Should You Apologize to an Ex, Even if Years Have Passed?

Quote on Apologies

While doing my research for this article, I found the general answer to this question was, NO. So in my typical fashion, I’m going to buck the trend and say that, YES, if you’re doing it for the right reasons, you should apologize to an ex. Even if many years have passed.

The following is a list of common arguments against an apology, and how I believe they don’t really stand up.

So here we go…

You only want to apologize to ease your own guilt. If you did something wrong, you should live with it.

This would have to be the number one sentiment I found. For the most part it felt like I was viewing a new television game show called “Who Wants to be a Masochist?” So what if the apology rids you of some guilt? If you treated someone poorly and you now see what you did was wrong, you should apologize.

More to the point, it’s ok to acknowledge your progress as a human being, and in doing so, share it with the people you burned along the way. You’re not just ruminating and patting yourself on the back, you’re doing something to remedy the past.

There’s nothing wrong with you getting a pay off from your apology, as long as it’s done with the right intentions.

 

You might be opening an old wound.

There’s two ways to look at this argument. First, you might be opening an old wound, but I doubt it. If what you did hurt someone, my guess is if they still harbor bad feelings about what you did, the wound never truly closed anyway.

Second, though you might open an ‘old’ wound,  there’s also a chance you’ll end up healing an old wound, and your apology may well be what the wronged party needs. Many times when you hurt someone, what they really want is for you to acknowledge the pain caused; when you fail to do that, chances are you’ve caused damage to that person. What you’ve said in the past is, “you’re pain doesn’t exist, I didn’t see why I should say sorry.”

By letting that person see you are sorry and that you have also suffered at the hands of your own actions, you are telling them they were not alone in their pain. Do not take this as an invitation to harp on about your suffering, just mention that your regret has affected you and leave it there.

Moreover, the other party may see that something good came from the hurt caused, and your apology may come as a form of absolution. To see that you’ve grown from what has happened, in itself can bring a great deal of healing.

 

couple on beach

 

 

Maybe they don’t care anymore and have moved on.

This might be true. In which case most sane people, even if they have moved on, will still appreciate your effort. As long as your apology isn’t a veiled excuse to try get them back, and you’re careful not to make it sound like you’re doing them a huge favor by saying sorry. In this case it might seem like a redundant apology, but you’re not likely to bruise your ego too much. And at least you’ll find out the damage you caused was not that bad after all.

But it’s a big assumption to think they wouldn’t care. I can promise you, there are a few people I’d love to get an apology from, even if it has been years. The fact is you don’t know what’s going on in another persons heart, they might want your apology, just as much as you want to give it.

 

It’s been a long time, why bother?

Because clearly it’s still bothering you, and maybe it’s still bothering them. What does time have to do with it if there’s a chance you can put things right? I say take the chance, it’s never too late to offer peace and the world needs more of it.

 

You’ll look pathetic, they might react badly.

So what? You did something crappy to another human being, you can afford to lose a little face over it. Chances are they had their ego dented more than you did.

At the end of the day you cannot control their reaction, just as much as they couldn’t control yours when you were set on hurting their feelings. If they react badly or call you names, or even worse, ignore your apology altogether; that’s the price you pay for hurting another person. An apology isn’t supposed to be easy, it’s not about you, and you’re getting a pretty fair trade.

 

They might take it as an invitation to come back into your life.

If you’re going to apologize, go to the effort of making your boundaries clear. Even if you would like this person back in your life, an apology is not the time to do it.

Apart from setting boundaries, if they do see your apology as a way back in, to which you’re not comfortable; I suggest using your ability and newfound maturity to let them down gently. Make it clear you’re saying sorry without expecting anything of it, and try to distinguish between them wanting back in, versus them wanting some answers. Your apology may instigate some lingering questions, answer them and let the other party have their closure too. An apology isn’t about you unleashing the words ‘I’m sorry’, and wiping your hands clean of the situation.

 

But I wasn’t the only guilty party.

This many be the case but remember, we’re big kids now. I’ve been in situations where it was obvious I was the wronged party. I’m talking dating a serial cheater, who was emotionally abusive. But you know what, in the end I still apologized for what I did and the ways I acted out. I had every right to argue his behavior was the reason for my inflicting pain, but ultimately I’m a grown woman and I’m the one responsible for how I act. I said sorry and I never got an apology back, but it did help me to close the door on a bad relationship.

 

Black and white photo of couple

But be warned…

An apology has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person you hurt. Yes, you might lose some guilt from doing it, but that is not the point. The reason many advice columns say not to apologize is because so many apologies are done incorrectly and for weak reasons.

When giving an apology you should not expect to be forgiven. There’s a chance that what you did hurt your ex bad enough that they are not at a place to give forgiveness. Or maybe life hasn’t given them an opportunity to heal in the same way you have and they can’t find it in their heart to forgive you. That is their prerogative and chances are the hurt you caused is greater than the guilt you feel. But you never know. Saying sorry could be a big step in them finding their healing.

Lastly, the keystone to a great apology is to stick to apologizing for what YOU did. Make a list of what you did wrong, under each of these list how you believe the other person was likely made to feel. Don’t not make excuses for why you did what you did. No one cares why, even if they are the ones asking. The main point is you’ve grown and you’re owning up to it.

But remember, in the end your words mean little if your actions don’t reflect what you say. If you claim to have learnt your lessons, be sure that your behavor in life correlates to that and you are not just repeating old mistakes. Otherwise it’s better your apology is left unsaid.

P.S: Here is an article on how to write a good apology. And whatever you do, do not say ‘I’m sorry you were hurt’, no one wants to hear you apologize for how they feel.

 

 


Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.

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**UPDATE: Due to this post’s popularity, I’ve filmed a video version for my YouTube Channel!

image credit: mikebaird,  Simson Petrol, ME

Katerina Simms is a Romance Writer & Recovering Former Mermaid, born on a sunny Mediterranean island. These days she resides in Melbourne, Australia, where she spends her days writing novels and musing on her highly successful blog. For regular updates, feel free to Subscribe to her newsletter.

There are 29 comments for this article
  1. suzie at 8:25 am

    An ex is in the midst of apologizing to me (via text). First, however, he thanked me for not lashing out at him right after our break up and said that showed character. I’m guessing he’s just been through another breakup and she DID lash out. Part of me feels like he wants me back in his life, which I could consider, but I’m also seeing all kinds of red flags.

      • Katerina Simms Author at 10:12 am

        Maybe in his case it took a bad experience to appreciate that he had a good thing with you? Also account for the fact that in hindsight many people romanticise their ex and dumb-down the negatives from their past relationship – that means both you and him.

        Personally, I’d ask him to meet in person, for no other reason than apologies always mean more and require more risk when delivered that way than via text. It’s also easier to manipulate conversation via text as there’s time to think of replies and room for misinterpretation when you can’t see how someone’s sentiments are being delivered.

        Despite popular opinion, I don’t subscribe to the old ‘once an ex always an ex’ tribe. It’s Okay for you to consider taking him back, HOWEVER there’s a reason (or maybe many reasons) you two broke up. Whatever the reasons are, something needs to have changed for your future to work. Other couples have done it, but the odds aren’t in your favour. As long as you’re aware of that, just be cautious and see where this goes.

  2. A.A at 1:49 pm

    Hi. This was really helpful in clearing out alot of my fears. Yes I want closure. Yes I want to feel a little less guilty. And yes I am afraid he may have moved on or I would reopen his wounds. but your arguments make so much sense that my months of fretting are over! 🙂

    I have been living with so much guilt for almost 5 and a half years now because it all ended so spontaneously. We didn’t even get a chance to share how we felt about each other. I lost my patience with his ’emotional unavailability’ and aloofness I guess. It started feeling so onesided at some point. I didn’t know how to show him that except with silent treatment..he thought I had broken up with him (I was young and stupid-17 yrs to be precise). If only he had asked. What’s worse is that his friends led him to believe that I had cheated on him and left him for another guy who was actually my bestfriend.
    As years go by, I realize I had truly loved this guy and I still care even though there is no part of him left in my present.
    For all these years I have wanted to tell him that I never meant for it to end that way and that I never left him for another guy. Even if he doesn’t wish to give ‘us’ another chance I still want to get this overdued message/apology across.. I know I left him hurting terribly. For the first two years he probably still believed there was hope but after that he removed me from his contacts and lists which was really the only way to contact him cause he had relocated to another continent right after I ‘left’ him (for his undergrad that I hadn’t known about either at that time).

    So now the only way to reach him would be a facebook private message. :/Do you think that’s a bad idea?
    Are my reasons right enough to resurface in his life out nowhere? (I know for myself they are but are they for him?)
    I am also afraid that what if he wants me back but realizes I am not the same person he fell in love with? I have gone through so many downfalls in these years. I am not the same person I know because I have lost so many friends since then because of my damaged personality.. Is there also a concept of apologizing ‘at the right time’? Should I wait till when I get myself back together (the reason why I’ve been waiting fr these past years)?

      • Katerina Simms Author at 11:00 pm

        Hi, thanks for your message. I’m glad you found my post helpful!

        My advice, first and foremost––> DON’T get your friend to talk for you. This apology needs to come 100% from you. You seem to hold a lot of doubts, I think the best way to deal with those is to do as my post states––go into this apology expecting absolutely nothing back. And I mean NOTHING, not even a reply. That way, whatever happens, you can’t be disappointed.

        I want to also address this phrase from you, “It started feeling so onesided at some point. I didn’t know how to show him that except with silent treatment..he thought I had broken up with him (I was young and stupid-17 yrs to be precise). If only he had asked. DO NOT even mention this if you apologise, otherwise you risk looking like you’re placing blame on him. You were both young, and made mistakes––own up to yours, which was not to talk to him. Whether or not he wants to take ownership over not asking you is his business, and not your place to dictate. I would however mention to him that his friend’s claims about you cheating are not true.

        “I am also afraid that what if he wants me back but realizes I am not the same person he fell in love with?” You seem to be going into this apology with a sense of hope that he WILL take you back. As I mention in my post, don’t go into this with ANY preconception of anything happening, ESPECIALLY if you feel your life isn’t in the right place for a relationship. Apologise because it’s the right thing to do––without any other reason behind it. The relationship stuff I would leave up to fate. Of course both of you have changed. Have you ever thought that maybe he might have also changed in a way that is no longer compatible with who you are? Take one day at a time, keep this apology simple by addressing what YOU did wrong, and don’t make this bigger than it needs to be.

        • A.A at 10:30 pm

          Thank you, Katerina! 🙂 I was waiting eagerly for this reply. You’re right, I must do this only because this is the right thing to do (exactly why it’s been on my mind for months). Irrespective of whether I get a reply or not, delivering the apology should be my prime focus. It might just help liberate me from the guilt and help me to move on.

          • Katerina Simms Author at 10:43 pm

            Thank you. I wish you well and much healing in the future xo

  3. S.J at 11:11 pm

    Hi Katerina,

    I’m glad I’ve found this article… I need a little advice, if you read this in time!

    I broke up with my ex a couple of months ago (don’t want to go into great detail, but basically it’s because I was confused/unsure as it was my first serious relationship so had no clue), but now I really regret it.

    I still care for him, a lot. I’m scared I’ll always just think of him and nobody else. We work together so it makes it even harder to deal with. I’ve wanted to apologise for hurting him and explain. I told him “I need to talk to you” (out of nerves, I would have worded it a lot better but I’m a bit rubbish when confrontation and it was in passing… I know, that was stupid). I really do want to apologise to him, for him. I would like to be friends again but I know that there is a possibility that he has moved on completely and it won’t be an option… which absolutely kills me… But it’s my fault.

    I was wondering, am I doing the right thing? I get some answers of “yes” and some of “NO! Why would you do that?!” and now I’m worried about what to say… but it feels like I need to do this so he knows that I didn’t break up with him in the spur of a moment thing… if that makes sense? I’m seeing him some time this week so I’m trying to find the words to write down so I can do this properly and make sure that he knows that I’m not just doing this for me. There’s no way out of this either way I guess as I said that I need to talk to him. I’m so confused this has been on my mind for so long 🙁

    • Katerina Simms Author at 11:18 am

      Hi S.J,

      Thank you for contacting me. I guess whether or not you apologise comes down to whether saving face is more important to you than perhaps giving yourself (and hopefully him) some closure. Personally, I’d go for the apology. As mentioned in my article, I’ve apologised for my mistakes even when I was the lesser of two evils––it really did help me let go of a lot––but not everything. You might also like this article I wrote: http://katerinasimms.com/how-to-forget-a-past-love/ essentially, you very well may always think of him, many of us do think of partners years and decades after a breakup. And it’s not always a bad thing or a sign you need to be with that person, it just is what it is.

      As to what to tell him, I like what you wrote here:
      I told him “I need to talk to you” (out of nerves, I would have worded it a lot better but I’m a bit rubbish when confrontation and it was in passing… I know, that was stupid). I really do want to apologise to him, for him. I would like to be friends again but I know that there is a possibility that he has moved on completely and it won’t be an option… which absolutely kills me… But it’s my fault.

      Tell him some variation of this, be open and honest––for two reasons––so he has all the information and so you don’t walk away wishing you’d said something but didn’t say it. I’m not sure if this will be helpful to you, but I also came across this video this week. It’s a little too ‘new age’ for what I’d say (please don’t start talking about a vortex), but the core message of feeling separated from ourselves within a relationship is well described https://www.facebook.com/monique.vandervleuten.7/videos/vb.100001720568878/161043580629660/?type=2&theater. Perhaps if this applies to your reasons for ending the relationship, you come come up with a variation of these words to explain.

  4. Mike at 7:41 pm

    Hello
    this is a very helpful article but I still need a little help. I hurt an ex almost 16 years ago and while we have both gone our separate ways, I still feel terrible. We were only together for a short time but had some good times. I was 18 and the jealous type and acted poorly. I never ever intended to treat her bad or make her cry and to this day it makes me upset on how i made her feel. It’s been bothering me lately and It is not that I’m looking to get anything from it, but I feel compelled to apologize. We were young and I was stupid for making stupid mistakes at that age. Our last conversation was over 16 yeas ago and since then we both have got married and had kids and grown up. Over the years I think about how I was then and how poorly I treated her. I highly doubt she cares about how bad I feel, and I don’t want to upset her or her family. I have had dreams about her being angry or upset with me and I wake up wanting to message her online to say my peace, but I’m not sure if it is the right thing to do. I wish her well and don’t expect a response, but my soul needs to make amends. I feel lIke it is wOrth it sometimes and others I feel like all I would do is upset her or anger her family. I have grown up and realized that I was immature then, and have realized the faults I have made. I want to say how sorry I am for being that guy back then. It may be the past but it haunts my future. Any advice?

  5. Yvonne at 3:41 am

    Hi, there!
    I’m absolutely so thankful of this article!

    Just a few days ago, something happened between this boy and I. We weren’t actually in a relationship yet but we were exclusively dating. You see, I’ve been living with clinical depression and anxiety for a few years now, and although I know its not right to base your happiness from someone else other than yourself, he became such a breath of fresh air from a long time of being suffocated in darkness. I was so happy and I started to feel like my old self again when my anxiety just kept nudging me that this guy just isn’t right. It bothered me to a point where my thoughts pretty much obsessed with knowing the reason why this great guy would want to be with me. I started asking about him to people who knew him they said a lot of things but what really got me scared was that he’s sort of a playboy.

    I was absolutely scared to be toyed with, I guess everyone is. But he’s the first guy I’d ever allowed myself to date and even kiss for the first time (I’m 21 and he’s 25). So he learned about how I kept asking about him and I stopped contacting him for a while. Then when I came back to my senses, I realized that what I did wasn’t really fair for him. I completely judged him based on the opinions of others. So when I tried to contact him, he didn’t really want to have to do anything with me anymore. I guess that kinda stung, but we agreed to meet up and talk but that never happened. He wouldn’t talk or want to see me anymore.

    I guess I don’t really want us getting back together, but I’d just really wanted to explain myself on why I acted that way. I really want to apologize and I really want to tell him how important he was to me and in my recovery. I never got to tell him that I had depression. I’m giving him space but it only happened very recently. I just really want to apologize, but I guess I can’t right now. We’d make really great friends too and I wouldn’t be awkward about it, I still sort of want to keep him in my life, but not in any romantic way.

    I was just sort of wondering if I’m doing the right thing? I’ll wait for the right time to apologize if I have to but when will I know if its the right time?

    • Katerina Simms Author at 1:04 pm

      You sound really self aware and I like that, I’m glad you’re able to see what motivated you in this relationship. Personally, I’d write him a letter/email detailing your apology, but don’t include anything about wanting anything from him–including friendship–that can come later if he’s receptive. Chances are he’ll still ignore you, but it’ll make you feel better to at least know that he knows. Mind you, don’t put this guy on a pedestal. Sometimes when we are depressed we can fall for people who are not 100% brilliant themselves, sometimes there IS value in considering someone’s reputation. I don’t think you were entirely wrong in stepping back. You might like to read my article on why we choose to love bad people, it might not apply completely to your situation, but it might bring up some questions as to why and if you should push any kind of relationship with this guy.

  6. Onze at 9:24 am

    This is amazing. I have someone I have wanted to apologize to 17 years, but every friend I talk to about it says no way! He was my boyfriend in a difficult time in my life and I took out my pain on him; he is the only person I have ever been truly unkind to and completely selfish with. I think about him all the time. I feel terrible for breaking his heart, for keeping him hanging, for lying about my feelings for him- I was mean and I want him to know that it wasn’t anything he did that made me so awful, and that I’m not actually an awful person. I am married and living hundreds of miles away, but I fantasize about sending him a letter. Would I get the results I am hoping for? Would it just make him angry? Would I be betraying my husband to reach out (non-romantically) to an ex? I am so torn…

  7. Sharyn at 4:20 pm

    Thank you for your post… I just wrote an email to my ex whom I broke up almost 10 years ago. I did write that i wanted to write him for a long time but didn’t know if it was aporopriate and also that I didn’t expect him to reply to me. I just want a better closure because he deserves it and it would also help me as well. It really helps me lift a heavy burden off my chest. Being married really puts the past in perspective and make me feel like a lot of what we said and do were childish and immature…. Arguing over little minute things.

  8. Caution at 4:24 am

    Where was this article a month ago!! LOL! Everyone speaks as though doing this is such a horrible thing. I said to hell with it and wrote the dude a letter. After 17 agonizing years, I finally tied up my loose ends. I didn’t do it for anyone else but ME because I deserve to have peace too.
    And who knows, maybe he finally has his too.
    Sometimes, we do have to throw caution in the wind. Otherwise, we will look back and ask ourselves why we never did. We almost always regret the things we don’t do.

    Go for it.

    • Katerina Simms Author at 10:48 am

      Thank you, I’m glad we share a viewpoint on this topic. I also like that you’ve taken a light-hearted approach to the apology process. There’s nothing wrong with tying up loose ends and trying to make good for the past. Life is a process of learning––if you’re doing it right that is. 😀

  9. Xavier at 2:44 am

    Hi, thank you for the article it was the most logical article I’ve come across. I’d like some advice as my situation is a bit different ( very few situations are identical ) I’ve broken up with a girl a few months ago and feel like I should apologize

    I’ll try to summarize the details. I have had one relationship before the first ‘relationship’ with the girl(I’ll refer to her as Priya to maintain anonymity) I want to apologize to, this first relationship ended with the other girl cheating, then I entered into to an unofficial relationship with Priya, after a year I cut off contact with Priya for no reason whatsoever and entered into another relationship with someone else and got cheated on,which I ended when I found out and then entered into a 4th relationship with another girl, during this relationship I got back into contact with Priya and we became best friends(I had not cheated on my girlfriend with Priya). She had forgiven me for disappearing. After a year and a half in this 4th relationship, my girlfriend at that time had cheated on me and I had also ended that relationship upon discovering this. Priya and I were now best friends and I was obviously in a bad place but she took care of everything and made this time really easy for me. Our feelings resurfaced and we entered into an official relationship for about a year and then I became really close to another girl and started developing feelings for her so I ended my relationship with Priya(with the fear that I might have cheated on her if I continued with the relationship). After a month I entered into a relationship the girl I developed feelings for and she is currently my girlfriend. I don’t want to hurt my current girlfriend either. I haven’t spoken to Priya for 2 months. Her friends are also very angry(which is understandable) with me. Priya does not know why I broke up with her or that I’m already in a relationship. I don’t want to enter her life again because I’ll end up hurting her again. I’ve cut off contact with almost everyone so I’m currently not sure if Priya has found out that I’m in a relationship. She is a very sweet girl but I don’t know if she will want an apology especially considering this is the second time I’ve done this… The guilt is a bit unbearable but if the apology is not something she would want then I would not want to force it on her just to ease my own guilt … please let me know what I should do

  10. M.. at 4:47 pm

    Your article really helped me to to apologize to my ex.
    I now known that she has moved on and is happy in her life which I’m glad for her.
    Thank you.

  11. Adam at 3:39 am

    Katerina, I really enjoyed your video, and I think this is wonderful advice. Although, I have some grey areas I thought you could possibly shed some light on for me (if you don’t mind). I have apologized in the past and for all the wrong reasons. That was many years ago and I finally feel the need to apologize wholeheartedly. Is it acceptable to do this? I feel as though I may come across sounding like a broken record. The thing is I can tell when an apology is not met with sincerity, as I’m sure she could too. I just don’t know how to handle this kind of case.

  12. P P at 8:03 am

    Hi I’ve been reading your comments and they seem very sensible therefore can you help as I’m thinking of apologising but not sure?

    I met a woman 2yrs ago and we got on so well it was a bit scary, she was scared that we got so clos so soon, we spoke all the time, she would always call over for hugs etc and said she’s not letting go of me and that she wished she met me years ago, the only bad thing was that she is a bit childish,

    Anyway we argued one night of which she apologised and said she missed me a few days later. She said she was free all weekend but I had plans to go out with some mates which she didn’t like but I offered to cancel so I could see her she said that I’ve made plans I should stick to them, so I went out then that night she text me to say we’re finished!!

    Anyway she wouldn’t talk to me and told her friends I wanted to much to soon, when her friends told me this I showed them the text and they said “Oh it’s not just me its her to” I guess she did t like being proven wrong

    She met somebody else very soon but was having problems with him, she then came near my place of work so we started talking again and she was reminiscing over old times this went on for a few months then she went back to her other man, when I put a post on Facebook a few months later she commented on it, I then put a video post on Facebook about some cooking and she got her friend to comment and basically asked to taste my food??

    I later found out that they had argued about me because the man she was with was very very jealous or threatened by me even though I had never met him??

    So we haven’t spoken again for a while because spilt from him and got a new man but has been staring at me when we drive past each other also a friend picked her up in his taxi a while ago and he said when they drove past the shop I work at she was staring at the shop??

    The last time we spoke via text she said I have caused her problems so even though she wanted to be friends she said we can’t, but then a few days later she went to the shop next to where I work as she knows I always buy food there and I was in there but I ignored here.

    I just don’t know if I should apologise to her, I just don’t want to argue with her anymore as we live near each other so will continue to bump into each other, I’m not perfect but I would rather say hi when we bump into each other because I get the feeling she would like the same.

    Apologies for the long message

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