While apologizing in person is the preferred approach for most people, sometimes a formal, written apology conveys more sincerity.
Here are some useful insights that will help you write an apology letter to a friend.
Table of Contents
- Make sure your apology is genuine
- Think deeply of the message you are trying to convey
- Don’t overcomplicate your apology
- Close with aspects of your friend and your relationship with them that you really appreciate
- Evaluate if what you are writing will be helpful to your friend or yourself
- When writing, let everything out
- Ignore your ego and reputation
- Empathize to the best of your ability
- Acknowledge specific terms of what you’re apologizing for
- Validate your friend’s feelings on the letter
- Make sure to adjust your behavior
- Acknowledge the error, mistake or hurt
- Show remorse for what happened
- Make the situation right. Take action to make restitution.
- Decide what you’re really apologizing for
- Be truthful
- Use DBT’s THINK skills in times like these
- Accountability and responsibility
- Commitment to change behavior
- Re-establish why do you value their friendship
- Do not make it about you
- Tell them all the reasons why they matter to you
- Tell them what you are going to change for the future relationship
- Be authentic
- Take full ownership
- Ask for forgiveness
- Take responsibility for what you did but do not take responsibility for their part
- Be vulnerable
- Speak only about you and your intentions
- Remember that it’s important to validate
- Be careful in providing an explanation
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Do not demand that the person accept the apology, or respond to it in any way
- Start with the apology
- Rephrase the problem
- Validate their feelings
- Show them you understand the consequences
- Talk about amends and prevention
- Ask for forgiveness
- Acknowledge your actions
- Apologize by saying that you are sorry and be specific
- Amend by making an offer you intend to keep
- Be open and honest as you could be
- Acknowledge that your friend may not fully believe you are sorry
- Suggest ways to make amends
- Identify what you are apologizing for
- Don’t over-explain
- Include how you will improve in the future
- Give the recipient of the apology an opportunity to comment
- Own it
- Don’t put yourself down
- Only write an apology letter if it’s going to be a true apology
- Don’t spend too much time explaining yourself
- Don’t forget to acknowledge how much the person means to you
- Articulate your hopes for the future
- Acknowledge how much you have hurt your friend
- Express gratitude
- After sending the letter, do not expect your friend to answer you immediately
Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Make sure your apology is genuine
In order to write a successful apology letter to a friend, it has to be genuine. By genuine, I mean, you must sincerely feel sorry.
People apologize all the time because they want to avoid the discomfort associated with having someone be angry or upset with them. They also apologize because of their own egos; they can’t stand to think that something they’ve done, or didn’t do, said, or didn’t say has been recognized by someone else, especially someone they care about.
So start by taking some time to consider your motivation for apologizing.
Do you clearly understand why the other person is upset and deserving of an apology? Do you believe that they deserve an apology? Are you sorry for the action or inaction you took or are you sorry that they are upset about it?
Taking some time to shuffle through these answers will help you focus on what needs to be included in your letter and help you to clarify where you are coming from.
Think deeply of the message you are trying to convey
If you’ve decided that you really are sorry and that this friend deserves an apology, you’ll want to think deeply about the message that you are trying to convey.
There really are two parts to an apology: empathy and the apology itself. A true and meaningful apology letter is one that starts with empathy; a clear and deep understanding of the other person’s experience that you feel is deserving of an apology.
Start by sharing as much as you can with your friend about why you understand that they are upset.
This requires you to step outside of yourself and really slide your feet into their shoes. What do you think happened to them as a result of your behavior?
If they’ve told you already, great; use their words and combine them with how you best understand them. For example, someone tells you that they are very hurt that you did not invite them to a social gathering at your house and they feel “left out” and “unimportant.” Use their words by saying, “I understand that my not inviting you caused you to feel left out and unimportant.”
If you aren’t sure how they feel, you’ve got two options: 1) do your best to either take a good, educated guess based on what you know about them and let them know you are doing your best to try to understand or 2) ask questions in your apology letter.
“I know you are very upset with me and while I want to apologize, I would first love to better understand what your experience was and how you were feeling.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Empathy can also be communicated by an earnest effort on your part to dig a little deeper to show how much you really care to understand your friend.
Don’t overcomplicate your apology
After you’ve communicated empathy and shown that you clearly understand what their experience was, you can begin to deliver the second part of your apology – the apology itself. And, you don’t need to overcomplicate it. The words, “I am sorry” go a long way.
An important distinction here is whether or not you are sorry for what you did or you are sorry for how they feel. A beautiful apology usually involves the experience of both. People are quick to feel upset by apologies that do not include the apologizer taking responsibility for their own actions.
Make sure to be clear that you are sorry for both their experience of hurt and for the actions you took that caused it.
You can deepen this apology by sharing some of your insights around why you did (or didn’t do) what you did unless it sounds like blame. You want to be careful not to blame the apologizee for your own behavior, which unfortunately happens a lot in apologies.
If you do that, it becomes less of an apology and more of a justification for what you did (or didn’t do) and misses the whole point.
Now, that’s not to say that something isn’t also the responsibility of the friend you are apologizing to. Often times, there is joint responsibility in an exchange that leads one person to apologize to the other.
To use the previous example, maybe the apologizee has felt “left out” in the past and have never communicated this to their friend. Or, maybe the apologizee often declines social invitations, leaving the apologizer in a place of thinking, “they wouldn’t come anyway.”
In this instance, the apologizer might have some questions and some confusion about an aspect of the relationship that wasn’t previously communicated about, leading to hurt feelings, leading to a need to apologize.
There’s room to address this in an apology, but not by pointing fingers. The most effective way to incorporate this into an apology is to be constructive with this toward the end of the apology.
Share your desire to communicate in such a way as to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. Share that you’re interested to deepen the relationship by communicating some of your experience with them if they feel open to it.
Invite, don’t demand that they engage you on a deeper level when they feel ready and after they’ve accepted your apology. If your friend is a true friend and wants to have a healthy relationship with you moving forward, they’ll most likely be totally down.
Close with aspects of your friend and your relationship with them that you really appreciate
Let them know the specific, not just general, ways that you appreciate them and value their friendship in your life. It’s not enough to just say, “you are very kind and I love being your friend.”
Give some examples of how they’ve been kind toward you (or toward anyone) that you’ve noticed. Show them that you see them, appreciate them, and love them. Remind them about why they’re in your life and why you’d like them to continue being in your life.
Make them feel good, cared about, and appreciated. Let them know that you’re ready to talk when they are and hope for the best. Again, if the relationship is quality, this is an opportunity and not an obstacle.
Nance L. Schick, Esq.
Conflict Mediator | Founder, The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick
Although I focus on workplace conflicts, this often includes conflicts among friends. Of course, I have also had my share of conflicts with friends and other loved ones throughout my life.
I am not a fan of apology letters to “friends”, assuming we share the same definition of a friend and the apologizer wants to repair, transform, and continue the friendship.
If so, a call will lay a much better foundation on which to build again. It will take courage, and it will probably be uncomfortable, but that might also help the recipient recognize true remorse, even if the words aren’t perfect.
A letter doesn’t give them the opportunity to hear the discomfort and pain, nor does it give them an opportunity to respond authentically at the moment.
Nevertheless, there are situations in which a letter is the most appropriate way to open communication after a misstep by a friend. Perhaps many years have passed, the friend is refusing to accept calls, etc. In those cases:
- Acknowledge the less-than-ideal form of the apology. Open with something such as, “Forgive me for choosing to do this in writing. I am still open to talking this through, whenever you are ready, and I understand that you might need some time.”
- Apologize for the specific error. “I am sorry for _______________.” Stop. Do not try to explain. Take responsibility for your error(s), and keep everything focused on that. Otherwise, you seem disingenuous.
If you can’t do this without bringing in all the reasons for your behavior, wait. This probably isn’t the time to attempt reconciliation. You might even benefit from coaching.
- Share how you will make amends. If you don’t know how to make amends, ask the friend what you can do and remind that you welcome a call to discuss this.
- Do what you say you will do. The behavior after the apology is probably more important than the apology itself. Once trust has been broken, only consistent behavior modification is likely to rebuild it.
- Keep the communication going. Don’t expect a quick fix. If this is a friendship you truly want, you will need to keep cultivating it.
Dr. Vassilia Binensztok, Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
Licensed and Board Certified Mental Health Counselor, Juno Counseling and Wellness
Evaluate if what you are writing will be helpful to your friend or yourself
Is it just making you feel better? While there is nothing wrong with seeking our own relief by giving an apology, the main point is for the person receiving the apology.
We should ask ourselves, “Will this information be helpful, or is it something I just want to get off my chest? Which details are necessary for the apology? Am I being more defensive and explaining myself or am I sincerely taking responsibility?”
Apologies require us to take responsibility for our actions in order to be genuine and effective. We can evaluate our apologies to see if they are really apologies or merely defenses of our own egos.
When writing, let everything out
Write everything that comes to mind. Don’t censor yourself or your emotions. You can then edit the letter, but be sure to put it aside for at least one to two weeks, if possible. Do not look at it at that time. If anything else occurs to you, you can jot it down somewhere, but do not revisit the letter.
When you do revisit the letter with fresh eyes, evaluate if this is still what you want to say, if you still feel compelled to communicate every part of what you wrote, if you like the way it is worded, and if there is anything you need to add or remove. After this, you can feel ready to send the letter.
Connection Coach | Author, We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships
Friendships are usually smooth sailing but inevitably something will go wrong one day and you’ll need to make an apology to patch things up and keep your friend.
The best apologies are ones in which the apologizer focuses on the impact on their actions and resists the urge to frame their message around how harmless their intentions were.
Ignore your ego and reputation
Most people jump right to, “I didn’t mean it!” or “I wasn’t trying to [do that hurtful thing].” Of course, you weren’t — most harm is done accidentally.
The fastest way to make things better to ignore your ego’s attempt to save your reputation and instead to focus as compassionately as you can on the other person and their pain.
Remember that an apology should be focused on the person who has been hurt, not the one who did the hurting.
Empathize to the best of your ability
Apologize, reflect, ensure that you understand the other person fully, and empathize to the best of your ability. The way you choose your words matters, so practice apologizing effectively.
When you make an apology, don’t say “I’m sorry if you felt ____” or even “I’m sorry you feel that way.” These are not apologies, they’re deflections of responsibility.
Start with the truth, and end on your intention to do better. Try: “I’m sorry that I ____ and that it led to ____. In the future, I’ll ____ so this doesn’t happen again.”
If you want to practice this skill in a lower-stakes way, talk to a friend about something that happened in the past that you could have done a better job apologizing for.
Try giving them a better apology using your new skills now. Building up your muscle memory for giving better apologies will help you the next time you need to apologize for real.
Dr. Dana C. Avey, LMFT BC-TMH ADS
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Fulfillment Counseling & Life Coaching, PLLC
Learning how to extend an honest apology is one of the most important communication skills you’ll ever learn in life. Holding yourself accountable and taking responsibility for your actions is respected within families, by employers, from strangers, and among friends. It’s a universal method for mending connections. It is quintessential daunting.
Acknowledge specific terms of what you’re apologizing for
A meaningful letter of apology can be handwritten or typed, but consider how much value you, yourself, might place on someone taking the time to actually sit and write out their words to you. Either way, you want to reflect on your behavior and acknowledge specific terms for what you are apologizing to.
Instead of, “I apologize for all that negative stuff I put you through,” think about what “negative stuff” actually translates to: “I apologize for being rude to your Mom when she visited over the holidays and for not keeping my commitment to watching your cat.”
Validate your friend’s feelings on the letter
In addition, validate your friend’s feelings if they have expressed them to you in some way, as in “I understand how this would make you angry with me.”
If you do not know how they are feeling, it is not wise to assume. Instead, you can label your behavior after acknowledging it specifically. For example, “What I did was insensitive and disrespectful.”
It is also acceptable to share any feelings of remorse that you are experiencing, as in “I feel tremendous regret.”
Be sure to avoid adding in your excuses. The power of an apology is lessened when it’s followed by “but…” For example, “I apologize for not picking you up at the airport as scheduled, but, I stayed up really late the night before working on a project for my boss, and I’ve just been so overwhelmed lately.” Omit the but; not helpful. The focus of the apology letter is to acknowledge what you’ve done and express remorse.
Make sure to adjust your behavior
Finally, the power of an apology is also lessened if we do not adjust our behavior. Your apology is invalidated if you keep doing the very thing that inspired the apology.
Also keep in mind that a letter of apology can really go a long way in correcting a misstep, but everyone has the right to not accept an apology if they choose.
Your letter of apology does not dictate a particular outcome, as there are no guarantees. It a healthy, mature, and constructive step worth taking for the sake of a connection that is meaningful to you.
Certified Health and Wellness Coach | Relationship Expert | Founder and Managing Editor, Zivadream
Here are the three main components of a sincere and meaningful apology letter:
Acknowledge the error, mistake or hurt
A sincere apology must include that you see how what you did impacted your friend and let them know you understand what you did. When you take responsibility for your actions, you show your friend that you are not trying to lay blame elsewhere.
I sincerely apologize for breaking your confidence and embarrassing you in front of your boyfriend.
Show remorse for what happened
Tell them you are truly sorry in a way that shows remorse and empathy. Admit your part in it and the negative impact on your friend.
I am truly sorry that I said too much, shared information that wasn’t mine to share, and spoke carelessly. I see now that it put you in an awkward place.
I feel terrible that I hurt you, and understand if you feel you can no longer trust me.
Make the situation right. Take action to make restitution.
Your friendship is very important to me, and while I can not take back the things I said, I want you to know that I will do everything I can to earn back your trust.
I would like to meet for lunch to let you know how much I care, and to apologize in person for being careless. I truly did not mean to hurt you.
I hope you will give me another chance to be in your life because I do care about you.
A true apology is to make amends with the person you hurt. It isn’t about you getting something, it is about you giving back and making up for your mistake.
Elise Guthmann, LMFT
DBT-trained Practitioner | Clinical Program Director, Evolve Residential Treatment Center for Teens – Ojai, CA
Decide what you’re really apologizing for
In DBT, this is called “Check the facts.” In a specific situation where there are hurt feelings, review the facts of what happened.
If you think you’ve wronged someone, or your behavior went against your own moral code, continue with the apology letter and specify exactly what you did wrong. But if you did something you believe was right, there’s no need to apologize.
Apologize for what you regret and are actually sorry for. Excessive apologies (in frequency) or apologizing for things you aren’t actually sorry about isn’t effective.
Don’t downplay what you did, even if you’re tempted to do so to minimize the blame. When describing something that happened, stick to exactly what happened.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to articulate as best as possible how your actions impacted them.
“When I lashed out at you, you probably felt really embarrassed and hurt. It must have felt awful. I am so sorry.”
Use DBT’s THINK skills in times like these
- Think: Think about the situation from the other person’s perspective. For example, let’s say I invite out a friend to go on a hike with me, and later on, another friend finds out and reports that I hurt their feelings because she wasn’t invited. Consider her perspective… “Perhaps she believed I was intentionally leaving her out when I didn’t invite her on our walk? Or that I don’t value her friendship?”
- Have empathy: “What might she have been feeling or thinking? For example, did being left out leave her feeling sad? hurt? angry? lonely?”
- Interpretations: Can you identify more than one interpretation, or an alternative explanation, for her behavior(s)? Make sure to consider at least one positive, or good, interpretation of the situation.
For example, maybe she was just feeling really lonely and isolated due to the shelter in place, and when she learned that we were getting together without her it just made her feel even more isolated and alone.
- Notice: How has the other person been trying to improve the situation, or show she cares? OR notice how she may be struggling with stressors or problems of his or her own.
For example, did she reach out to me to tell me that she was upset? Or is she already dealing with a lot already – perhaps she’s feeling depressed, or there’s lots of conflict between her and her parents right now.
- Kindness: Remember to use a kind and gentle approach when interacting with your friend.
If you are not authentic, don’t be surprised when the apology doesn’t work. If this person is a true friend, they know you. If you are saying something just to appease them, they will not feel validated.
Accountability and responsibility
Be accountable and responsible for your feelings, thoughts, actions, and/or reactions. Do not blame. Don’t say you’re sorry then turn the responsibility of your actions on someone or something else.
If you were mad at someone else, his/her actions can’t make you treat someone else badly. If you were drunk, it’s not alcohol’s fault that you made the choice to drink as much as you did.
The worst thing you can do in an apology is to put the blame for what you did elsewhere. Many people have heard the excuses before, so if you aren’t responsible and accountable, they can’t trust that you won’t repeat the behavior.
Commitment to change behavior
Commit to change your behavior. In order to do this, you need to take a look at the situation and see how making different choices could prevent something like this from happening again.
This shows that you learned from your mistakes and you care about the effect your actions have on your friend.
Re-establish why do you value their friendship
Let your friend know how much you value the friendship and why. When a person feels wronged, they often feel disrespected, amongst other emotional triggers. If they don’t feel like they hold value in your life, they may not find it in their hearts to keep you in theirs.
You want the recipient to know exactly how much they mean to you without using manipulation or guilt tactics, remember to be responsible and accountable.
Once you’ve written the letter, give the person time to process and absorb what you’ve said. If you get concerned about them not responding right away and react by bombarding them with messages, you can actually push the person further away.
Stay committed to making the changes that are necessary, because no matter what happens there is a valuable lesson to be learned.
Addiction Therapist | Relationship Expert
An apology letter is only a good idea when it is sincere and written from the heart. Before you start writing you need to ask yourself: What is the motivation for the writing? Do you want something? Do you feel guilty? Do you have your own needs for writing it?
The intention of the apology letter will make all the difference in how it is received because, in the invisible world of truth, people tend to read between the lines.
Here is some advice on how to write an apology:
Do not make it about you
Think of them, how are they feeling? Think about the harm you caused and step outside of your own shoes. Have a timeout on selfishness and make it all about them. Don’t worry about your side of the story at this juncture, that can wait.
An apology is about saying “I am sorry”, without adding a “but also this is why I was mad.” Leave out being right and leave out your side for the moment. This way your message will come off as more sincere.
Tell them all the reasons why they matter to you
Tell them why you need them in your life and how much you value the relationship. Having a successful friendship is not about who wins what argument, but about how each respects one and another’s opinion and perspective of said argument.
There is nothing to win, so surrender and tell them how you feel in full gratitude for having them in your life.
Tell them what you are going to change for the future relationship
Explain what you have learned about the experience and how it will never happen again. And mean it. It isn’t always easy to admit wrong and say you’re sorry, but it is even harder to prove them with actions.
So after you give them the letter, live by those words, don’t give any empty promises.
Jaime Bronstein, LCSW
Psychotherapist | Licensed Clinical Social Worker, The Relationship Expert
Make sure that your words are genuine and from the heart. Most people can acknowledge if someone isn’t being genuine, so take the time to cultivate a really heartfelt apology. Be clear that you are remorseful, and you have compassion for your friend; you can understand why they might be upset at you.
No one wants to hear a lackluster apology. You want the person reading the letter to see that you truly are sorry, so don’t just say that you’re sorry. Give an in-depth explanation as to why you are sorry and explain that you won’t do it again in the future. Reassure your friend that they don’t need to be fearful that it’s going to repeat.
Take full ownership
Fully own what you are apologizing for. Admit that you were wrong explaining why and how you were wrong. Explain why you did (or said) what you did.
Taking ownership is helpful in an apology because it strengthens the friendship by instilling a sense of mutual trust and confidence.
Ask for forgiveness
Forgiveness is key to any relationship repair. Without true forgiveness, a relationship will never be 100% genuine and authentic. Point out that you are not a bad person. Behaviors can be seen as “bad,” but the person doing the action is not bad.
Remind your friend that you are a good person who isn’t perfect; No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes and deserves to be forgiven. The bottom line, forgiveness is needed in order to repair and heal the friendship.
Behavioral Relationship Expert | Podcast Host, Deal With It!
Take responsibility for what you did but do not take responsibility for their part
That is not apologizing that is trying to gloss over what could be a meaningful exchange in terms of the relationship mending. A letter is just a start, you want to actually communicate in a way with this person where you are being emotionally mature and available.
Being honest and sharing how you feel, why you feel the way you do, and why this is your issue is key. You do not want to blame the other person as that will get you nowhere either, you may as well not write a letter at all if you plan on blaming.
Speak only about you and your intentions
Do not tell the other person what you want him/her to do, they will get defensive and it really counteracts the purpose of apologizing.
You can state what you would like to do and ask them if they would like to do that as well. Ie. I’d love to have a conversation with you about it, how do you feel about that? Yes, open-ended questions are okay.
Remember an apology should be heartfelt and meaningful otherwise it is just words with no meaning.
Mikela Hallmark, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor | Founder, Rise Counseling
Remember that it’s important to validate
Validation might include honoring the feelings your friend may have experienced, how difficult the situation might have been, and sharing that it makes sense that they experienced it the way they did.
Be careful in providing an explanation
Be very careful about avoiding explaining yourself unless you absolutely 100% know an explanation is needed. Often times explanations come off like the person is just defending themselves, and that doesn’t usually go over well in an apology.
Take responsibility for your actions
Take responsibility and accountability for what you did, and apologize. Make it known that you understand and take full responsibility. Even saying things like ‘what I did was hurtful, and it wasn’t okay. I’m truly sorry’ can be helpful.
Do not demand that the person accept the apology, or respond to it in any way
Let them feel how they feel, without feeling obligated by you to forgive or ‘be okay’. You can however invite them to share if they want. Something like ‘I want you to know that I’m open to hearing more about how this hurts you, and I miss you.’
Tenesha L. Curtis, MSSW
Licensed Psychotherapist | Creative Director | Owner, Volo Press Books
In my years as a psychotherapist, I had to help a lot of people repair relationships with their family, friends, and co-workers. As an editor, I’m tasked with helping people write in a way that gets their message across effectively.
When it comes to writing an apology letter, these two skills combine. Using what I’ve called the “anatomy of an apology,” you can help resolve the problem and heal the relationship when you go beyond a quick “I’m sorry.”
Often, two words don’t respect the severity of the pain you caused. Instead, use these tips.
Start with the apology
Open with a clear and direct apology. “I’m sorry,” and “I apologize” works great.
Rephrase the problem
Sometimes people don’t believe that you’re sorry about something because you don’t write exactly what you did. When you stop at “I’m sorry,” you could be writing those words, yet thinking about being sorry that it’s cold in the room or that it’s raining outside.
Stronger apologies sound something like: “I’m sorry that I used your car without your permission,” or “I apologize for calling your son an idiot.”
Now both parties are clear on exactly what problem is being addressed in the letter.
Validate their feelings
The victim may already have told you how they felt about the situation but even if they haven’t, make an attempt to understand how they might feel by putting yourself in their shoes, then put that information in your letter.
“I’m sorry that I used your car without your permission. I can understand how you might be angry and disappointed in me.”
“I apologize for calling your son an idiot. I get that you probably feel surprised, frustrated, and disrespected by my actions.”
Show them you understand the consequences
What are some of the worst-case scenarios based on what you did? Or what actually happened that was so hurtful to the other person? Let them know that you’re aware of the consequences of your behavior.
“I could have wrecked the car or it could have been stolen, both of which would have meant you couldn’t get around and would probably have a higher insurance payment. I know no one can afford that kind of extra expense right now.”
“If he heard me call him that, there’s no telling what would have happened to our relationship or his self-esteem. As a parent, it can’t be easy to hear anyone you care about talk about your child that way.”
Talk about amends and prevention
Let them know how you’re going to make up for what you’ve already done and made sure there won’t be problems like this from you in the future.
“To make amends, I hope you’ll accept my offer to hand wash and detail your car tomorrow afternoon when you get home from work.
In the future, I will be sure to never take your car without your express permission. I’ll ask via text so that I have a clear, documented response and can’t forget or mishear your reply.”
“To make it up to you, please let me take you and Junior with me to the next Raiders game so we can sit in my company’s box. He loves football as much as you and I do, so I’d love to see him enjoy himself that way.
Going forward, I will work on managing my frustrations and minding my tongue so that I never hurt you like this again. I’ll walk away if that’s what I need to do to avoid a disrespectful comment.”
Ask for forgiveness
The final touch to any decent apology is to ask to be forgiven. Don’t just assume they will and don’t demand it from them. Request forgiveness and let them give it to you in their own time.
“In the future, I will be sure to never take your car without your express permission. I’ll ask via text so that I have a clear, documented response and can’t forget or mishear your reply. I pray you can find it in your heart to forgive me. “
“Going forward, I will work on managing my frustrations and minding my tongue so that I never hurt you like this again. I’ll walk away if that’s what I need to do to avoid a disrespectful comment. I hope you can forgive me someday.”
And that’s all there is to it! If you can be clear, honest, and vulnerable (without making excuses or defending your actions) in writing your apology letter, it will be a lot easier for someone to know that you are truly remorseful so that they can (hopefully) forgive you.
Alicia Henry, LCSW
Wellness Coach | Psychotherapist, Upper East Side Therapy
When writing an apology letter to a friend, it is helpful to remember the three ‘A’s’: acknowledge, apologize, and amend.
Acknowledge your actions
Acknowledge your understanding of what actions have upset your friend and/or disrupted your relationship. While it is okay to give a brief explanation of your perspective at the time, avoid making any excuses.
By taking responsibility for your role and behavior you are simultaneously validating your friend’s experience which is often a key factor in he/she/them being able to accept your apology and move on.
Apologize by saying that you are sorry and be specific
A general, “I’m sorry about what happened” does not clarify with the recipient that you understand what actions or behaviors have hurt them. Also avoid saying “I apologize,” as this does not hold the same intrinsic meaning as “I am sorry” which reflects an emotion of remorse.
Unless your friend has verbally communicated to you exactly how you have made them feel, abstain from making assumptions about this in your apology.
Amend by making an offer you intend to keep
Give allowance for your friend to take their time with your offer. By letting your friend know that the ball is in their court, you are communicating that you accept accountability for your actions, and you respect their decision.
Kathryn Gates, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Gates Therapy
I’d that suggest the two most important elements in an apology letter to a friend are being: 1) genuine and 2) empathic.
Be open and honest as you could be
Make sure that everything you are saying is true to your thoughts and feelings and as open and honest as you can be. If you are really interested in re-establishing a good relationship with someone, that has to come from an honest place about what you are sorry for, how you see what went wrong, and your feelings about it.
Acknowledge that your friend may not fully believe you are sorry
Until your friend knows you understand how they feel, it will be hard for them to believe you are sorry. Let them know what you imagine they felt or are feeling. This will go a long way in communicating that know you care and that you want to make amends.
Suggest ways to make amends
Those two are first and foremost. Additionally, if you are able to suggest ways of making amends, you are showing that you want to make things right again.
“I would like to make up for this by ___. If you need something else from me, please let me know,” is an example of what seeking to make amends could look like in a letter.
Margaret J. King, Ph.D.
Cultural Analyst | Director, The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis
Apologies are an acknowledgment that something went wrong because of your own behavior, and you want to re-establish balance by making a statement and accepting responsibility.
- I would begin this way: “This is a letter of apology, and it’s a hard one to write—apology letters always are.”
- State what happened and your role in it: “I did X and I should have done Y.”
- Say what effect this had: “You have been affected adversely – and you shouldn’t have been. My bad.”
- Then say what you want to happen as a result: “I hope you will accept my apology in this spirit, and that we can resume our friendship/colleagueship into the future.”
- Does the person you wronged want to discuss? “If you would like to talk this out, I’m available ___ [when].” “Thank you for considering my thoughts on this matter. Hope to see you soon.”
An apology is an admission of responsibility for injuring someone else. It is taking time to honor another human by acknowledging how my actions affected them in a negative way.
It is also a time to consider how these actions need to be changed on my part so that when I apologize, I’m clear I don’t intend to injure the person in the same way again. I have a process for apologizing to my people. It works for adults and kids. It is in four parts.
- I ask myself if I’m ready to stop doing whatever the behavior is to the other person. If the answer is yes, then I proceed. If it is no, then I must get to an authentic place where I’m ready to let the behavior go, otherwise, my words will be empty.
- When I am ready to let the behavior go, I tell the person I’ve wronged that I’m sorry. I tell them that they probably have certain feelings because of what I did to them. I admit I was wrong.
- I will ask them what I can do to make it right and to help make them feel better. I listen closely to their answer. I ask myself, “What did they say?” I listen to what I need to do now to make it better.
- I will commit to doing what it will take to make them feel better. I make every effort not to repeat the offense.
Sabrina Manhas Hutchinson
CEO and Publicist, Defiant Public Relations
When writing an apology letter, there are a few key elements to keep in mind. Clarity, humility, and simplicity are a few guiding concepts that will help communicate your regret while also allowing the apology to be about the recipient, rather than the writer.
Identify what you are apologizing for
It’s a good idea before sitting down to write to identify the essence of what you are apologizing for. What did you do to the person? Distill that down to its essence and make the point clearly. Own your part.
It’s also essential when you apologize that you don’t over-explain why you did what you did, which can negate the apology and make it feel like you’re justifying your behavior.
Remember that this is an apology letter, and not an “I’m going to explain why I did what I did” letter. Be honest, and keep things simple.
Include how you will improve in the future
Something helpful to include is a line about how you will behave going forward in the relationship (or in your life, if the relationship has ended.) For instance, “Going forward, I am going to be a better listener.” Then keep to your word.
Give the recipient of the apology an opportunity to comment
You may wish to close the letter with “Is there anything more I can do to correct this situation?”
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should accept unreasonable responses here, but sometimes we aren’t fully aware of how our behavior impacts others and this last concept can open communication for an even better relationship in the future.
Relationship Expert, Feely Feelings
You must own the wrong, and state it so your friend knows with 100% certainty that you get it, and then offer a possible way to make things right.
Ask for forgiveness and let your friend know that your relationship is important and that you want to resume your friendship knowing that you won’t repeat your error.
The most assuring gesture you can really offer is that you know you were wrong and that you’re very sorry that you caused a friend’s pain.
Don’t put yourself down
The point of the apology is that you will try not to hurt them again. Although you want to be humble, you should not make unreasonable promises or put yourself down.
You may have done wrong but that doesn’t mean that you are a bad person. End your letter with a plea for forgiveness and reiterate that you value them as a friend.
Novelist | Former Greeting Card Writer
As a former greeting card writer with Hallmark Cards, I’ve done lots of research on nurturing relationships and I’ve written many “I’m Sorry” cards. Here’s my advice:
Only write an apology letter if it’s going to be a true apology
If part of your intention is to explain to the person why they shouldn’t have been upset with you in the first place, the letter may make things worse. No matter what, don’t bring up any of their past wrongdoings as evidence that you should be forgiven.
Don’t spend too much time explaining yourself
It’s okay to say “I intended this” or “I was going through this,” but follow that up with, “…but that’s no excuse.”
Don’t forget to acknowledge how much the person means to you
Explain that you’re especially sorry because they—as your partner, your sister, your friend, or a client you respect—are someone you’d never want to hurt.
Articulate your hopes for the future
If you hope you’ll have a better marriage where you’re more careful about your words or actions, or that you’ll get along with the relative you offended when you see them again at the holidays, say so.
Relationship Expert, Self Development Secrets
An apology letter to a friend aims to ask for forgiveness for wrong words or actions. Saying “sorry” it’s a way of maintaining friendship: it is not a sign of your weakness but how strong you are.
Once you have gathered enough strength to apologize to your friend, make sure that your apology letter is effective and doesn’t cause even more hurt. Aim for both clarity and sincerity while you write.
Acknowledge how much you have hurt your friend
In order to write a sincere apology letter to a friend the first thing is to acknowledge your mistake and how much you hurt the feelings of your friend. You need to accept full responsibility for your part and offer a solution on how to fix the problem or how to continue your friendship and start a new chapter.
The majority of conflicts arise because of misunderstanding. The true apology has the guts to replay the story to clarify the case. Express the true motivations behind your words and action, let your friend understand why you had to act the way you did.
Besides that, express your gratitude and show your friend how much you appreciate your friendship and your relationships. In the end, state a desire to have better interactions in the future for you both.
After sending the letter, do not expect your friend to answer you immediately
You should understand that you heart your friend’s feelings and each individual needs a different amount of time to heal the wounds, to forgive you genuinely, and to finally answer. Do not prompt for an answer, wait as long as your friend needs to respond.
Editor & Content Ambassador, Romantific
We all have friends. Sometimes it’s usual for friends to fight and have arguments and misunderstandings. But what’s important is that we mend broken bridges and learn how to apologize.
I myself know that sometimes it’s very difficult to say sorry to the people we’ve hurt, especially our friends. What we’ve got to do is accept our faults and patch things through. You’ve got to step up and accept your mistakes, apologize, and move on.
One thing to remember is that letters are just a way to express ourselves and as long as we are really serious about apologizing and it’s from the heart, your friend is bound to forgive you. Here are some helpful tips on how to say sorry to a friend:
- Have an idea of what you’re going to write. It is best that you write those things that you are sorry for. You should be clear of what you are sorry for. This makes it more sincere.
- Write to them on how you plan to fix the relationship. Be willing to build the relationship from scratch if that’s what it takes to mend the friendship. It’s always best to stay humble and ask for forgiveness.
- Don’t blame your friend in the letter. Don’t accuse anyone of whose fault it is. It’s correcting what you did wrong that’s important. This shows that you value more the relationship than your ego.
Athlete | Life Coach
I started writing apology letters at an early age. My parents actually used this as a disciplinary measure when my brother and I would act out of line. I wrote many letters to both my brother and parents, with my parents’ guidance on how to craft a good apology.
This struck me as a very effective tool, not just for parents and children, but for friendships and other relationships as well. I have continued writing apologies into my adult life and have found that they always aid in healing and communicating effectively.
For me, the first element in an apology letter should be an acknowledgment of wrongdoing and of course, an explicit apology. Explain what you did that was wrong, and also why it was wrong
Next, consider explaining why you did or said the thing for which you are apologizing. It is also a great idea to communicate your understanding of how the said act came across to your friend. Validate their feelings and make them feel heard.
Finally, reiterate the apology and explain what you will do to make sure the wrongdoing doesn’t happen again. Ask for forgiveness and state how important the friendship is to you.
Overall, the letter should focus on your friend’s feelings and what you are doing to heal the relationship. Always write from a place of understanding and humility.
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