When you want to make an apology to someone who you used to be close to, it can be hard to decide the best way of going about that. Learning how to apologize to your ex doesn’t have to be super complicated, but the main takeaway is that it needs to come from the heart.
An apology works when you take ownership of your actions that have hurt another person, regardless of what they have done (that means no, “I’m sorry, but…”s!)
Is It Okay to Apologize To An Ex?
Yes, of course it’s okay to apologize your ex!
People have many reasons for wanting to apologize to an ex boyfriend or ex girlfriend (or an ex-husband or ex-wife). Sometimes you’re on a journey of redemption (as in a 12-step program) or maybe you’re still friends with that person but never really opened up about how you’re sorry you hurt them.
Maybe you’re hoping to get back together with them. A sincere apology can potentially rekindle a romance, but you should never apologize just because you want to restart your relationship.
An apology should be genuine and sincere without being a means to an end. And an apology should always be honest and truthful.
Don’t ever apologize just because you think you should… make sure you truly feel sorry for what happened.
When to Just Apologize in Your Heart
While it’s admirable to want to learn how to apologize to your ex, sometimes it’s best to just apologize in your heart.
Here are some situations that it might be best to NOT actually apologize to your ex:
- there was abuse
- you got a restraining order against them
- you feel that even the kindest apology might open a can of worms
- your past relationship was horribly toxic
Only you can answer the question about actually apologizing to your ex or just doing it in your heart. If you feel at all hesitant about it, the best answer is to just stay away.
It’s healing for you to feel truly sorry for the things that you did while you were with that person, and that can be enough.
Write your ex an apology letter, but don’t send it
Instead, consider writing your ex a letter of apology that you will never send to them. This is a healing technique used all the time in therapy: writing a letter to someone detailing your feelings, but then you just keep the letter or burn it.
This helps you get all your feelings out there without actually opening a line of communication that could potentially harm you.
(This kind of letter that you don’t send is also good for when someone else has wronged you and you don’t know how to communicate that.)
Apologies and Forgiveness Timeline After a Relationship is Over
Honestly, depending on just how toxic a relationship was, it can take years and years to shed your anger for that other person.
Before I met my husband (with whom I have a wonderful relationship) I was in a mutually toxic marriage in my twenties. I say mutually toxic because he was emotionally abusive toward me, but I was also emotionally abusive toward him. This created the perfect poisonous culture for our relationship and it was really hard to break out of those habits.
After our relationship was over, I started to experience symptoms of complex PTSD. Not wanting to experience this for the rest of my life, I made a commitment to letting go of all the toxic memories, poor relationship tactics, and emotions that I had bottled up.
I dedicated a lot of time to developing new, healthy habits, communication techniques, and a compassionate mindset so that I never fall back into those habits ever again.
It took me 7 years to forgive him for the way he treated me.
It took me an additional year for me to see just how I had contributed to the environment of toxicity and destruction of our relationship.
If I were to apologize to my ex
Here’s what I would say.
Because I was a covert narcissist, I thought I was right all the time. I belittled his problems because I thought they shouldn’t be problems at all. That was wrong of me.
I judged him because of his neurodivergence and looked down on him because his brain functioned differently.
I had really poor communication skills and sometimes purposefully did things to set him off.
I had really poor emotional regulation and had zero control over my anger.
I was passive aggressive and held crazy grudges. I kept score.
These things were all my fault.
But the biggest thing of all was that I used him to make me feel better about myself. I looked down on him. But I was going to raise him up, make him better, cure his depression, his mental battles, his spite. And in doing so, I was going to prove to the world (and my parents) that I was worthy.
Because I felt worthless.
It wasn’t ever my intention to make him feel worthless. But because I used him to make myself feel better, I was unconsciously putting that worthlessness onto him. And I’m sorry for that.
That was 100% my fault. And no matter how many painful things he did to me, he never deserved that.
In my own journey to healing, I’ve learned that I have inherent worth. I’m not worthless. And neither is he.
How to Apologize To Your Ex in 7 Steps
Want to know how to apologize to your ex? Start with apologizing for the right reasons. An apology is about taking ownership of the pain you caused someone else. Apologize not to get back together, but because you’re honestly sorry for what you did in the past and how your actions impacted them.
These 7 steps breaks it down.
1) Apologize for the right reasons
As mentioned above, make sure you want to apologize to express your regret, not just to get back together or to make yourself look better to friends or to a new potential romantic interest.
Do you truly feel sorry for what you did?
Yes? Good! Then let’s move on!
2) Decide whether to apologize to them (or just in your heart)
Again, in some situations you might not want to actually apologize by talking or meeting with them. You might just need to write an apology down on a piece of paper for your own healing.
And that’s okay, too. That does not detract from your own feelings of regret or being sorry for the pain you caused. But sometimes, you’re safer if you don’t re-initiate contact with that person.
3) Write down what you’re going to say
When you apologize, you need to own the things you did that hurt the other person. You need to take accountability without any “buts”.
Like my example above, try to leave out any places that you try to place blame on your ex.
In my case with my ex-husband, even if he had contributed to the culture of toxicity as well, I’m taking accountability and responsibility for the ways in which I did hurtful and negative things.
Make sure you’re specific. Bring up specific things that happened or memories that you have, and explain how you wish you had done things differently.
4) Choose someplace to meet (public place)
If you feel safe and you’re going to apologize to your ex in person (or perhaps virtually, over Zoom or Facebook Rooms), then choose a place to meet.
I would not recommend meeting at someone’s house unless you’ve maintained a close friendship with that person and you both feel comfortable having a conversation like this in a private place.
If you haven’t seen your ex in a while, choose someplace public, like a Starbucks or local restaurant that you can each order a drink and talk to one another. A restaurant will give you enough privacy to have an intimate conversation but will help you both maintain a feeling of safety.
People generally won’t air their dirty laundry in public by yelling or getting upset in a public place, which is what makes this the safer option.
5) Invite your ex
Next you want to make sure you give some thought to how you’re going to send your ex an invitation.
It’s important to be specific with them. Tell them that you have something important to tell them and that you’d like to meet.
Being ambiguous might just cause confusion. So make sure you’re clear about why you want to meet with them.
Now it’s time to actually do the apology.
Hopefully when you apologize to your ex, it will happen naturally. But you might need to have notes there (totally valid) or announce that you have something important to say.
In our culture, we get caught up in the idea that things should happen casually or naturally. And if they don’t happen organically, that they’re not really meant to happen.
This is total BS.
If you’re serious about apologizing to this person, you’re totally able to make a big deal out of it, even if you feel nervous, or worried about what they might think.
Do it in spite of your fears.
7) Follow Up
After you’ve apologized and you’re wondering what is going through their head, make sure you leave space to hear their thoughts.
Maybe you don’t really even feel that you need to hear their thoughts. Your goal was to apologize, and you did it. That’s great!
But an apology should be a sincere offering of validation. And we don’t offer validation without allowing someone else to give their thoughts.
Yes, their thoughts might be scary to you. But you owe it to that person to let them talk as well.
When they talk, it’s your job to just listen. Don’t engage, don’t rebut. Just listen.
RELATED: How to Meet a Person Where They Are
When you’re hoping to apologize to your ex in a straightforward and honest manner, it can seem really difficult.
But really, it’s simple. Stick to your own feelings of regret and feeling sorry. Don’t mention all the things they did wrong. And listen to them once your apology is over.
Don’t forget to make sure you’re in a physically and emotionally safe place. If you don’t want to apologize actually to that person, then don’t! It’s sometimes enough to feel that regret and healing in your own heart.
Are you getting ready to apologize to someone who used to be close to you?
What kinds of things are you preparing to say to them?