How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who's Sorry

Decide if you really accept their apology

There are many degrees to disagreements and wrongdoing. Some offences really can’t be smoothed over with an apology — maybe this person has been doing the same thing over and over for a long time and hasn’t changed their behaviour.

Maybe what they did this time was so bad it changed how you feel about them forever. Maybe the apology is bad, and the apologiser isn’t taking full responsibility for their actions.

If you really can’t accept an apology, don’t pretend to while continuing to simmer with resentment. There are some situations where it can be hard or impossible to reject an apology—for instance, in a workplace scenario.

But in your personal life, you are under no obligation to accept a lukewarm “I’m sorry.” Apologies are a step towards repairing a relationship. If it’s not a relationship you want, let it go.

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Examples of How to Respond to an Apology or Im Sorry

Apologies can happen in a variety of situations. Sometimes you may be dealing with other issues or aren’t emotionally ready to discuss the situation. Take a look at how these apologies are handled differently in each circumstance.

» MORE: Easy as 1-2-3, make an online will in minutes.

 

If someone’s apologizing after a death or tragic event

When tragedy strikes, grief can become overwhelming and complicated. If someone apologizes to you during this time, suggest reconnecting later. You won’t be able to process an apology clearly when you’re still in the early stages of grief. 

  • Thank you for reaching out to me. I’m still dealing with a lot right now, so we’ll need to talk more later.”
  • “I appreciate hearing from you, but I can’t process this right now. I just need more time to get past some of this.”

If you’re still hurt, mad, or upset 

If you’re still hurt or upset by someone’s actions, be open about this. Let them say their apology and acknowledge their effort, but be clear that you aren’t fully ready to move forward yet. Commit to revisiting it later after letting your emotions settle. 

  • “It’s good to hear you apologize, but honestly, I’m still pretty hurt by what happened. I’m just not ready.”
  • “I hear what you’re saying, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to talk to me. I’m still angry and dealing with the fallout from what happened. We’ll have to talk another time.”

If you accept their apology 

To accept an apology, you should feel that it was sincere and that the other person took full responsibility for their actions. If you feel satisfied and are ready to move forward, these responses are good ways to start the next step. Accepting an apology is not the same as forgiveness, so only say that if you are ready to let go of the issue.

  • “Thank you, and I accept your apology. Let’s talk about how this goes differently from now on.”
  • “Thanks for your apology, and I accept. I forgive you and am ready to let this go.”

If you need more time 

Apologies don’t always happen at the right time for both people. If someone apologizes but you need more time, be honest about this. Listen first and then make it clear that you still aren’t able to accept it right now. 

  • “I hear you, and it’s good to listen to your apology. But this is a little too soon for me. I’m not ready to talk about this, and I just need some time. We can talk later.”
  • “I understand, and it looks like you’re ready to resolve this. I wasn’t expecting an apology now, so I need more time to think about it. But thanks for saying something.”

If you think the apology is insincere 

Sometimes a person apologizes before they are ready to accept responsibility. If you think they aren’t sincere, tell them you can’t accept their apology now and be clear about your reasons. Let them know what was missing in their apology and what they need to show you in the future.

  • “I understand, but it doesn’t seem like you mean it. You’re rushing through it, and it doesn’t seem like you’ve thought about it much. I can’t accept your apology right now.”
  • “I hear you, but I’m not sure I believe you. You seem to feel bad, but I don’t hear you taking any responsibility yet. Maybe we can talk another time.”

How To Accept An Apology With Grace But Set Boundaries At The Same Time

Apologies usually come with heavy emotions and hurt feelings. It can be difficult to put these aside and be graceful when someone approaches you to apologize.

While you should always try your best to accept an apology with grace (if you feel you are ready to), you should also use it as an opportunity to set boundaries going forward, or chances are that the same thing might end up happening again.

You can accept an apology with grace and set boundaries at the same time, and here is how.

Listen

Give the person the respect of you listening to them apologizing. Even if you aren’t completely ready to hear them say the words “I am sorry”, appreciate that it is probably difficult for them to apologize, and let them speak their peace.

Avoid interrupting or correcting them as they apologize. If there is anything you want to say, save it for when they are finished speaking. You will have time to say your bit once they are done and giving them the respect of listening to what they say shows maturity.

Decide How To Move Forward

You will need to decide whether or not you will be accepting their apology. You don’t even have to make this decision there.

Take your time to decide whether or not you forgive them. You are never obligated to accept an apology, so don’t feel pressured to doing so.

Make sure that the person acknowledges the pain they may have caused you, and that they were not trying to make excuses for their behavior in their apology.

You could always point out how you feel to them, as they might not fully understand how their actions impacted you.

Don’t Skip Back To Normal

Not everything is fixed by an apology. They have to put in the work necessary to make it up to you, or to avoid having the same situations happen again.

Do not be tempted to go back to life the way it was before they hurt you, because things don’t change if things don’t change!

Give yourself the grace and respect to not fall back into bad habits, and let them know that you will not be accepting previous behavior moving on.

They need to know that you are serious about protecting yourself from being hurt again, and you need to know that as well.

Accept Or Do Not Accept

Once you feel ready, you should let them know how you feel. Accepting their apology, if it is right in the situation, will help both of you move forward, but just make sure you are ready to do so.

Let them know that you accept their apology, and whether or not you can offer some forgiveness yet. You are not obliged to do anything, and don’t let them pressure you to do so.

Set Your Boundaries

When you let them know that you have accepted their apology, you should also let them know what your boundaries are going to be moving forward.

Take your time to work out what you want your relationship to be like in the future, and what boundaries and actions can be put in place to ensure this.

They can either accept these boundaries or not, that is completely up to them, as long as you hold yourself in high enough regard to know that you are worth more and that you will be moving on if they choose not to keep within the boundaries you set.

Keep a check on how they act, and remind them of these boundaries if you notice any negative behavior happening. You owe it to yourself to only keep positive influences in your life!

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02. Acceptance

Once you express your appreciation to your partner, it’s time to accept the apology—or not. Yeah, that’s right. Acceptance is ideal, but you may still have an unmet need with regard to the issue at hand. If you don’t think you can accept it yet, you can say, “It means a lot that you’re apologizing, but I still need you to understand a little more of my experience.” Remember this isn’t about making someone pay, it’s about repairing a fracture. It’s a chance to make sure things don’t fester. So either accept the apology, or ask for what you still need so that you can accept it. If and when you feel like your injury has been fully acknowledged and understood, let them know their apology has been accepted.

04. Accountability

Obviously, any apology that doesn’t include the promise for change—or at least hope for it—will ring hollow. So to make sure that change actually happens, focus on how you and your partner can create accountability to help you avoid future conflict. Address the question: How will you get ahead of similar issues in the future and protect the relationship from situations that may feel dangerously familiar? Because accountability is at the heart of any committed relationship, you should feel some sense of responsibility for being on the hook for one another.

Give yourself time

If you’re really upset about something, saying “No big deal!” minimises your feelings, feelings that are likely to pop up again at some later point.

If you need time after an apology, you can say so. For example, “Thank you for apologising, but I need some time and space.”

Let yourself cool down — I think it’s helpful to ask if you can text or call later. That way, you don’t have to make some grand gesture to indicate you’re ready to reconnect. You can just reach out and say hello and take it from there.

Generally, if people are making a good faith effort to repair a wrong, they’ll understand and back off. If not, well, go back to my first point about whether or not this is a relationship you want to fix.

Granting Forgiveness is Good for You

Accepting an apology goes beyond graciousness and professionalism. When you extend forgiveness, you help repair a potential rift in your relationship. And, you’ve helped preserve another person’s dignity. Moreover, research shows that there are benefits to forgiving someone. According to the Mayo Clinic, letting go of grudges can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure and improve your immune system. So consider “letting it go” and acknowledging their apology. Who knew that a simple “I accept your apology” may have health benefits for you as well?

What If Forgiveness Isn’t Possible?

Not every wrong can be righted nor every harm forgiven.

Sometimes an action will just be too much to attempt to forgive, even if the person asking is genuinely remorseful for their actions.

Some harms can take years of therapy and internal work to come to terms with. Things like bad breakups, a rough childhood, or abusive relationships.

There are a lot of messages out there about how forgiveness helps with the healing process.

The problem is that forgiveness isn’t really the right word for that process.

Acceptance is a better word.

And coming to terms with a situation or harmful actions of another person can be rolled into forgiveness, but it may not look as clean and neat as someone asking for forgiveness and you giving it.

You may also find that you are able to forgive the person for their transgressions, but you no longer trust them or want them in your life…

…particularly if they apologize and go right back to doing whatever wrong they were doing.

That’s okay, too.

Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that the damage is erased and forgotten. Nor should it be.

People come and go in our lives. Not everyone is meant to be there forever.

Sometimes, these situations are there to help shape us, learn more about ourselves and the world.

And sometimes things are just senseless, painful, and don’t have a clean resolution. That’s just the way it goes.

But, the good news is that you can strengthen your relationships with other people by working through these kinds of hiccups and working toward a meaningful resolution.

A lot of people won’t necessarily get everything right, but it is a situation where the effort is more meaningful than the results.

The effort of processing the emotions and working together toward a resolution helps to build stronger bonds.

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