.
I always feel guilty and awful after I'm the one to hurt someone, so I apologize on behalf of both of us.
This can be an opportunity to be candid and vulnerable about your true emotions.
Acknowledge the pain you caused, but also say something like, "I am sorry that I hurt you, and I'm sorry that my own fears caused me to hurt you.
I am sorry that you had to bear this burden."
When you apologize to someone for something they did, it's best to thank them for the apology.
It can be awkward to thank someone angry with you, but even if your apology wasn't accepted, thank them for at least taking the time to consider your feelings.
It's a way of acknowledging your responsibility for your actions and how they impact others.
Here's the thing. If someone really hurt you, that doesn't mean they didn't do their part to apologize as well.
They might have been hurt and unable to communicate properly at the time, but that doesn't give them the right to dismiss or invalidate your feelings.
You should always be holding people accountable, even when you believe they have done everything they could to rectify the situation.
Apologize for everything you've done as though it is all that is wrong in the relationship, not just what you have done.
In many cases, an apology will make things better. It can be a very productive step in getting closer to one another.
If the other person isn't ready to accept your apology, it's important to accept that they have a right to reject your apology — but take comfort in the fact that, even if your apology isn't accepted, you can still come from a place of love and respect.