Apologizing When You’ve Done Nothing Wrong

“Apologizing does not always mean that you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value your relationship more than your ego.”—Positive Outlooks

It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.

I repeated the mantra in my head over and over again. I set it to a tune. I hummed it in my mind. But it still wasn’t sinking in. It felt like it was about me. In fact, it felt like I was under attack. Being falsely accused of something I didn’t do.

But, it didn’t matter.

It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.

It wasn’t about me. There was a larger story at play. The one of my family, especially my children, suffering the consequences of an argument that I didn’t start, and couldn’t seem to end. It had gone on for years, and my attempts to get anyone to even acknowledge my viewpoint, were futile.

David struggled with this as well. In Psalm 69, he calls out to God in the midst of his accusers:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”

He was forced to restore what he did not steal. Accused of things he did not do.

Relationships are messy. And Jesus clearly understood. In fact, he specifically instructed us on what to do should we find ourselves in a disagreement with others. In Matthew 5:23-24, He said:

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”

I love how this doesn’t specify who is at fault. To God, who is at fault is not the question. It is about making things right, regardless of who is at fault. It doesn’t mean that we are taking the blame, but instead, taking the initiative to live in peace with that person. I know—it seems impossible. But, as believers, we are called to a higher standard. Called to love others as we would like to be loved—not as we are loved. A much different thing.

The truth is, there is an art to disagreeing. And, like most art, it’s not always easy to understand at first glance. The meaning, and the methods used, may not be clear in the beginning.

When it’s time to apologize:

  • The relationship with the other person is one that has lifelong potential, such as a family member, spouse, or long-time friend, and you value the relationship in spite of the disagreement.
  • You have approached them in love, and been refused.
  • You have tried to find a common ground, willing to give in, and been refused.
  • When you approach the person who has offended you, there is a rehashing of what happened—as if it just happened—instead of a willingness to find resolution.
  • The matter is affecting other people who were not part of the original disagreement.
  • You avoid gatherings where the person might be.
  • You have prayed about the situation and don’t feel the need to create a permanent boundary (you should not compromise in situations that involve physical or mental abuse of any kind).
  • You feel certain that if you apologize, the matter will end.

How to get your mind around apologizing when you’ve done nothing wrong:

  • You can show regret for the feelings the other person has incurred as a result of the situation without taking blame for the situation itself. This assumes that you did not intend to hurt feelings, or that the original action was intended for good and had unforeseen consequences for which you were not responsible. When doing this, make sure that you apologize with no caveats. Instead of “I’m sorry if you were offended by something I said” (putting the reaction back on them), say something like “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you” (putting the      responsibility on you).
  • Decide what you are apologizing for, and state it plainly. An open-ended apology that makes you feel exposed to accepting something you did not do, will not end the disagreement. More than likely, it will cause bitterness that may escalate it. Instead, you can show grace to the person who offended you, and apologize for the part you played in the situation that followed the offense (such as: isolation from that person, bad feelings towards that person, etc.)
  • Don’t dwell on the truth. In many cases, the truth will lie between you, the offender, and God alone. In long standing disputes, the truth doesn’t matter as much as the separation it has caused.
  • Don’t make excuses for the person who caused the offense. Instead, offer mercy, knowing that you are freeing yourself as much as you are freeing them. They don’t have to answer to you for their actions, but you do have to answer to God.
  • Agree not to discuss it again. When both parties have been hurt, and an agreement of wrongdoing cannot be settled, it is best to let the situation go. In order to move forward, both parties need to agree that it is forgiven, and that it is best not to discuss it for the sake of the relationship.

In long standing disagreements, it’s not really about who is right or wrong, but who is willing to listen to the other person, and show understanding toward them. Most people don’t want conflict between themselves and others, but pride keeps them from admitting wrongdoing. Often, the person who suffered the mistreatment will be the one who is forced to end the argument with no apology from the other side. Showing grace and mercy to another who has offended you is not only an incredible gift to that person, but a living testimony of how your Savior would treat you. And, that alone, sisters, is enough to break the silence.

10 Comments

  1. “You have approached them in love, and been refused.
    You have tried to find a common ground, willing to give in, and been refused.”

    I disagree on these points. It’s wrong to apologize in these cases – it is “peace at any price”. It is wrong to apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve found when this happens, the person isn’t interested in peace. You’ve done what you could. You are responsible for your half of the relationship; they are responsible for theirs. Jesus laid out clear instruction for how to deal with offenses and broken relationships. While we must be ready to extend forgiveness if and when the other person asks for it, we should not be apologizing for something that happened in the relationship that was someone elses doing. When guilt and responsibility are never acknowledged, and there are never consequences to wrong actions, there is no growth. God does not forgive us without repentance and a willingness to change. He does not ask more of us.

  2. I understand your points, and have lived them as well. The point of this is not to apologize for the things you haven’t done, it is to apologize for any part that you played that may have caused a rift in the relationship. I agree that you should not apologize for things that you didn’t do. That’s the same as lying in many ways. But in most long standing disagreements, there is bad behavior on both sides, and if the relationship is one that has long-term possibilities (such as a marriage, family member, life-long friend, etc.), then apologizing for whatever misunderstandings you may have caused during the disagreements may be the only way to heal the relationship. It’s not taking responsibility for something you didn’t do. It’s showing grace to someone you obviously do not see eye-to-eye with. This can be extremely difficult, and heart-wrenching, and it’s not meant for all relationships or situations. And, you shouldn’t do this in a situation in which harmful behavior toward you will continue. But, God does ask us to show grace and mercy, as we have been shown it. And, in most cases, as in my own life, that often comes before our own repentance. In fact, it may lead to it.

  3. Laura,
    I just came across your article on apologizing, posted on July 12, 2012. I have a scenario I’d like your input on, if you have time and don’t mind.
    When I was a child, my uncle, who was engaged to be married, went for a walk with me one afternoon into the back fields of my grandparent’s farm. He suddenly grabbed me and started kissing and groping me. He didn’t molest me sexually…just feeling me up. He never apologized then or to this day. I was too young and shocked to understand what happened, so I never spoke of it to anyone. He married shortly after that incident.
    A few years ago I wrote a letter to him. I addressed it to both he and his wife because I thought she should know. Well, this was a total shock and surprise to her. He had apparently never told her. They never spoke to me after that. She thinks I lied and made it all up. He finally apologized to me in secret and asked that I not talk about it anymore or bring it up to her because he still hasn’t admitted wrongdoing to his wife.
    Then about 2 years ago I got a letter from her apologizing to me (I don’t recall her words as to what she was apologizing for) and saying that she didn’t want her feelings towards me to keep her out of heaven. They have always been Christians from birth, even though he did this to me.
    So my question to you is….is there something I need to apologize to HER for? And if so, what should I say?
    I responded immediately to her letter back then by saying I didn’t share her sentiments and that I could never desire being in heaven with them. I was so hurt. I still don’t feel the desire to live with them in heaven, although I don’t hate them. I just feel very uncomfortable around them because she is choosing to believe I made the whole thing up, and him because of what he did. So what is the best approach just to clear the air? I am not seeking a relationship with them under the circumstance. But I don’t hate them.
    Thanks.

    Marcia

  4. Marcia,

    First, let me say that I’m so deeply sorry for what you went through. Though I’m no expert at forgiveness, I’ve certainly had my share of (different) situations in which I’ve had to forgive those who did not deserve it.

    As Christians, we are called to do so. Just as Christ forgives us with no strings attached, we are called to do the same. Of course, being human, this is extremely difficult and many find it to be impossible. In my opinion, it is only through Christ that we can offer this kind of forgiveness, by praying for Him to change our hearts to the point that we can offer this to someone.

    In my own life, I have a situation with my father (different than the one in the article) in which I believe forgiveness is not deserved. In fact, he denies any issues and refuses to apologize in any way. For years, this tormented me. I thought that I had forgiven him, because I no longer held a grudge day-to-day, but at a Bible Study one evening someone mentioned him being in heaven with me and it made me furious. There was no way I wanted to be in heaven with the person who hurt me throughout my life to my very core. It was then that someone pointed out to me: “If you can’t forgive them to the point of believing that they deserve the same forgiveness as you have been given, then you haven’t really forgiven them.”

    I left the church so upset and angry that night. I had forgiven him. I didn’t hold a grudge. But, how could someone like that–who was continuing to treat me the same way–deserve to be in heaven when he clearly hadn’t repented or likely even believed in Jesus. I mean, I was a follower of Christ. Of course, I should be there. But him?

    Do you see where I’m going here? None of us deserves to be in heaven, Marcia. Even the very best Christians still commit sins on a daily (likely hourly) basis. We are all given that opportunity by the grace of God, and nothing else. As difficult as it is for us to think of being in heaven with someone like that, it is not up to us to extend that opportunity.

    Lean into God with this issue, ask Him to change your heart. He did mine. Although my father still has not changed a single thing in his life and continues to treat me exactly the same, I can say with complete honesty now that I hope he finds Christ and that we get to rebuild what was broken in eternity together. It’s a choice only He can make. And a promise only God can offer. Me wanting him there, or not wanting him there really is not important in the big scheme of things. But if, as a follower, you can’t say that you would want this person to be offered that forgiveness in Christ, it’s likely because you haven’t fully forgiven him–or possibly forgiven yourself.

    I’m praying for you, sweet friend. This is a difficult road you have traveled and have handled it beautifully, with grace. I pray that God give you the ability to set this free in your heart so that you can move forward knowing that though you don’t condone anything that occurred, you can give it over to Christ who offers forgiveness to all.

  5. I just had my 75 th birthday on Sat and all planned festivities were canceled because I had contracted a painful case of shingles. I had been feeling badly for a week and still have a long way to go. Meanwhile, my daughter had picked up a few items at the store for me but because of a sudden southern snow could not safely get back to my house. Of course her safety and the grandchildren she had to pick up was much more important than any food. That was last Friday and since then a family feud and hurt feelings have erupted.
    The back story is that she lost her oldest of four sons to suicide in Oct 2015. The pain for all of us has been overwhelming and totally unexpected and without any reason than we can figure out. The other important piece is that I have subsidized this marriage for 26 years and even though it may have started as a loan it never ended that way. I have also done many thingsfor my grandchildren. Just since Feb of this year I have given over $12 000 ….. twelve thousand in 11 months . Her husband knows and just keeps on takings for that,without thanking. I have continued recently because she is about to graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree and has not worked for the last two years. She quit a few months before her son died and truly I don’t think she could have worked after his tragic death. Further, I felt the other children needed their mother now more than ever.
    Now we are back to before.
    She text me on Sat morning waking me up to say she was bringing my food and presents from granchildrenEven though I explained I was notcontagious ( I’m anurse ) she would not allow children to come in and I just said ok. After dozing ack to sleep o was again awakened by frantic knocking at my door. I saw it was my daughter and son in law so I got up stiffly and disarmed the door and opened it. Because my response was not ” normal” ( said I bit their heads off ) and they were all chipper bringing
    ” mobile meals”, my greeting was not the warmest when I said you could have just left it on porch or even at the neighborhood entrance… halfway in jest. That did it! She stomped through to my kitchen and put things away, did not ask how I felt , mouthed off and left. Kids told her I shit the door before they could get in which was news to me. When I confronted her with her behavior and disrespectful and rude attitude, she insisted it was all me’ Didn’t matter about age that I had disrespected her! She absolutely cannot see her own behavior at times and is too prideful to do so. Truly believes she does everything right and shame on me because I am wrong this time! She and her husband were
    “appealed” at my behavior and felt she had been hit in gut!
    I on the other hand am still sick, still 75 and still hurt very deeply by these continued outbursts. This is not new behavior since she lost her son. I know it’s not the same but I have lost my precious grandson too!
    I am perplex and totally want this beviot to STOP for all our sakes. Any thoughts or advice?

  6. First of all, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your grandson. I can’t imagine how difficult that has been for you and your daughter. Mother-daughter relationships may be some of the most difficult on the planet. I struggle with mine as well sometimes. With that being said, there needs to be mutual respect. It sounds like both of you have felt disrespected for different reasons. If it were me, I would try to sit down alone with my daughter and air out grievances if possible. This might best be done with a counselor if you feel it wouldn’t go well. I think daughters watch their mothers closely and are very sensitive to small things that we may not intend to do. In the end, we all just want to be accepted. I would imagine the stress of losing her son, combined with the marital issues, is too much for her and she is taking it out on the one person she knows loves her no matter what. Loving like Jesus can be hard. He saw through people’s pain to love them in spite of their surface issues. It sounds to me like she is in deep deep pain and it may take someone like you to see beyond her actions, acknowledge the pain, and help her to find healing.

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