What to Write: Apology Messages

It happens to everyone. Maybe you said the wrong thing at the wrong time, maybe you forgot to do something you said you would do. Maybe you made the biggest mistake of your life and are looking for ways to make it right. Maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s all of the above. No matter what happened, you’re not alone. We all have to apologize — to lovers, to friends, to coworkers we offend.

But when it really matters…how do you write an apology message? What do you write to apologize to your husband, to your wife, to your girlfriend or boyfriend? How do you apologize to your boss? To your best friend?

Step 1: Own It

No matter who it is, no matter what you did, start with those two hardest little words: I’m sorry. Keep the blame on you, the apologizer: you hurt them, and you are sorry. After you get those two words out, tell them what exactly you’re apologizing for. Own up to it.

Apology Message to a Lover, Parent or Friend

  • I really messed up when I…
  • I can’t believe I…
  • I shouldn’t have…
  • I feel so bad that I…
  • I was wrong to…
  • I should have known that…
  • I didn’t think about…

Apology Message to a Boss or Coworker

  • I’m sorry. I should not have…
  • It was a poor decision to…
  • I regret that I…

Step 2: Empathize

After you’ve said I’m sorry and owned up to what you did, acknowledge their feelings. Validate their opinions. Express empathy. Let them know you understand where they’re coming from, and no matter what your initial intentions were, you know you upset them. After all, apologies are about their feelings, not your reasoning. Even though it’s tempting to explain yourself, it’s more important to not make excuses.

Apology Message to a Lover or Friend

  • I know you’re not my biggest fan right now. I’m not my biggest fan either.
  • What you feel is completely justified.
  • You’re right to think…
  • Everything you said is true.
  • You have every right to be mad/hurt/upset.
  • I hate that I made you feel like this.

Apology Message to a Parent or Mentor

  • I know I hurt you.
  • I let you down, and that’s not okay.
  • I know you were trying to… and I shouldn’t have…
  • I never wanted to disappoint you.
  • You were right.

(Unless you’ve hurt a boss or coworker in some personal way, you can generally skip this step of the apology message. Forgetting to finish a project on time doesn’t require any validation of feelings, just an acknowledgement of truth.)

Step 3: Make a Plan to Make It Right

You’ve said you’re sorry, you’ve acknowledged their feelings, and now it’s time to make it right. How are you going to move forward from here? The most important part of any apology is to be honest. Don’t say you understand if you don’t. Don’t deny things you still feel. Don’t make promises you can’t keep — sometimes there’s a good chance you actually will do it again, even if you don’t mean to.

But don’t just leave it there. Make a plan. Tell them how you’re going to avoid this same situation in the future, and then stick to it. Did you say something hurtful? Tell them you’ll be more mindful of your words. Missed a deadline? Propose an idea for how you’re going to stay on top of things. Whatever it is, tell them your plan for not letting it happen again. Be specific. And be honest. Even if you’re not exactly sure what would make it better, you can write something like:

  • I want to make it up to you.
  • I want to make it right.
  • I’d be so grateful if we could talk about this.
  • I want to find a compromise.
  • Let me fix this.
  • I’ll do everything I can to make sure this never happens again.
  • I messed up. Next time, I…

You can even ask for their help — show them that you need them in your life. Show them that even though you don’t know exactly what to do or how to do it, you’re trying to make the situation better.

To a Lover, Parent or Friend

  • I’m working on it — will you help me?
  • Please show me how to keep making this right.
  • Will you keep me accountable?
  • I want to always communicate on things like this. Please help me do that.

To a Boss or Coworker

  • I would appreciate if we could sit down and talk this over, so I don’t do it again.
  • I know not to do this again, but if there’s anything else I can do, please let me know.
  • These are the steps I will be taking to… Please let me know what else I can do.

Step 4: Be There

No matter how you apologize or what you’re apologizing for, remind them that you want to keep them in your life. And then make good on it. Relationships don’t always run smoothly, but the more we learn as we go through these rough times, the stronger and better our relationships will become. Keep showing up. Keep being there. Keep working to make your relationship the best it can be.

To a Lover or Parent

  • Having you in my life means everything to me.
  • You are so important to me.
  • I don’t know what I’d do without you.
  • You’re my rock.
  • I need you in my life.
  • You’re the best part of my life.
  • I respect you so much.

To a Friend

  • Your friendship is one of my favorite things in life.
  • I love having you as a friend.
  • I keep remembering all the good times we’ve had, and I’m looking forward to so many more.
  • You’re practically family.
  • You’re an important part of my life, and I don’t want to lose your friendship.

To a Boss or Coworker

  • You’re a fantastic boss/coworker, and I’m grateful for all you do.
  • I really appreciate the opportunity I have to work for/with you.
  • I’m thankful for all you’ve taught me, and I’m excited to learn more from you.

At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we all mess up. We’re going to keep messing up for the rest of our lives, sometimes in the same ways and often in new and unexpected ways. And that’s okay.