April 16, 2023

How Not to Apologize

Written by Shana Schutte

How you apologize is vitally important. It can heal or wound.”

Thoughts from daily Bible reading for today – April 16, 2023

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  Philippians 2:3

When my husband and I were dating, he took me out to dinner. At the end of our meal, he pulled one of the paper napkins on the table close, pulled out a pen and wrote at the top: How to Apologize. We hadn’t had an argument or needed to apologize to one another; he was simply sharing a life lesson and I appreciated he was investing in our relationship. 

Then, he listed 4 things to say when apologizing. 

  1. “I was wrong.”
  2. “I am sorry.”
  3. “Please forgive me.”
  4. “I love you.”

With a smile, I teased that we needed to add a fifth point: “Let’s kiss” and I was rewarded with a peck. I have appreciated this “paper napkin moment” many times over the years and there have been several moments in our eight-year marriage when I have used these important points to honor my husband, make peace, and diffuse conflict.  

In other relationships over the decades, I have been the recipient of many heartfelt apologies from caring friends and family. They made me feel loved, seen, valued, and cherished. There have been other times when I have been the recipient of poorly delivered apologies which have led to even more hurt, shame, and conflict. Some apologies have included hurtful words I remember even to this day though they were spoken over 30 years ago.

How we apologize is vitally important. It can heal or wound. A good apology can reconnect you with someone, eliminate bad feelings, restore loving emotions, increase respect, and dispel emotional pain. (And, apologizing in a life-giving way prioritizes the Lord’s second-greatest command in Matthew 22:39 to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”) A bad apology, on the other hand, can be disastrous and lead to even greater hurt that can linger for years. 

With these thoughts in mind, I’d like to share how not to apologize. 

First, don’t say “I’m sorry you were hurt” or “I’m sorry that upset you.” This is a subtle way of blame shifting and avoiding responsibility for any pain you caused. A simple, “I’m sorry I hurt you” is much better and more humble in nature. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt the other person or you aren’t at fault, that’s not the point. The point is that the other person was hurt. Taking responsibility for the other person’s emotional pain aligns with Ephesians 4:2 which says to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Next, don’t explain without apologizing. One of my friends recently posted a meme on Facebook which read, “An explanation is not an apology.” So true. While there may be reasons you did—or said—something, giving an explanation why something happened, rather than apologizing is another way of not taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. 

Finally, don’t say, “I’m sorry, but . . .” Whatever follows the “but” (“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” “it was a joke,” “you’re too sensitive,” “you always overreact,” or “you started it”) invalidates your apology. Once again, you’re not really taking responsibility and the other person won’t feel apologized to or valued. This kind of “apology” won’t yield a good result. 

Honoring another person by apologizing well isn’t always easy if we feel self-protective or prideful, but we must remember to act during conflict according to wisdom, and not according to our emotions. 

“An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins” (Proverbs 29:22).


Lord, thank you that in your Word you have given us everything we need to live at peace with one another. Please help me to be a peace maker, motivated by love, not motivated by pride, anger, self-protection, or hatred. I submit my mouth and my actions to you today, Lord. Amen.


Do you need to apologize to someone today? Put what you learned in today’s devotional into practice.

Related Reading

Ephesians 4:2; Proverbs 15:1; Ephesians 4:29

Worship Resource

Chris Tomlin: Lord, I Need You


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