How to Apologize After a Heated Argument

Two Methods:Giving a Genuine ApologyRe-establishing Trust After an Argument

The fight is over, and you’re wondering how to apologize for your behavior, not to mention a handful of specific things you wish you hadn’t said. The emotional intensity of personal relationships, and the closeness we have with the people we spend our lives with sometimes boils over. The good news is, there are a handful of meaningful steps to follow when apologizing after a heated argument with a loved one.

Method 1
Giving a Genuine Apology

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    Avoid excuses. However you choose to apologize, there are a few things you should avoid. Don’t automatically try to justify your statements or behavior, or try to reiterate why you were right about whatever you were arguing about. Pay attention to word choice and approach to prevent giving an apology that isn’t actually an apology.[1]
    • Avoid “ifs” and “buts”. Never start an apology with “I’m sorry if _____.” This makes your apology dependent on something else (and may even imply you think your apology is only necessary because of their feelings). This is simply not a sincere way to be apologetic.
    • Don’t say “I’m sorry but_____” either. An apology like this is making an excuse before an apology is even made.
    • Don’t try to explain yourself during an apology. Focused on owning up for what you did or said, the fact that you’re sorry about it, and that you intend to remedy the situation. Do not attempt to rationalize what had occurred during a heated argument.
    • Know that if there was a valid reason for the argument and for your role in it, that you should talk about it, but that that conversation ought to be independent of your apology.
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    Listen! Though it may seem counter-intuitive, listening may be the most important part of apologizing. Once you’ve made it clear that you are sorry, allow your loved one to speak and give them your full attention.[2]
    • Don’t allow the potential discomfort of giving an apology to turn into a monologue that you may have to apologize for all over again.
    • Whenever you’re unsure or whether you should continue speaking, pause. If your loved one begins to speak, just listen.
    • Don’t try to anticipate anything the other person is going to say. They may still be too angry or hurt to receive your apology. Even if they’re still upset, let them make their point.
    • If you’re feeling badly after a fight, recognize that the other person is too. Give them the time and space to articulate their feelings.
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    Don’t discount the other person’s feelings. Avoid attempting to downplay someone else’s negative feelings. Similarly, don’t act as though nothing happened. Acknowledge the feelings that they convey by responding specifically to each feeling they articulate.[3]
    • Use “I”-statements when responding, such as “I understand you’re upset”, “I know I disappointed you”, I realize that I said some hurtful things”. These statements can stand alone, or be accompanied with another clear “I’m sorry.”
    • Do not attempt to explain yourself when they still have more to say.
    • Avoid being falsely cheerful, as this may seem insincere or even malicious.
    • Say something along the lines of “I know you’re upset. So am I. When we calm down, let’s talk about it and get through this.”
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    Practice your apology beforehand. Apologize for both specific things you said during the argument, and for allowing yourself to get heated in the first place. Convey they sincerity of your apology by knowing what you’re going to say – and why – ahead of time.[4]
    • Tell yourself, and the person to whom you are apologizing, that you have no agenda that motivates your apology other than healing the damage to your relationship that the argument may have caused. Say something along the lines of.
    • Choose words and statements that are honest and heart-felt. Don’t try to be overly-eloquent or too analytical. Be direct; you might not need to say much.
    • Ensure that none of your sentiments are framed in an effort to deceive or manipulate your loved one. Never be duplicitous in conversations that are important to your own or others’ feelings.
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    Time your apology thoughtfully. Timing is especially important if you want your apology to come across as genuine. You certainly can’t give a heartfelt apology while you’re still worked up from the argument.[5]
    • Take a moment. You and your loved one will likely need a while to regroup your thoughts and gain composure. Avoid rushing into an apology for both your sake and the sake of the person you fought with.
    • Go somewhere private. A walk may be your best option; fresh air can help clear the mind and calm you down. Allow yourself to address your heightened emotions privately.
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    Write a letter of apology. A letter is a great way to calmly and courteously convey an apology. Even if you decide to apologize in person, writing a letter before doing so can help you organize your thoughts, express your feelings, and plan exactly what you want to share with your loved one.[6]
    • If you’re not going to see the person with whom you argued for a while, a letter is great way to convey your apology without putting them on the spot, which you risk doing with a phone call.
    • After you’ve written your letter, reconsider what you’ve written. Do so either immediately or over the course of a few days, depending on how quickly you want to give an apology.
    • Right before delivering an apology letter, reread it one last time.
    • Consider allowing someone you trust to read over the letter to help ensure you haven’t included anything that might be interpreted differently than you intend.
    • Do not apologize via text or email. A text is not an appropriate medium with which to have a meaningful conversation. Emailed apologies may be appropriate for professional apologies, but not for personal apologies to people you know well.
    • For more specific tips on apologizing, see the wikiHow on How to Apologize.

Method 2
Re-establishing Trust After an Argument

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    Acknowledge the reason that you had a fight. The bad news is, there’s probably a reason that you fought, and it needs to be addressed. Don’t allow potential points of irritability or distance between the two of your to turn into deeper animosities by recognizing tensions before they lead to another fight.[7]
    • Self-reflection will lead to realizations that you can address after you’ve apologized.
    • Specific questions you might ask yourself include:
      • What are the specific things I said or did that likely hurt the other person?
      • Was I intending to hurt the other person, or get back at them for something? If so, why did I do so?
      • Do interactions such as this often occur between you?
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    Include specific realizations about your behavior in conversations following an apology. The answers you provide for yourself to these questions can help inform the specific things you need to apologize for.[8]
    • Be clear, by saying things like, “I’m really sorry about saying ______, I can see how hurtful that likely was.”
    • If fights are recurring, bring it up, especially if you’re at fault. Say something like. “I’m sorry for fighting with you again. I recognize that my behavior needs to change. Are you willing to talk about this with me?”
    • Let it go! Alternatively, you may realize that there wasn’t a good reason for a fight – it was just an especially bad moment for one or both of you. If you’re sure there’s not an underlying issue that needs to be talked about, letting it go (after apologizing) might be the best route to take.
    • More than likely there is something that needs to be addressed. Articulate not only the things you recognize that you did wrong, but also the things the other person said or did that hurt you, though do so after you’ve apologized.
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    Address potential causes of continued tension with your loved one. If you or your loved one feels as though one of your “gave in” during the fight, or didn’t get something off of their chest that they need to, there are likely unresolved issues between you.[9]
    • For instance, Ask each other, “Are you angry about how the argument ended?”
    • Did you try to convince your loved one to do something they didn’t want to do? Be sure to apologize and rescind any coercive agreements by saying things like, “I know I insisted on _______, and that I didn’t hear you out on why you disagreed. Let’s talk about it together, and I’ll be more open to your considerations.”
    • Articulate the things specific things that hurt of offended you that your loved one has said or done. Do so calmly, and avoid being accusatory, but you need to be clear about behavior that cannot continue. Say things likes, “It really hurt me when you said/did _______.”
    • Be ready to forgive your loved one, and expect the same, if you’re able to apologize to one another, have the constructive conversations to grow closer, and move on.
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    Don’t hold grudges. Even if you are extremely upset or disgusted about what was said or done, recognize that holding onto the emotion of anger will not improve the situation for anyone. Ensure that there aren’t any grudges that may drive a wedge between the two of you.[10]
    • Don’t persist in giving others the cold shoulder or the silent treatment.
    • Similarly, if you find yourself being especially critical of one another, there are likely unresolved feelings that need to be discussed.
    • Monitor yourself and reflect on the observations you make about how you’re acting.
    • Take responsibility for your own actions by working to adjust your own behavior and being willing to speak openly and listen fully to your loved ones.
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    Commit to acting more appropriately. You need to make it clear that you intend not to repeat any hurtful behavior.[11] Your apology is only as good as your willingness to ensure you don’t have to make the same apology again.
    • Clearly and specifically articulate a commitment not to repeat any hurtful things you said or did.
    • Emphasize the fact that you do not want to hurt the other person, and are sorry for having done so.
    • Following egregious or repeated behavior during arguments with your loved ones, you may need to do more than apologize.
    • Commit to a plan or process to help you deal with whatever might be leading to your hurtful behavior, and seek professional guidance or join a support group to help you follow through on these commitments.
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    Give a token of apology. Don’t ever think that simply giving a gift is a sufficient apology. If you go the gift route, it needs to be something well-thought out that will be meaningful to the recipient.
    • If you apologized in person, following it up with a letter about how much your relationship with the person means to you may be the best gift you can give someone.
    • Think of something the other person likes to do, and get them something accordingly.
    • Tickets or passes to a show or other activity you know your loved one will enjoy are a great option, as you can go together. Spending time together is another great gift, as it indicates you’re hoping to maintain your connection.
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    Consummate the apology. If you fought with your romantic partner, tangibly re-establishing your commitment to one another is vital, not to mention (especially) enjoyable. Make-up sex has a reputation for solidifying a particularly gratifying reunion after a fight.[12]
    • Remind one another, both verbally and tangibly (with kissing, hand-holding, hugging), that even though you are capable of hurting one another, that you’re still there for one another as well.
    • When emotionally excited by the stimulus of an intense fight, the pleasures of sex may be amplified by a psychological (and biological) phenomenon called the arousal transfer.
    • Allow the relief you’re both feeling on account of your reconciliation to spill over into a session of romantic reunion that reaffirms the bonds between you.

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