What does this look like in action? Let’s say Esa is an accountant with a major filing deadline. Earlier in the week, her wife, Davey, promised to watch the kids Saturday morning so that Esa could work. Saturday morning arrives. Davey runs out to Costco and loses track of time, and Esa’s day is quickly swallowed by the feeding, cleaning, and entertaining required by their two young children and rambunctious chocolate Lab. A baseline apology would be for Davey to simply say, “I’m sorry I was late.” A toxic apology would be if she said, “Well, I had things to do too. I’m sorry if you missed your deadlines, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Neither baseline nor toxic apologies convey empathy. Stay in a relationship long enough and you’ll likely end up on the giving and receiving side of both. Before I learned this information, my apologies were more of a knee-jerk effort to avoid feeling guilty rather than an attempt at genuine relationship repair. Can you relate?
Instead of apologizing, if Davey had offered Esa an amends, it would sound like this: