5 Romantic Gestures to Make If You Need to Apologize, Therapists Say
Experts say there are a few concrete ways to show your partner you're truly sorry.
We all know the clichés—nobody's perfect, everyone makes mistakes—the list goes on. Unfortunately, they're often true, as we all misstep from time to time, especially in relationships. If you do upset your partner, you'll need to let them know you're sorry. It can be difficult to get the words out, but, thankfully, experts say there are a few romantic gestures you can make if you need to apologize.
You may want to consider their love language, as well as their individual preferences and needs. But even further, your gesture needs to "fit the offense," Randi Levin, transitional life strategist and founder of Randi Levin Coaching, says.
"If you are sorry that you hurt your partner's feelings because you did not do something they wanted, your romantic gesture may go in one direction," Levin says. "If you committed adultery, it may be something else entirely."
As clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, adds, just saying "I'm sorry," doesn't always cut it—which is why you should supplement with action. "All too often, apologies are used as a quick, meaningless way to escape a partner's hurt or angry feelings," she explains. "When a thoughtful romantic gesture is offered as part of the 'apology package,' connection and trust tend to be restored more quickly and thoroughly."
If you're looking for a concrete way to let your partner know you're sorry, there are a few approaches you can try. Read on to find out which five romantic gestures therapists recommend.
Do something outside the box.
You might be quick to pick up flowers or chocolates when you feel you've wronged your partner—or another gift that typically makes them smile. But when you're trying to apologize, therapists say your gestures should be a bit more innovative.
"Do something unexpected to show your partner how much you value them," Angela Sitka, LMFT, with a private practice in Santa Rosa, California, says. "For example, if you forgot an important date, event, or obligation that is significant to your partner, part of your romantic gesture in apologizing could be planning a secondary (and similar) event or date."
In the event you slip up and forget your wedding anniversary, Sitka suggests planning a date to celebrate the anniversary of your honeymoon instead. You can include elements of the destination, too: If you celebrated your nuptials in Hawaii, try planning "an elaborate luau-themed date," she says.
Sitka notes that celebrating this "alternate anniversary" can make a difference and let your partner know that you put thought into your actions.
Practice empathetic language.
After you've made a mistake, it's important that you create space for your partner's feelings, Katherine Chan, LMFT, psychotherapist and meditation teacher, tells Best Life. It may not be "grand," but it's just as intimate.
"Empathy is incredibly romantic. There is nothing more attractive than someone showing you that they heard why you felt hurt, taking accountability with their role in said hurt, and then making a concerted effort to act differently following the apology," Chan explains.
She also advises clients to use empathetic language. "Mirror what they said and check with them to see if you heard right, validate that how they feel is understandable, and empathize by stepping into their shoes and letting them know you can relate to their pain."
From there, you can let them know how you plan to change and actually make the adjustments. Afterward, Chan says you should check in with your partner to see how they feel, especially as more time passes.
As therapists explain, you need to consider the seriousness of your mistake or behavior to determine next steps. Sometimes, your partner may respond if you "demonstrate personal sacrifice" and move out of your comfort zone, Sitka says. This can include blocking off an entire weekend to spend together—even if your schedule is jam-packed or you have your own to-do list.
If you've done something more serious, like cheating, Sitka says you'll need to put in that much more effort.
"More egregious relationship ruptures, such as infidelity, may need more sustained and serious romantic gestures," she says. In this case, you want to show your partner that you can put their needs first, even if it's by doing something you wouldn't typically consider romantic.
"For instance, an individual who has been resistant to attending couples therapy, despite their partner's interest in this type of help, might take initiative to make some calls to relationship therapists to demonstrate they are open to trying new things to repair the relationship after an instance of infidelity," Sitka says.
Let them choose from a range of gestures.
Manly also says you can give your significant other a choice when it comes to romantic gestures. "Heartfelt romantic gestures are not one-size-fits-all; mindful romantic gestures are tailor-made to a partner's unique wants and needs," she explains.
Manly says you should try to "tune into" what your partner might want, but you can also consult them directly. In fact, they may appreciate that you're going the extra mile to consider their feelings.
"When in doubt, you can offer your partner a menu of romantic gestures to choose from," Manly suggests. "You might say, 'I want to make it up to you, but I'm not sure what would feel best. Would you like me to make you a special dinner, take you out to eat, give you quiet time, or is there something else I could do that would feel good to you?'"
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While you may want to make some grand show of your love when trying to placate your partner, some therapists believe there are few things better than owning your mistake and issuing a genuine, thoughtful apology. As Manly mentions, it's more than just saying "I'm sorry" and leaving it at that.
"When it comes to apology-related matters, the most essential gesture is a heartfelt apology that comes from a place of sincere self-responsibility—as well as a commitment to not repeating the same action again," Manly says. "The gesture of a sincere, repair-oriented apology is far more [meaningful] than material gestures such as gifts, flowers, a box of chocolates, jewelry, or other treat."
Beth Ribarsky, PhD, professor of interpersonal communication at the University of Illinois Springfield, agrees, adding that you shouldn't expect a romantic gesture alone to heal the damage you may have done.
"A romantic gesture is not a substitute for a heartfelt and specific apology. An overarching 'I'm sorry' or a random romantic gesture does not acknowledge the specific transgression that has occurred nor how behaviors might change in the future," she says. "However, a romantic gesture can complement an appropriate apology."