How To Apologize to a Friend (And Get Them To Forgive You)9 min read

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Most people avoid confrontation because they don’t want to get into awkward moments. I do that sometimes too, but not in every situation. Mainly, because building real connections means sometimes we argue, or offend each other.

But these hiccups are not bad: they indicate the presence of boundaries and individual thought.

Nevertheless, sometimes our actions can hurt others and that is why apologies matter a lot. They’re essentially what keep friendships, families, and even nations from falling apart.

Without apologies, disagreements can fester and turn into nasty conflicts – that can lead to emotional turmoil, mental struggles, and sometimes even physical abuse or bloody war.

What is an apology? 

An apology is an honest admission of your wrong – when you’ve messed up. And it starts with a sincere “I’m sorry.”

Again, it’s not just words; it’s about understanding what you did wrong and making an effort to make things better in your friendship or any form of association, most politely and reasonably. 

An apology is like an invisible glue that keeps our human or social connections intact when mistakes and offences arise.

But, making an honest and acceptable apology can be tough for many people. 

On that note, let’s zoom out for perception; 

Why You May Struggle to Say You’re Sorry

Most healthy behaviours are often met by internal and external challenges. 

Here are some possible reasons for struggling to apologize:

Fear of rejection

Rejection feels like disconnection or isolation. 

Humans hate/fear isolation on an instinctive level, so they connect (socialize) with fellow humans or animals. 

But connecting with people can be tough as not everyone wants to connect with everyone. So, to avoid feeling rejected, many people hide their feelings to stay independent.

Apologizing can feel similar. Many people dread hearing something like, “No, I am not interested in hearing what you have to say. Get out!”

In essence, you might worry that the other person will get mad, pull away, or even decline your apology. So, you hold back your remorse because you’d rather not feel rejected at worst. 

Fear of losing control

Take away a human’s sense of control, and things can get chaotic.

People crave control over their relationships, finances, health, beliefs, and time. And, they like feeling they are doing it right.

So, it can be really difficult to accept that the past, people’s behaviour, and the result of what happened is beyond your control. Worse, it’s more unpalatable to admit you did wrong. 


Nobody likes being clowned. Unless it’s their job and they get paid for it. 

Apologizing can stir up feelings of shame, particularly when you’ve made a significant error. 


Sometimes, it’s the pesky pride talking. For example, I once had a quarrel with a friend, and when I called to apologize, I ended up blurting out something foolish like, “I’m only saying sorry so we can get over this, not because I think I was wrong.” After hanging up, it hit me how silly and prideful that sounded; because I didn’t want to admit I might have made a mistake. 

You might have experienced similar feelings before. Apologizing might seem like defeat, like being the main act in a battle where appearing weak or foolish isn’t acceptable. 

Lack of empathy

Some individuals are simply, well, jerks. People like sociopaths, psychopaths, and narcissists can be incredibly self-absorbed. They often struggle to grasp how their actions affect others, and they might even act like they’re the ones suffering while leaving you breathless with their gaslighting. For them, saying sorry can be as rare as a unicorn sighting.

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How To Deliver A Heartfelt Apology To A Friend

In other and more common cases it’s simply that you don’t know how to apologize – the right words, structure or attitude that makes up a good and acceptable apology. 

So, let me show you how:

Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas suggested that five languages make up a good apology. 

  • Express regret
  • Accept responsibility 
  • Make restitution
  • Genuinely repent
  • Request forgiveness

These five languages of apology can be transformed into a framework that can help you deliver a heartfelt apology whether in person, over the phone or via text. 

Here it is; 

Say sorry and be honest about it

“I am Sorry” is an emotive and expressive phrase that has a soothing and heart-melting ring. It indicates remorse on the face level. And, it’s the primary step to a good apology that runs deeper. 

Be specific in your apology 

After saying you’re sorry, highlight what it is that you’re apologizing for. Be specific! 

For example; “I am sorry that I said you are overreacting”. 

Take responsibility for your actions

Show you understand why it was bad. Take ownership, and show that you’ve figured out how you’ve hurt your friend.  

For example, “I’m sorry for saying you were overreacting. That was wrong, and I shouldn’t have dismissed your feelings. I realize now that it was insensitive and dismissive of your feelings.”

If you’re unsure how you’ve hurt your friend, it’s perfectly fine to ask for clarification. But be prepared, they might not always share the full story. And that’s alright, too. Don’t pressure them to spill the beans if they’re not ready.

Do Not Give Excuses 

Don’t offer excuses or blame others;  It gets boring and doesn’t help. Instead, commit to doing things differently. 

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

For example, rather than giving the excuse that you were tired, say something like, “I’ll be a better listener and won’t judge when you talk.”

Fix what you can

If it fits the situation, offer to make things right:  you may say “Can we have that discussion now? I am going to try to understand how you’re feeling.”

However, don’t expect a warm reception. Be ready to give your friend the space and time they need to heal from the pain they’re feeling and open up to receive your kindness. 

5 Words You Shouldn’t Use When Apologizing 

Be cautious about using the wrong or silly words, while you’re working on getting your apology accepted.

Here are some words you want to avoid, because they can turn your apology into a full-blown debate, and nobody wants to referee that match! 


Using “but” in an apology is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. It usually leads to more trouble. For instance, saying, “I’m sorry, but you made me angry first” is a classic no-no. It sounds like you’re trying to justify what you did. And your friend won’t appreciate it because they want to hear a sincere apology, not excuses. 


Using “if” in an apology is akin to attempting to play hide and seek without closing your eyes. It’s not following the game’s rules. For instance, saying, “I’m sorry if I upset you” suggests that you’re not fully acknowledging your role in upsetting someone, just like peeking during hide and seek takes away the excitement – it takes away the honesty and impedes the growth process of your friendship. 

At least

Saying “at least” in an apology can make it sound like you’re minimizing the other person’s hurt. For example, “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday, but at least I remembered to get you a present” is dismissive of the other person’s feelings. 

Not my fault

Using “not my fault” in an apology is as absurd as trying to start a barbecue with a snow blower. You’re using the wrong approach, and the result is bound to be disappointing. So, don’t be that person who refuses to accept responsibility and says, “Not my fault.” It won’t lead to any meaningful resolution, and it’s just plain unhelpful. 

Can you forgive me

Asking “Can you forgive me?” is a bit like asking someone, “Can you be happy right now?” It’s a complex emotional process, and you can’t just switch it on like a light bulb. 

This question can indeed make the other person feel pressured to forgive you, even if they’re not emotionally prepared to do so. So, it’s better to give them the space and time to come to their own decision.

Examples of Things To Say When Apologizing:

When apologizing, try to focus on taking responsibility for your actions, expressing remorse, and offering to make amends. 

For example, you could say:

“I’m so sorry for forgetting your birthday. I have no excuse for my behaviour. I promise that I’ll be more careful in the future.”

“I’m so sorry that I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to. I value our friendship and I hope you can forgive me.”

“I’m so sorry for making you wait. I know your time is valuable. I promise to be more punctual in the future.”

Genuine apologies are void of selfish words and keep your attention on the other person’s feelings.

Conclusion: When to Stop Apologizing To Avoid Over-Apologizing

If saying sorry in person is hard, try writing your feelings down. Read it out loud to understand your feelings, before sending it out. It’s like being an avatar observing your real self. 

You can either take it old-school by penning an apology letter and leaving it where your friend can find it. Or text message to your friend’s mail, inbox or WhatsApp. The point is to have the five languages of apology in your message. 

If any of that doesn’t help, talk to a friend, family member, or therapist. 

Never forget; that apologizing is a sign of strength. Not a weakness. It shows you care. Do it whenever needed – it has healing power.

However, if your friend doesn’t accept your sincere apology after a few tries, let someone close to both of you know what’s going on. If your friend still doesn’t come around, it might be time to rethink your friendship. 

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