Finding the right words to say you’re sorry can be tricky at times, and learning how to write an apology letter is a wonderful way to gather your thoughts in an expressive and organized manner. No matter who you feel you have wronged, coming up with an appropriate apology often requires a great deal of reflection on the context, the emotions being experienced by each party, the timing of it all, and, of course, on responsibility as well.
Putting your thoughts to paper, such as in an apology letter, is a great way to compose your response in the most honest and empathetic manner. If you’ve decided this is the route you’d like to take, to own up to any mistakes you may have made, then the next logical step is figuring out how to write an apology letter.
Although the specifics of your letter will be heavily dependent on the context of your falling out with your loved one, we can make suggestions as to how you may go about the process of writing one.
How to Start Writing an Apology Letter
Although you may be eager to make amends as quickly as possible, haste may not be the best strategy for writing an apology letter. Give yourself the time you need to process the events in question. Before you start writing, ask yourself:
- What was it that hurt your loved one?
- Do you understand how they felt, and can you empathize with their position? (It might be useful to place yourself in their shoes and imagine how you might feel. Do you struggle with a lack of empathy in relationships? If so, read the linked article to learn more about this critical emotion)
- How did you end up hurting someone that you obviously care for?
- What did you intend to say or do, and why did your actions not successfully convey your intentions if you were indeed well-meaning?
- How were you feeling during the falling out? Were there any emotions rooted in external causes that played poorly into the interaction with your loved one?
- Did you act in an unkind way at any point in time, or did you perhaps not consider something that you should have before you acted?
- What do you hope to gain by apologizing?
Reflecting on these questions can help you not only get more in touch with your own feelings on the matter but also to begin seeing nuances of how your actions might have been received by the person you wronged. This is the key to writing a good apology letter, looking at the events in hindsight, in a somewhat less charged setting, and being completely honest with yourself.
How to Structure an Apology Letter
Now that you’ve had time to collect your thoughts, it might be useful to think about how to structure them in your apology letter. There are, of course, no hard and fast rules, nor is this something you should obsess over. What you have to say holds far more weight than how you divide your paragraphs or what you lead with, but keeping these guidelines in mind, can help convey your apology in the most coherent way:
Lead with your apology:
The whole point of you writing this letter is to convey the regret you have over whatever happened between you and your loved one. Needless to say, this should be not only what you lead with but also the focal point of your writing. Start with a genuine apology, not loaded with qualifiers like “I’m sorry I hurt you, but…”. The point here is not to justify or even explain your actions/intentions but simply to take responsibility for the hurt you caused. The rest comes later.
Validate your loved one’s feelings:
This is perhaps the next most important part of giving a truly meaningful and heartfelt apology, recognizing and validating the feelings of hurt, anger, or resentment that your loved one experienced. Even if you think they “should not” have felt that way, the key takeaway is that they did regardless. So taking the time to acknowledge those feelings as real, and showing you can empathize, are essential aspects of an apology letter.
Explain, but don’t justify:
Once you have gotten across everything you are owning up to and have acknowledged their feelings, it can be useful to explain what you were experiencing during the altercation or process that led to your falling out. This should not be an attempt to justify or shift responsibility, and you should make this clear to the recipient. The purpose here is to help your loved one empathize with you and come to terms with how you ended up hurting them. Be as transparent as possible about your interiority.
Talk of amends:
Figuring out how to make amends can be quite tricky itself, so don’t look for instant solutions. Emotions like hurt and anger are complex, and you need to allow your loved one time to feel them through. Share with them what you have learned from your meditations on the incident, but don’t do so with the expectation that they will now magically forgive you. Do so in earnest, and focus on how you will follow through on making said amends, as opposed to whether or not it’ll work.
How to Open an Apology Letter
Now that you have a better grasp on the situation and the extent of your responsibility for the mistakes made, you can start thinking about conveying what you have learned and felt to your loved one.
Starting off your letter with a term of endearment you usually use for them can be a good way to set the tone for the rest of your thoughts. From the get-go, it lets the recipient know that your letter is coming from a place of love, care, and concern. Avoid being formal or even jumping straight into what you have to say; it can come across as abrupt and, at times, even passive-aggressive. And never, ever throw in a backhanded compliment.
Keep the Promises You Make
It can be really easy to promise to reform or show changed behavior when there is none. Remember that an apology is only as good as the reform it promises and that it is your responsibility to deliver on those promises.
Reassess your situation and make realistic promises — do not set expectations that you are bound to fail to meet. Be honest about what you can do to change your behavior and what you can’t, and include that in your apology letter. Setting up your loved one for more disappointment will only result in more hurt and bitterness, and that won’t help either of you address the issue at hand. Be realistic about your promises, and ensure that you make the changes and adjustments required of you to show the changes you committed to.
How to End an Apology Letter
After recognizing the hurt you’ve caused and promising reform, the only thing that remains in an apology letter is the ending. You can end an apology letter by restating the adjustments you promise to make and taking it one step further by reminding your loved one of why you’re writing this in the first place. An apology that is sincere comes from the heart and is only put forward because you deeply care about and love someone. Telling your loved one that in your apology letter might sound absurd, but really, it is what they need the most right now, apart from changed behavior. They need to be reminded that they are still loved even though they are hurt and that because of that love, you are willing to commit to making changes so that the hurt caused can be addressed.