Relationship Repair: Making Amends versus an Apology

by Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT

repair heart

We are human and will make mistakes even when we are working hard not to. The good news is that we can make repairs in these situations. All is not lost. Knowing what to do to will help us feel more empowered and capable of repairing in the times we negatively affect someone else.

When we make a mistake or cause someone to hurt, it can be hard to know how to handle it.

couple argue

It can leave us feeling paralyzed, shame, or fear. We may worry about our loved one or coworker’s reaction. We may be afraid of them being angry with us. Growing up it may have been seen as a weakness to apologize. In truth, it takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and acknowledge the pain we caused. We may ignore the issue in order to avoid conflict. However, this will only make the situation worse and cause our loved one to not trust us.

When we have a misattunement it is important to repair it soon whether it was with family, friends, or a coworker. The longer we let the issue go on without taking responsibility for our actions it will become more implanted in the other person’s memory. This causes a disconnect in our relationship and taking responsibility and being vulnerable can help us reconnect with our loved one.

The difference between making an amends and apologizing

There is a huge difference between making amends with someone and merely giving them an apology. While a sincere apology is a crucial part of making amends, an apology alone is simply not enough to undo the irreversible pain and heartache we may have caused.

With an apology we are expressing our remorse for the hurt we caused.

Apologizing is like putting a band aid on a wound; it covers the source of the pain until it eventually disappears. When you make a sincere apology to someone that you’ve hurt, it makes you both feel a little better but it doesn’t really do anything to correct the situation that you have caused.

Making an amends is different. We work to right the wrong and show with our behavior that we won’t continue the hurtful pattern.


Making an amends means acknowledging your behavior and taking responsibility for it. This takes courage, humility, and a sincere desire to change. Making amends is similar to apologizing from a place of love, but it is taken one step further. When an individual makes amends, not only is the apology heartfelt and sincere, but it is backed by a genuine effort to change the behavior.

There are many benefits to making an amends. Here are a few-

  • You experience a sense of emotional relief.
  • You feel good about yourself for having the courage to face it.
  • It repairs the relationship and can restore trust.
  • It gives you a sense of resolution to an unfinished situation.
  • Handling old hurts this way decreases worry and stress.

Here are 5 steps to guide you in making amends-

1. Take stock of the damage you caused.

guy hurt

It is important to reflect on what happened- your actions, words, and thoughts. Awareness is the first step toward change. We need to understand what we did and also think about the hurt it caused the other person from their perspective. Developing empathy will help you to understand how you have wronged that person, why it hurt them, and how you might be able to make it better.

2. Express the desire to repair it.

We need to let the other person know we want to repair. This is best done in person so they can see that you are sincere which can be difficult to know through texting or email. Be specific. Example- “I see I have hurt you. I want to repair it and reconnect with you. I know how I behaved wasn’t helpful and I imagine its lower the trust you have in me”.

3. Admit to your mistakes.

Honesty is crucial when we’ve hurt someone else even if it was accidental. They need to see that we understand the pain that our actions and/or words caused them. You must address the mistake itself to show the person that you understand what you did was wrong. Example- “I see I hurt you when I got angry and spoke hurtful words to you. I was being rude and insensitive. I missed the opportunity to listen to you and show your thoughts respect”.

4. Find a way to repair the damage.


Suggest ways to rebuild and repair your relationship. Repairing the damage done takes time, and trust has to be earned, but slowly the right actions and activities will help to restore their faith in you. Organizing quality time with this person is also a great way to show how much they mean to you. If you damaged property of theirs, then replacing it with a new version is needed.

5. Be patient about getting someone’s trust back.

regain trust

It takes time to rebuild trust. Honesty, open communication, taking responsibility, and keeping promises made are all building blocks to creating trust. Remaining patient and not criticizing or blaming your partner is necessary as well. Everyone’s process toward forgiveness is different. They will need to see that your actions are as you promised they would be.

If the other person isn’t ready, or the friendship ends, remember that there may be a reconciliation down the road. You had the courage to face your fear. That level of integrity is a valuable trait that will make your relationships healthy.

Carlene Lehmann, M.A., LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist at Relationships Matter Austin in Austin, Texas. Carlene can help you reconnect and rebuild trust in your relationship again. To schedule your appointment with Carlene, you can reach her at (512) 994-0432 or request an appointment with her on the Relationships Matter Austin Scheduling Page.