Magazines 2024 Mar - Apr Saying "I’m Sorry"

Saying "I’m Sorry"

25 February 2024 By Jennifer Kerr

How good are we at forgiving, rebuking, empathizing and the like? Let’s reflect together in this series.


saying im sorry

A popular hashtag on social media is #Sorrynotsorry. People use it in a cheeky way to indicate they don’t care if their words or actions are upsetting to others.

In a culture that values personal expression and autonomy, it’s not surprising #sorrynotsorry is used in over 13 million posts on Instagram. However as Christians, people called to live life together as the family of God, I hope we approach saying sorry differently.

Being in relationship – whether with a spouse, children, parents, colleagues, church members or friends – is not easy. We often find ourselves at odds with people we care about. As I remind the couples I work with in my counselling practice, conflict is going to happen, but instead of being afraid of it, we can learn to see it as an opportunity to make our relationships stronger.

Learning to say "I’m sorry" is an important part of that opportunity for growth in times of relationship difficulty.

There can be barriers, however, to saying sorry. For one, it means admitting we’ve made a mistake. Even though as Christians we know we’re sinful and so often miss the mark, it can still be very difficult to own up to the harm we cause.

Another barrier is our own pain. We may ourselves be hurt about something going on in the same relationship, so our "I’m sorry" might become an "I’m sorry, but…."

Instead of getting caught in these pitfalls, we need to learn how to say "I’m sorry" well. Here are some elements of an effective, connective "I’m sorry."

Regulate yourself.

You may be trying to say "I’m sorry," but are in a heightened, highly emotional state. Your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-flight-freeze-fawn response) God built into your brain and body to help keep you safe has now taken charge. Your body is primed for threat-preventing action and it’s very difficult to have constructive, relational conversations in that state. So take some time to do a few minutes of slow, deep breathing, take a brisk walk around the block, slowly and mindfully drink a cold glass of water, or use other tools that help you become calmer.

Be specific.

What specific actions, words and impact are you sorry for? For example, you might say to your partner, "I’m so sorry I didn’t fill up the car with gas. I was the last to use it, and I did notice it was nearly on empty, but I left it to be your problem. It was inconsiderate and I’m sorry that made you late for work."

Fight the urge to justify.

This is the "I’m sorry, but" impulse. When we’re saying "I’m sorry," it’s important to focus on the other person’s hurt and our regret for causing it. Adding context like, "Well, I didn’t fill up the car because I was overwhelmed and stressed after a busy day of work," though very possibly true, conveys we’re more concerned about defending ourselves than being accountable.

Commit to not repeating the harm.

Are we perfectly capable of only making each mistake once? Sadly, no. But we can commit to working hard to not cause that hurt again.

Ask what they need.

The question "What do you need from me?" is so powerful in relationships and can be very helpful in apologies. Does the person need us to listen more? Do they need some time alone to think? Some kind of reparations? A hug? Asking what else is needed helps us remain aware and available to continue the work of repairing the relationship.

Remember you are forgiven by God.

The person you’re apologizing to might need some time to process the situation and may not be ready or able to forgive. That’s valid, but can really hurt when you’ve done your best to say "I’m sorry" well. Go to God and repent of the hurt you caused the other, and that you caused Him. Know you are forgiven and redeemed. Ask for His care and guidance in your relationships, and trust He is always with you and the people you care about.

The connection and peace that can come from saying "I’m sorry" well are profound. I hope practising these skills in your relationships inspires the people around you to also work at them. I’d love to see someone start a hashtag for that instead!

Jennifer Kerr is a Saskatchewan-based mental and relational health counsellor (MAMFT) at Through Therapy Counselling Collective, serving clients across the country through virtual appointments (

Related Articles