Every relationship has challenges. Holiday time can make things worse. Authentic apologies can help relieve stress. It takes real courage to apologize authentically, especially if there are legal implications. But the benefits are amazing when apologies come from the heart!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Sometimes apologies do not work. Sometimes they do. Here are some suggestions you can try on at this holiday time to ease the tension in your relationships at home or at work and achieve a relational breakthrough. It could be the greatest gift you ever give or get.


  • Do some inner work and find out what you have done or not done that requires an apology. This will require your best emotional intelligence and inner-awareness. It might also involve journaling or prayer. Where did I make a mistake? Where did I omit something important? Do I truly feel remorse? This is challenging because a part of you will surely be saying “Yes, but they also did X or Y.” Ignore that voice. You can only take responsibility for your actions or omissions when it comes to an apology.
  • If you go into shame at this point (shame = “I am a mistake” as opposed to remorse or healthy guilt = “I made a mistake”) then you might need some extra support to continue.
  • If it is a letter you may want a close friend to review it. This should be someone who is not emotionally involved in the situation. If it will be a conversation you will want to practice with someone, perhaps a professional like me.
  • If it is going to be a conversation ask the person involved if you can talk with them about a mistake you have made with them. If they say “yes” then continue. If they say “no” do not push. If they will not let you contact them, which can be one of the most challenging situations, you can write them a letter, but be prepared to do some extra inner work to be effective in being authentic (and do not expect a response or change on their end).

Take Action

  • Admit your role in the situation and state it succinctly. The sooner you can get to the point, the better, as they are probably feeling nervous and perhaps not even fully listening since their flight-fight-freeze response may be activated (thanks to the lovely amygdala in our brain). Also if you speak too much it might recreate the very mistake you have been making: taking up too much airspace!
  • Watch for a possible shallow apology and wanting to suggest that they can get over it quickly and move on. You issue the apology, they decide whether to accept it, wait or refuse it. This is why you need to come from your heart, as much as you can. It can help to go deeper into why you did what you did, making sure to take full responsibility. “I said it because I was angry about the situation, but that was a poor way to use my anger.”
  • Also watch for the tendency to apologize for their feelings not your actions. “I am sorry that you were so angry at me for crashing my car into your house.” OR “Sorry for the indignation you felt for my not bringing the turkey for Thanksgiving last year.” These are not authentic apologies and will likely aggravate the situation.
  • After you told your story of your role in the situation, it is now important to voice your understanding of how they might feel. “If someone did that to me I would feel angry and disrespected.” OR “I may have this wrong, because I do not know what was going on with you, but I am aware that my saying that may have caused you to feel X, Y or Z” OR “My behavior was unacceptable and I am working to change it.”


  • It is now time to truly listen to their response. Possibly you missed the target of how they are feeling. Genuine listening is a challenge for all of us especially when we know we screwed up. Yet it is possible.
  • The main point is to empathize with them and make eye contact. They might respond with immediate acceptance and love. They might still be angry and worried you will do it again.

The Future

  • The next step is voicing what you are committed to in the future. “I am committed to making sure I have the turkey next year and will get support to make sure I remember it and this time it will be an organic one.” (this is going above and beyond, and might help create needed restoration)
  • Finally, if their response is unclear you may want to ask them if they are able to accept your apology or if they need some time. When you do this you need to ask with as much humility as you can muster. Give them the space and opportunity to say “no”. Asking the other person to accept your apology will bring you even more satisfaction, especially if they accept it. This helps you complete the matter. If they don’t accept your apology, it is time to listen again (if they are willing to continue) or give them time and space to process your regret.
  • Change your behavior. For this part you might need to call me or another coach.
  • Extra credit: do something positive and symbolic for them—a gift, a special invitation, etc. For an example, see the note below, from the 5 year old who broke a Christmas bulb.