Have you ever had a fight with a friend or family member and thought, “the easiest way to resolve this would just be to apologize”? If you’re sincerely sorry, then your apology might be the best way to resolve the issue, but if you’re just following the path of least resistance, you might actually be making the problem worse.

Insincere apologies can be particularly damaging when they’re directed towards your significant other. We tend to be able to pick up on our partner’s emotions through tone and body language, so if your words are apologetic but your behavior is not, your partner will probably be able to tell. Giving an insincere apology indicates that you don’t care enough to even attempt to empathize with your partner, and that can lead to deeper relationship problems.

So how do you apologize in a way that’s healthy for both you and your partner? First, here’s what not to do.

Language and Behavior to Avoid

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” This is one of the biggest cop outs in the books. Saying that you’re sorry your partner’s feelings were hurt puts all the blame on them for being too sensitive while relieving yourself of responsibility for your actions. It shows that you don’t really understand the root of the problem and that you haven’t considered the issue from your partner’s perspective.

Giving gifts out of guilt. There have been plenty of movies and TV shows where characters apologize to their significant other by showing up on their doorstep with flowers or another kind of gift, but in reality, gifts are no replacement for the words that need to be said in an apology. You can’t “buy” your way into your partner’s good graces.

Making excuses. Remember that you are solely responsible for your words and actions. It’s not your stressful day at work or your long commute that are responsible for you snapping at your partner or failing to do that chore you promised to get done. Don’t couch your apology in excuses; own up and accept responsibility.

Now that we’ve gotten through the negatives, here are some positive things to try.

Key Components of a Good Apology

Listen. An apology isn’t just about you talking. You also need to listen to what your partner has to say in order to better understand their perspective and the root of the problem.

Empathize. You need to genuinely understand how your words and actions made your partner feel before you can give a sincere apology. After your partner explains what they see as the problem, say something like, “Let me see if I understand this” and restate what they’ve said without embellishing. If your partner says you haven’t gotten it right, give them the opportunity to explain again until you both reach an understanding.

Remedy the problem. It’s one thing to say you’re sorry and another thing to take action to show that you’re sorry. If you’ve determined that there is a specific problem behavior that has upset your partner, work to come up with a way to change that behavior for the better.

Apologizing isn’t an easy thing to do, but it’s an essential skill to have in a healthy relationship. To learn more about apologizing and other communication skills, consider scheduling an appointment with Portland relationship therapy.