This business of offering a genuine apology is complex and often painful work. It requires an ability to see reality as it is and to let go of my need for things to be different than they are.

So, my apology will only be genuine when, in addition to #s 1-3:

4. I do not demand anything from you.

A true apology never ends with, “Please forgive me.” Asking for forgiveness shifts the centre of attention back onto me. Now I am seeking to get something out of this. It has become an exchange. In a real apology, I am not making a deal with you. If it is not freely given, it is not an apology.

“I am sorry; please forgive me,” is only a thinly veiled attempt to alleviate my own pain. If I can get you to say some version of “I forgive you,” I will feel better. This is not a genuine apology.  It is a form of manipulation in which I seek a specific outcome that I desire.

5. I accept the essential shift in power balance that my apology enables.

Harm always results from a power imbalance. I hurt you because I abuse my power. I seek in my apology to restore power to you.

As part of my apology, I will ask you if there is anything you need from me. To whatever degree I am able, I will give you what you think you need in order to make restitution and to support your process of healing in the way that you feel works best for you.

Forgiveness and healing are not a program; they are an intricate, delicate, sensitive and on-going conversation.

The journey may at times be messy; it will always be uncomfortable and awkward. It will not unfold in a straight line moving easily from point A to point B. There is no timetable to which this journey will predictably adhere. The person who has been wronged is the one who gets to be in charge of the schedule and who chooses the way forward. The essential guideposts that point the way forward are real openness, complete honesty and a willingness to be deeply vulnerable to the other.

Apology is an essential step on the path to forgiveness and healing. But, it is only one marker along the way. Even a genuinely offered apology does not conclude the journey to true reconciliation. It opens the gate to a journey that will only move towards healing when the words spoken are accompanied by changed behaviour.

So, the last thing that makes an apology genuine is:

6. I commit myself to whatever changes in my life will help to prevent me from repeating my hurtful behaviour in the future.

Without a commitment to change on my part, my apology is empty words. Changed behaviour is the final sign that a true apology has been offered. After apologizing, I cannot return to old patterns.

My ability to offer a genuine apology is a sign that I have begun my own journey towards healing. In time, when it is right for you, there may come a day when we can be joined in a journey of genuine reconciliation as two people moving towards healing. Reconciliation is a vision for the future, not a return to some imagined ideal past. It is a hope and a promise, not an expectation or demand. Sometimes the wound I have caused may be too deep to allow healing in our relationship. I may have to carry the pain of this broken reality for the rest of my days. But, if my apology has been authentic, at least some small measure of healing will have taken place. A genuine apology will always move the scale a tiny measure in the direction of wholeness.