Apologies are an important component of repairing a relationship, but they only work if the apology is heartfelt. Saying I’m sorry you feel that way, or I’m sorry you misunderstood, may only exacerbate the problem and make your partner madder. For an apology to begin to work, it must be absolutely sincere. Even then, an apology alone may not be enough to put things back together and make the relationship right again.

Apologies are difficult for many people to make, so they often think the value of the apology should be great. But the value is frequently overestimated. You may be disappointed to find that the apology you’ve been planning to make—even a sincere one—will not, in fact, mend the relationship. You may discover it’s only the beginning of a process of getting your partner to believe in you again.

For example, if your partner has been unfaithful, and admits to infidelity, a verbal apology is necessary. But it is a meager thing next to the devastation of a cheating partner. It will take time to rebuild trust and it may never be possible to completely repair the relationship.

Some transgressions are beyond the healing power of apologies. For example, children who have been abused by a parent, sexually or emotionally, can understandably find that an apology from the abuser is insufficient. They may take years to forgive, and if the harm done to them is great, they may never find it in their heart to forgive. Sorry just isn’t enough.

If sorry’ isn’t enough, what is?

In short, a demonstration that you’ve changed. Show, in word and deed, that you are genuinely so sorry that you have changed your behavior. This takes time to demonstrate and your partner must be receptive to it. If your partner doesn’t believe that you can change for the better, you may behave perfectly for years, but your partner won’t see it.

If your partner won’t accept your apology, or can’t, you need to do some soul searching. Perhaps s/he is unable to trust you again, and the damage is permanent. Then you need to find the strength to forgive yourself and move on.

But if you have accepted your mistake and learned from it, you may consider asking for forgiveness. When you do, you need to understand the situation from your partner’s perspective. You\’re asking your partner to understand that you feel repentant in your heart. You are not necessarily asking him or her to forget what you have done. But you are opening both of you up to the possibility of forgiveness. You are asking your partner to give you a gift, and that is the chance to prove you are worthy of their trust.

If your partner finds it in his or her heart to bestow this gift upon you, you must value the preciousness of it. If you do, you may find the path to healing your relationship.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.