When Sorry Isn't Enough

October 13, 2010 Theresa Fung

The two simple words (I'm sorry) that are supposed to make everything better often don't. Find out when sorry, not sorry hurts most.

You make a mistake, say sorry, then move on, right? Wrong. Sometimes ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough. Forgiveness is most difficult when damage is done and it’s even more difficult when the apology is insincere or half-hearted. Sorry, not sorry is very easy to hear when someone says he's sorry and doesn't mean it.

The playground rules from our school days should apply to our adult lives too:

  • No Hitting.
  • No Shoving.
  • No Name-Calling.
  • No Cheating.

We all make mistakes in life but it’s how we mop up the mess that determines if we are Sloppy Joes or Sincere Sallys.

Learning to Forgive When Sorry Isn't Enough

What happens when your partner makes a mistake? Well, first you must decide if the act committed can be forgiven. If you decide to make amends then you have to do so whole-heartedly, just like how your partner should genuinely apologize. When you decide to forgive, do so then move on—there’s no need to keep digging up the past in new arguments.

Some things to consider:

  • Was this out of character for your partner?
  • Has this mistake caused irreparable damage to you or the relationship?
  • Was this act intentional?
  • Has your partner committed the same mistake previously? To me, there is no place in a relationship for a cheater, let alone a serial cheater. If you have taken back your partner after a previous indiscretion and it happens again, it’s time to move on. The only thing he is sorry about is getting caught (again).

Even If Sorry Isn't Enough, Apologizing from the Heart Goes a Long Way

So you screwed up and have to make it up to your partner. This is the part when you have to swallow your pride, owe up to your mistake and say you’re sorry. It’s one thing to simply say the words; it’s another thing to sincerely mean them and take responsibility for your actions.

What's an Empty Apology Look Like?

At my daughter’s first birthday party, I witnessed a classic childhood example of an empty apology. One little girl intentionally stole a toy from a boy and hid it in her gift bag. When confronted by the boy about stealing his toy she lied and insisted she didn’t have it. The girl’s father asked her to open up her gift bag to examine it, and the stolen item magically appeared. The girl was forced to say ‘sorry’ and give the toy back without further consequences.

What did she learn from this situation? She learned that next time she has to be sneakier when stealing and lying; if you get caught, all you have to do is apologize. I’m not a perfect parent, but if that were my kid caught stealing and lying, there would be much more serious consequences than a fake apology.

Maybe this is where all the liars and cheaters got their start—at birthday parties and at the playground. They’ve gone through life without ever really feeling the consequences of their actions. Sometimes insincere apologies are worse than no apology at all.

APA Reference
Fung, T. (2010, October 13). When Sorry Isn't Enough, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Theresa Fung

November, 25 2013 at 12:31 pm

I'm using this in a family context,not love relationship.
I'm sorry said to my ever patient and loving sister and two brothers.
All of our remaining family.
Every time an incident involving mania,the verbal abuse,money issues,men issues..
Breaking plates,putting holes into the wall you get it..
Then the depressions,shutting them out,not replying to emails,calls,etc
Too many suicide attempts,10 x in hospital....sorry seemed so...trite.
A really silly word...I can't erase the past,their belief in me,no matter how bad it got,it's been hell on earth...all I can simply try my best,earn the trust back re some issues.
Remember though I'm ill own my choices &to realize that what I say simply can't be unsaid,the damage has been done.
Same re calls & emails.they deserve a break,too.
That doesn't mean they don't love me,it means the illness is impacting them negatively.
I no longer say I'm sorry,I've said it too many times,it's just words.
Actions speak they are witnessing some changes,that's way more powerful.i don't expect them to really understand,they can't,they've not had this life shattering disorder,but their lives have been altered due to its ugliness...I know they will always love me,I must remember to always love me ( & them) TOO,@ 52 ...just diagnosed a yr ago....ISNT it TIME??? Anyway,were all different,no right or wrong.
In doubt politely diffuse the situation,walk away,end the call,or email. That's better than IM SORRY. Peace not war.
:-) hope for better days ...for all of us...

Theresa Fung
February, 23 2011 at 4:23 am

Jason, don't beat yourself up too much! Everyone makes mistakes and you've sincerely apologized and realized that you were in the wrong - so you've done all you can do to make amends. Hopefully your partner will see this and forgive you. All you can do now is to demonstrate that you trust your partner more and not wrongly accuse them of something again. :) Good luck!

February, 22 2011 at 2:10 pm

Just starting out in a relationship. Not even sure it is a relationship yet but I accused my partner of something and I was in the wrong. I overacted. I even made them cry. I am in the wrong i know it. The problem is its too soon to be making that mistake. I am sincerely sorry. I mean i am so sorry that i am typing on a website I never visit. i am searching the internet because in the end I am suppose to be there for my partner, not be the jerk So question is. How does the offender (me) forgive myself? There is a very good chance I could have lost a good thing. Only time will tell but I feel awful and I am truly VERY sorry!

October, 21 2010 at 10:43 am

I personally think that 'sorry' can be such an empty word no matter who say's it to me without the effort put in to show me that it means something to them when they say it. Making a note to themselves that this particular situation that is being apologized for was hurtful and to try their best in not repeating it agian. proof is in the pudding, folks. lol

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