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So you’ve said or done something that has hurt someone else. And since you are seeking forgiveness, that person is probably someone you care about.
But how do you go about getting someone to forgive you? Can you make them forgive you?
The short answer is: no, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Forgiveness has to come from them, when they feel able to and when they are ready. They may never be ready, and you have to accept that possibility.
That being said, there are steps you can take to make that forgiveness more likely. There are things you can say and do to help them reach a place where they can move past what you did.
Those steps are:
1. Express regret for your actions.
The other person will find it much easier to forgive you if you show genuine regret. This starts with an effective apology.
“I want to apologize for doing…”
“I’m sorry that I…”
“I really shouldn’t have done X. I’d like to apologize to you for…”
The best way to deliver an expression of regret is to directly highlight the harmful action. That way, you’re communicating that you clearly understand the problem and how it hurt the other person.
People who have a hard time apologizing for things may find this difficult to do. Don’t sidestep or try to minimize what the harmful action was. Own it. It’s yours to fix. And you won’t be able to fix it or the breach of trust without directly owning the action.
2. Offer a limited explanation of how things went wrong.
A little explanation of the rationalization behind your choices may be in order. People can be hit or miss with such an explanation, though. Some people want one, some people don’t.
Some people view explaining as distracting from the harm caused. Others see it as an affirmation that you understand that you caused a wrong.
A practical solution to this is to keep it to one sentence or ask if they want an explanation at all.
“I felt like this was the right thing to do and didn’t realize it would be hurtful.”
“I didn’t think about how my actions would affect you.”
“I made a bad decision.”
It doesn’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. If the person wants more explanation, then give it to them as straight as you can.
3. Acknowledge your responsibility.
Acknowledging your responsibility means owning your actions and not trying to diminish your role in the problem.
The apology should be focused on the regret you have for your actions and how they affected the other person.
What you need to avoid is shifting any of that blame onto the other person, even if you feel it may be warranted.
A good example is a person with a rough sense of humor offending a friend who does not have a rough sense of humor. Yes, the words they spoke as a joke and to rib their friend may not have had the intention of being hurtful, but they were.
What the rough friend should not do is shift the blame by saying something like, “Well, I’m sorry you’re offended by my joke,” because it undermines the friend’s feelings and is a non-apology.
The rough friend still made a choice to cross their sensitive friend’s boundaries. The apology should be about the rough friend’s choice, not the sensitive friend’s boundaries.
The same goes for shifting blame onto an external third party or thing. If you try to justify your actions by saying it was the fault of someone or something else, you’re refusing to own your actions, and this may not sit well with the person you seek forgiveness from.
The word ‘but’ is a major offender in such instances. “I’m sorry, but…” is a terrible way to begin an apology because it immediately tries to shirk responsibility for the thing you said or did.
4. Offer a limited explanation of what you’re going to change.
Forgiveness may come more easily to the person you hurt if you show a willingness to change your ways in future.
An apology will mean so much more if you explain that you are going to change your behavior to accommodate the hurt and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Sometimes that’s possible, and sometimes it isn’t. The rough friend may decide to take greater care around the sensitive friend’s boundaries. It’s also possible that they don’t feel like they should have to change that part of their personality and decide that they should find other people with a similar sense of humor to hang out with instead.
As it relates to bad behavior, an explanation of how you might change that behavior can solidify the apology, but only if that change takes place. Otherwise the apology and promises of change may backfire when they are not followed through on.
Perhaps a friend is continuously late, regularly apologizes for being late, and then continues to be late.
Then it’s clear that they weren’t really apologetic about it in the first place. Or maybe they were, but just not apologetic enough to bother changing their behavior or planning their time differently.
Of course, changing behavior is not always easy or possible. Maybe they just have other responsibilities that make it difficult to be punctual. Trying to keep kids on schedule all the time is an impossible task, for example.
In this instance, it might be better not to offer a change in behavior, but to simply talk openly with the person you hurt or inconvenienced and to explain why you just can’t promise to be on time. This honesty may allow that person to be more forgiving now and on future occasions.
5. Offer to fix the problem your action created.
Always offer to fix the problem that your action created. This will go a long way to them forgiving you.
Of course, the problem may not be clear and obvious. If there doesn’t appear to be an immediate problem to address, you can ask the person if there is anything you can do to fix it.
They will likely have their own idea of what it will take to rectify the situation. And you may find that an apology is more easily accepted if you can fix the damages that you caused.
6. Request forgiveness.
Do actually ask for forgiveness.
“Can you forgive me?” That simple question can often be the beginning of the process because it’s in many people’s nature to try to do something when asked.
Again, if you’re someone who has difficulty giving apologies, this may be a hard thing for you to do. Don’t try to sidestep it, softball it in, or avoid it. Just be direct and forthright.
Most emotionally healthy and socially competent people are going to understand that there are hiccups in any friendship or relationship. Sometimes we make bad choices because that’s just part of being human. None of us are above that.
Own up to it, ask to be forgiven, and strive to make it right. Doing that will help you build and preserve healthier friendships and relationships with the people you care about.
Still not sure what to do to get someone to forgive you? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
Further reading on apologies and forgiveness:
- How To Apologize Sincerely And Properly And Mean It
- How To Forgive Yourself: 17 No Bullsh*t Tips!
- How To Forgive Someone: 2 Science-Based Models Of Forgiveness
- How To Write A Forgiveness Letter For Self-Healing
- How To Accept An Apology And Respond To Someone Who’s Sorry