How do you know someone is being honest when they say “I’m sorry”? When someone has hurt or lied to you it can be hard to trust the words that come out of their mouth. Sometimes those two words just don’t cut it. A lot of times people say things but never act on their words. It is hard to believe someone after so many apologies. How do you know when an apology is genuine?
A real apology has four parts. Completing all four parts of an apology helps to show that you really mean what you say.
For example, let’s say I broke your window. This is a genuine apology.
Part II: Saying you are sorry. “I’m sorry that it happened. I feel really bad that I made such a mess and scared you that way”.
Part III: Fixing or repairing the damage done. “I will call someone to come out and replace your window. I’ll pay for everything”.
Part IV: Vowing to not do it again. “I will not be playing ball outside your window anymore so this won’t happen again”.
Some people can’t even make it to the first part. They won’t even admit they were wrong. If your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t even admit they were wrong it will either make you feel crazy or your mistrust will skyrocket. If you have proof that someone did do something and they won’t admit it, there is a huge problem to overcome. It will make you wonder how well you really even know this person which usually starts the downfall of many relationships.
Other people only get through the second part. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will admit they were wrong and they do apologize, but they don’t follow through on trying to repair the damage or vow to not do it again. Or they vow to not do it again, but skip the third step. If they skip the third step, odds are great that their vow means nothing. A person has to make a conscious change for you to really know that they don’t want to hurt you again.
So how do you repair damage like cheating? Say your partner has admitted what they did and apologized and even vows to never do it again. How do they complete step three? It can be done in different ways. Some people need different things to feel more confident again in their relationship. Do you need them to spend more time with you? Do you need them to be more affectionate and attentive to you? Do you need them to tell you how much you mean to them and be more complimentary? Do you need them to be more open with their phone, email and social media accounts?
An easy way to know if someone is still hiding something from you is if they become very defensive if you ask questions about their phone, email or Facebook. If they have nothing to hide they should want to show them to you. They start to feel proud that they aren’t hiding anymore, and you start to feel more confident because they are more open with you. It is a win win for someone who is trying to prove they aren’t hiding anything from you. If they rush you to “get over” what happened and don’t feel they owe you anything to prove they are now being honest, be very very cautious. This person is probably still hiding something.
A person who has cheated will not want to talk about it all the time. It is hard to have it brought up because it is very shameful to those who regret their actions. However, they shouldn’t be defensive about wanting to show you they are now being faithful. When I worked in private practice I worked with many couples. I met with people who have changed jobs so they can prove to their partner that they won’t see the person they cheated with anymore. Some people have given up promotions so they don’t have to travel as much for work. Some people have told friends or family so they become more accountable. If an apology is truly genuine, they will want to make the changes necessary to win back your trust. It will also help them keep their vow of not hurting you in that way again. It is not easy, but it may be very worth the effort to make amends and move forward.
Remember these four steps the next time you realize you hurt someone in any kind of relationship. If you are honest about your apology, follow through with making changes to repair the damage so it will be easier for that person to believe you when you say it will never happen again.
P.S. Just to let you know. If someone says they won’t ever do something again, and its a habit, like drinking, doing drugs, cheating, lying, being emotional abusive, or using pornography, be aware that they most likely will need professional help to change.
They need to learn new ways of dealing with things and have someone hold them accountable while they break that habit. It isn’t as easy as depending on you to help them change. If they are willing to get help, they are more likely being honest with you about stopping. If they follow through for 3 months or more, you can start to trust that they are truly making a change. Three or four weeks of staying sober, being nice, or being helpful doesn’t mean they have really changed. This is from a decade of experience of working with many people with a lot of bad habits. Give them a chance, but be prepared for disappointment if they can’t follow through with step three.