Illustration by Lucia Santos.

On my unofficial list of hardest words to say, “sorry” comes before “Worcestershire” and after “onomatopoeia.” Apologizing is so tough because it is, essentially, admitting that we were wrong, that we did something bad, and that we are not—no matter how much we want to be—perfect. My first memory of apologizing was when I was six years old and had to say sorry to my mom for talking during Easter church. Before the words “I’m sorry” even left my mouth, I could feel tears welling in eyes. While I was able to get the words out eventually, I was so embarrassed to be apologizing in the first place that I stuttered on the word “sorry” for a good minute and a half.

Apologizing is a skill to learn and use for life. We’ve all done it before and we all will, inevitably, have to do it again. If you, like the six-year-old version of me, have a tough time apologizing, here are some tips to help you give a more authentic, honest, and mature apology—one that will benefit you and the person you’re giving it to. And now with this short clip of Craig apologizing to Ashley on Degrassi acting as our guide of what NOT to do, let’s begin!

Make sure it’s done face-to-face.
Oh, I know, Nice one, Grandpa! But if you are seriously invested in repairing a relationship, there’s no better way than in-person. It’s easier to send a couple of sentences and emojis over text than it is to look into the eyes of a person you’ve hurt, but it’s also immature and cowardly. Giving an apology means you’re ready to own up to your actions, and doing so from the safety of your phone may read to your friend as your choosing convenience over confrontation. .

Send this person a quick message that you’ve done some thinking and would like to see them in person. Be clear that the timing is totally up to them, in case they still need some time and space–just because you’re ready to give an apology, doesn’t mean your friend is ready to receive it. Try to meet somewhere public; the neutrality of the space will make you both feel comfortable. Plus, being surrounded by people enjoying their morning coffee will encourage you to keep your voice and emotion at an appropriate level. If you want to be extra-considerate, meet close to where they live—that way, they don’t have to go out of their way.

Of course, if this is a long-distance pal or you legitimately have NO TIME to meet in real life, a phone call is your next best option! There is so much more room for your words to get misinterpreted over text, and a talk—whether IRL or over the phone—make communication so much simpler. Texts are declarative, not conversational, and you want this person to know you’re open to any thoughts or feelings they still may want to share. Taking time out of your schedule to meet or talk, on their terms, will show how much you care.

Don’t start with “sorry.”
You want to communicate to your friend/partner that you’ve been reflective of your behavior, so starting with a quick “sorry” suggests that you want the apology to be done as quickly as possible. Instead, start with a statement that validates the other person’s feelings and shows you have examined your actions:, “So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said the past couple of days…” and/or “You’re totally right to feel how you’ve felt.” “Sorry” will be more impactful if contextualized within the reality of what happened, and not thrown out in the hopes of moving past it all right away.

Avoid talking too much about your feelings.
Although you may feel emotional about the situation at hand, the apology is not about you or absolving your guilt. Whenever I had to say sorry to my first boyfriend, I would spend at least 90% of the apology talking about the headspace I was in when the incident at hand occurred (“I’m sorry, but I was really stressed when I did/said that!!”). This is a primo example of rationalizing thoughtless behavior. While it can definitely help to offer the other person insight into how your actions unfolded , make sure you’re still taking ownership of what you did. While it is worth clarifying that your carelessness, malice, or whatever you were going through should not be seen as a reflection of your friend, they still had to deal with the consequences. Clearly state your feelings (“I was feeling stressed when I did/said that”), but don’t let them become the focal point of the conversation!

Remember: An apology is a conversation, NOT a monologue.
People say “communication is key” for a reason. I know you want to express yourself clearly, but resist the urge to read from a three-page-long a apology or a practiced five-minute-long speech. It’s OK to have some parts of what you want to say rehearsed or written down, but don’t monopolize the conversation. Pause and ask questions to give your friend opportunities to respond to what you’re saying. Instead of reciting a list of behavior you think this person wants you to change, ask them how to better love and care for them. Apologizing is about listening, too.

Give your friend time to think.
When the apology is over, don’t force an answer out of the other person. You’ve given them a lot to think about and they may need time and space to do so. Respect this. After you’ve said a final sorry, let them know how best to contact you if they are interested. Don’t guilt them or plead for forgiveness. When you leave, do it with dignity. For the next while, don’t text or call them; they will talk to you if and when they are ready—which they may, unfortunately, never be. In that case, be proud of the fact that you communicated your feelings in an honest and thoughtful way, and remember the lessons you learned from this specific relationship.

An apology doesn’t guarantee forgiveness, but it does prove to your friend that you have reflected on your actions, taken ownership of them, and are ready to make some changes. It’s tough to say you’re sorry,, but the consequences of not doing so are even tougher to live with. When you’ve hurt someone, acknowledge it. Meet them in person, ask them questions, validate their feelings, and give them their space. Remind them that you don’t want them to suffer and that they have the ultimate choice to accept or deny the apology. And no matter what they choose, recognize the personal growth that exists on the other side of “I’m sorry.” Congratulations: You’ve just made the next one—and there will be a next one!—even easier. ♦