In my practice as a divorce lawyer and mediator, I've seen people who are truly sorry for what they've done but can't convey it. The following technique requires five minutes -- and, in my experience, works almost every time.
1. Make Your Apology Bigger Than the Crime
Don't attempt to diminish your mistake by offering a lame apology or excuse. You'll only make matters worse.
Instead of Saying: "It's not a big deal," "I didn't mean it," or "You're overreacting" ...
Try: "I made a big mistake," "I never should have done that," or "I should have known better."
2. Admit Your Real Wrong
The superficial part of a mistake (missing dinner, a careless comment) is often a symptom of a larger offense. A good apology reveals that underlying issue by using the word "because."
Instead of: "I'm sorry I forgot about our dinner plans" ...
Try: "I'm sorry I forgot our plans because it was disrespectful of me to cancel at the last minute."
3. Never Say "But"
This one word can sabotage your apology. It's a disguised effort to deflect blame ("I'm sorry about forgetting dinner, but you should have reminded me").
4. Use Your Words, Not Your Wallet
Nothing can replace an honest, heartfelt apology. Giving your partner flowers or another gift in lieu of an apology can come off as a bribe. The gift says you're sorry but doesn't show that you understand what you did wrong. If you want to give a gift, do it later -- it'll be much more appreciated when it's given without strings attached.
Reprinted from Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, by Laurie Puhn. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc.