7 Steps to Apologize to Your Ex After a Bad Breakup

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We’ve all been there, right? You argue with your significant other, one thing leads to another, and you break up. But there are times when that breakup is everything except amicable, and your breakup leads to serious complications, emotional trauma, and significant relationship damage

You may wonder if there’s a way on how to apologize to your ex. After all, there are events that are so escalated that a simple “sorry” just doesn’t cut it. 

What’s more, what are the ramifications of apologizing to your ex? Not to mention the entanglements of having children involved, shared finances, and deeper investments that are affected by your breakup and also by any apology you make. 

Should you even apologize to your ex? Let’s find out. 

Should I Apologize to My Ex?

Apologizing to anyone comes with a burden of guilt, and the apology is often just a means of offloading that guilt. No matter how bad or guilty your ex was (or still is), you have your own contribution to the failed relationship

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether to apologize or not. 

So how do you know whether it’s better to apologize to your ex or if you should keep your distance and not get involved (again)? There are a few considerations that can help inform your decision whether to apologize or not

  • Is the apology about you or them
  • Will an apology help them (or you) get on with life?
  • Do you have a moral obligation to apologize to them? 
  • Are there external parties involved that are affected by your apology, such as children? 
  • Do you need to foster a continued future relationship with your ex in some way (especially if you share kids)?
  • Would it be better to just leave things as they are? 

If you feel that you answered “yes” to most of these questions (except the last), then you have your answer: Yes, you should apologize to your ex. 

How you make an apology will determine your success and whether or not the apology works to secure harmonious future interactions with your ex.  

Why You May Want to Apologize to Your Ex

When the initial anger over the breakup fades, you may realize that you really want and need to make an apology to your ex. There are several reasons why an apology is often necessary and also beneficial to all parties involved. 

Here’s why you may want to apologize to your ex: 

You realize you were in the wrong.

After you and your ex have both cooled down, you may realize you were the one who messed up. Perhaps the breakup was mostly your fault, and apologizing could be your way of owning up to your flaws and admitting you were to blame

Realizing you are the one to blame is a powerful step for you, and it can bring your ex peace if they’re still upset about the breakup.

Perhaps, with time and therapy, you and your ex may even decide to give your relationship another go, which could even be part of the reason you instinctively want to apologize. 

The breakup has left you with unresolved issues.

A breakup can be like the death of a partner. Except you may have unresolved issues as a result of that ending of the relationship. Apologizing could be your way to get clarity and closure

You and your ex keep fighting, which makes any contact difficult and painful

Perhaps you and your ex share custody of your kids, dog, or resources, which means you have to interact at times. If there’s still a lot of unresolved conflict, it can lead to serious animosity, so apologizing could help release some tension. 

You have children together, and you realize how the breakup is affecting them.

The people around you and your ex may be suffering if there are hard feelings between you two, which could mean an apology can help stop conflict and bring peace to all.

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Apologizing to anyone comes with a burden of guilt, and the apology is often just a means of offloading that guilt.

Your children are probably worst affected, so you may need to bite the bullet and be the first one to apologize. 

Your sense of self is affected by what you feel is your share of the breakup.

If you see yourself as being a reasonable person, but the breakup was handled poorly and you feel like your actions were incongruent with who you are, you may want to apologize so you can recover who you are.

The apology is less about the other person and more about owning up to your poor behavior. 

There is no sense of finality in your breakup, which keeps you from new relationships.

Some couples don’t separate fully after a breakup, making things complicated and messy. Instead of knowing you and your ex are over, you cling to the past, which holds you from new and potentially better relationships. In this case, an apology is also giving yourself permission to move on

Part of your self-growth process is about forgiveness

Some X-step programs that help you deal with trauma and self-recovery may have “apologizing to people you have wronged” as part of the process. Finding a way to apologize to your ex is then about reclaiming your lost power and making amends for your wrongs. 

When to Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

There are instances when you really shouldn’t stir up issues, not even with an apology. An apology isn’t always the best idea, and it can have unexpected results that may bring more trauma and negativity. Sometimes, it’s better to leave sleeping dogs to lie

Here are a few instances when apologizing isn’t a great idea:

  • You and your ex are in the middle of a nasty divorce, and an apology may be an admission of guilt, which they can use against you in court.
  • Your ex is a narcissist, and apologizing to them may reward them.
  • You and your ex are in the middle of a custody dispute, and admitting you did something wrong can be seen as proof you are an unfit parent
  • Apologizing in public, which shames your ex, causes more conflict. 
  • Apologizing when your ex and their new partner have been experiencing their own conflict, which may make it seem as if you want your ex back

7 Steps to Apologize to Your Ex after a Bad Breakup

When you prepare to apologize (or even think of offering an apology), it’s important to know without any reservation just what’s the purpose of an apology—it’s not always about forgiveness. 

Instead, an apology is about showing the other person (and yourself) respect, and creating a boundary that helps both of you understand where the relationship between you two lies. 

Here are some steps to help you apologize to your ex after a bad breakup.

1. It’s Not About You

The first step is to acknowledge that an apology isn’t about you. It’s not so you can feel better or so you can be the hero in the situation for “stepping up” to “make things right.” The apology isn’t about you finding forgiveness or magically making everything better. 

Stop believing you have any power in the situation other than how you control yourself. Your ex isn’t responsible for your insecurities.  

Assure your ex that you are now able to self-regulate your emotions, and you see them and their pain over the actions that you contributed to that caused the breakup. Getting your ex to meet you on neutral ground is the first step. Try a message like:

I realize I have hurt you by being (add specifics about what you did wrong), and I would like for us to meet at (add name of a public place) so I can offer you an apology.   

2. The Decision Is Yours and the Consequences Are Yours

Your actions contributed to the relationship ending.

What you chose to do formed the basis of your failed relationship. Of course, it wasn’t just your actions—your ex also played their part. But your decisions carry their own consequences. It has nothing to do with your ex or what they did or didn’t do. 

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How you make an apology will determine your success and whether or not the apology works to secure harmonious future interactions with your ex.  

Perhaps your breakup was due to infidelity. You cheated. You chose to cheat. You chose to hurt your then-partner. You should admit it, and deal with the consequences. What your ex did has nothing to do with your actions

Your apology shouldn’t have any sign of you considering their actions. You can only answer for your own actions. Try saying things like:

I chose badly, and I caused harm to you by not being responsible. I know now that I could have chosen differently, and I am sorry. 

3. “I Know Precisely What I Did”

Instead of telling your ex how sorry you are that you hurt them, you need to be specific. Don’t generalize, as this removes the real feelings from the situation, turning your apology into a meaningless phrase. Be real, present, and attentive

Try telling your ex:

I know I messed up when you wanted my support at the company Christmas party last year, and I see now that you felt betrayed by me. I am sorry for not being more present and dedicated back then. You were and are worthy of better. 

4. Corrections and What You’ve Done to Stop It Happening Again

It’s important to show you know what you’ve done wrong, and you can only do this when you make amends and choose to act differently. While your ex may have also played a part in the bad breakup, you need to own your share

In your apology, admit to your wrongs and tell your ex how you are changing this, which shows them you are actually admitting to your share of the problems.

If you simply say you did wrong, but you don’t say how you will change for the better, your ex won’t believe you are really sorry or that you really understand what you did wrong (or how it affected them). 

Try saying:

I am sorry, and I know what I did wrong when I treated you like xyz. I realize now that it was wrong of me, and it stemmed from my own lack of communication skills. To ensure I never do this again, I am working on my self-development so I never put anyone through what I put you through.

5. An Apology Isn’t an Excuse

The only “but” in an apology is the one you sit on when you are talking to your ex. If your apology has any “buts,” it means you are making excuses and not apologizing. Never make an apology conditional. 

Your apology shouldn’t be anything along the lines of “I’m sorry, but you know…” and you shouldn’t make an apology about you by saying “I wronged you, but I didn’t know…”

6. Leave Expectations and Promises at the Door

Why are you apologizing? If you are expecting forgiveness, you need to let that expectation go. An apology doesn’t automatically come with forgiveness. Perhaps you are apologizing so you can feel better? Maybe you are apologizing so your ex can get closure? 

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Realizing you are the one to blame is a powerful step for you, and it can bring your ex peace if they’re still upset about the breakup.

No matter why you are apologizing, let go of expectations and leave promises at the door. You are not in any position to make promises. 

Avoid saying things like:

I am sorry, and I hope we can get back together. I promise to change. Just give me another chance. I apologized, so you need to forgive me, and let bygones be bygones.  

7. Ask For Forgiveness, Don’t Assign It

You can’t decide whether you or your ex should give their forgiveness. An apology is independent of forgiveness. You can decide to apologize, but you can’t decide whether your ex should listen, if they should forgive you, or if you should forgive them. 

Try not to assign forgiveness by saying things like:

I am sorry, and I forgive you now that you have forgiven me. I am sorry, and I accept your actions back when we were together were influenced by my actions.  

Final Thoughts on How to Apologize to Your Ex

Knowing how to apologize to your ex is not always easy. However, once you have decided you should apologize to your ex, you can proceed with the same guidance as with other apologies.

Follow these basic guides and your apology will be sincere and you can be assured you have offered the best apology you could:

  • Don’t make an apology about you.
  • Apologize for what you chose to do to your partner.
  • Show ownership of your past actions.
  • Take steps to stop your behavior from repeating.
  • Don’t make excuses, as this is insincere.
  • Don’t make promises
  • Ask forgiveness, but accept it’s not a given.

For more on forgiveness and how to apply it if your ex apologizes to you, read about the four types of forgiveness.

And if you're looking for articles on how to apologize to people close to you, be sure to check out these blog posts:

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