So you did something to hurt your boyfriend and now you want to fix it.
Don’t worry — we’ve all been there. Everyone makes mistakes and our romantic relationships aren’t immune to them.
But that doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed once you make a mistake; there are ways to make it up to him (that don’t necessarily involve dozens of roses or a fireworks display). Don’t just sweep it under the rug.
In this article, you’ll learn what to do when you’ve hurt your boyfriend and you want to fix it.
Take a look at why you did what you did. Of course, this depends on the context of your mistake but this step is important not to miss.
If your mistake was a graver one, ask yourself why you did it in the first place.
Do you still want to be in this relationship? Would you do it again if you had the chance, or would you do things differently?
Apologizing for the sake of it when you know there might be a chance you’ll do it again is pointless and additionally disrespectful to your partner.
Think about the mistake in the context of your relationship to see if it’s still something you can save (and whether you actually want to do that).
If you decide that you want to keep the relationship going, you can begin making up for it.
As the saying goes, the apology has to be as loud as the wrong move was. (Again, this doesn’t mean a grand fireworks display in public as an apology.)
Consider the magnitude of what you did (and its consequences) when acting out the following tips for making things better when you’ve hurt your boyfriend.
1) Take responsibility for your mistake
The first step to fixing something is knowing what you’re trying to fix.
Step back from the situation for some perspective. What exactly did you do?
You can’t fix the hurt if you don’t know where the hurt is coming from. Identify the mistake you made and accept that you were wrong for what you did, not that your boyfriend is wrong for how he feels about it.
Owning up to our mistakes isn’t fun. As a defense mechanism, we can attempt to shift the blame towards the other person for our own comfort.
In this case, you made a mistake and should shoulder the blame, so act like it; show your boyfriend that you know what you did was wrong and are willing to make things right.
Talk to him about it as soon as possible; don’t wait for him to be the one to bring it up if you already know that you messed up. Pretending like nothing happened until he says something shows that you didn’t have the initiative to take responsibility for your actions, so confront it sooner rather than later.
Don’t wait for their feelings to be compounded and made even worse because not only did you do something wrong, you also didn’t try to make it right as soon as possible.
Accept within yourself that you did something wrong and that your objective now is to ask for forgiveness — not to be right. If you go into the apology stage thinking you need to prove to him that he’s wrong for being hurt, your apology will be insincere and will get you nowhere.
If you’re truly at fault, remember that when you’re asking for forgiveness by being humble about it.
2) Acknowledge his feelings
Once you’ve acknowledged your own faults, acknowledge how he feels about it.
If you did something wrong, he must be feeling hurt. No matter how you feel about the situation, don’t downplay his pain because it isn’t your pain. Don’t ignore it or make jokes about it, especially before he’s forgiven you.
Remember that this isn’t about you; you caused his hurt, so don’t acknowledge his feelings to bulldoze over it with your own. You can explain your side later, but for now, focus on him and his feelings. Never assume that you feel the same things, so explicitly ask him how he feels about the situation.
If you’ve hurt him, he wants to feel understood and respected, so listen to what he says with the intent of understanding — not with the intent of immediately making excuses for yourself depending on what he says.
Let’s say he says, “this thing that you did hurt me”.
If your immediate response to that is “But I didn’t mean to and I wasn’t being aggressive anyway and—”, step back and focus on him first. Explain later.
For now, what’s important is that he feels safe talking to you about his feelings because he knows that you’ll genuinely listen to him.
How to acknowledge and validate his feelings
Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., shares three steps to take to validate someone’s feelings.
1) Identify and acknowledge the emotion
Communicate with your boyfriend to make it clear what emotions he’s feeling. Is he more hurt than angry? Does he feel betrayed?
If he doesn’t outright say what he feels, try guessing and then asking if you’re right. What’s important is that the two of you establish the starting point, which is how he feels about what you did.
Once you do, you can say something like “I understand that you’re _____”, to let him know that you’re aware of what he’s feeling.
2) Acknowledge the source of the emotion
Like we said, it’s important to first take responsibility for your mistake. This includes being open to your boyfriend about what it was (or what you think it was).
If you’re not 100% sure what exactly hurt him, now’s the time to ask.
Don’t talk over him and allow him to express himself.
3) Validate the emotion
Communicate that you accept what he’s feeling, even when you might not completely get his reasoning or you think it doesn’t make sense to you.
Our emotions are uncontrollable and not always something that everyone understands. Your boyfriend is no exception; be open to how he feels about you (even when it’s really tempting to get defensive) and let him know that you understand.
To validate his emotions, you could say things like:
“I can see how you would feel that way.”
“That must be really hard for you.”
“I understand that what I did made you feel this way.”
3) Sincerely apologize
This is an important step that you can never skip. You need to outright and explicitly apologize for what you did and not a fake apology to appease him. You have to apologize sincerely, or else the chances that you’ll patch it up become slim.
An important thing to remember here is that you shouldn’t make him feel bad for feeling bad.
When talking to him, there’s a big difference between “I’m sorry that that’s how you felt”, and “I’m sorry for what I did that made you feel this way”.
See the difference? The first sounds like you’re not sorry about what you did and it’s his fault that he felt hurt. The second sounds more like you’re taking responsibility for your actions.
This isn’t to say that you can’t explain your side at all, but again, be conscious of how you phrase your explanations. Don’t make it look like you’re forgiving yourself on his behalf because of your explanation. You still hurt him, and the forgiving part is up to him.
Explain, don’t excuse. Phrasing is everything when you’re trying to regain someone’s trust, and there’s another difference between “I said this to you because you annoyed me after a long day” and “I had a long day and accidentally took it out on you, and I’m sorry for that.”
Explaining rather than excusing yourself gives you a chance to let him know why you did what you did, but it doesn’t come across as if you’re saying his feelings are invalid.
What to avoid saying if you’re scared of saying the wrong things
- “It’s not a big deal/you’re overreacting.” – Going back to not downplaying his pain, don’t be the one to decide what is and isn’t a big deal. Again, don’t assume that you feel the same way about things.
- “You don’t make sense.” – Instead of saying this (which sounds like you’re not making an effort to understand him), ask him to clarify what he’s saying. Don’t dismiss how he feels just because you don’t immediately get it.
- “Why are you so sensitive?” – This makes it sound like you’re blaming him for feeling that way when his reaction was only to something that you did.
- “Nothing at all“ – Whatever happens, do not say “nothing at all”. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., says that this shows your partner that you don’t care about him and his feelings. If you’re at fault, don’t act like nothing happened.
4) Give him space
“Don’t go to sleep upset at each other” isn’t always the best advice.
Some things can only be solved after some time apart from the other person; there are volatile situations that you need to step back from or else you both might say something you’ll regret.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the type of person who likes to face things head-on. You have to wait until he comes to you.
Do things at his pace and take things slow if that’s what he wants; don’t assume that you need the same amount of time for space. He could say that he needs a few hours or that he needs a week. Either way, you need to respect that that’s his process for dealing with his emotions.
Let him know that you’re willing to do what it takes to fix things with him, even if it includes not seeing each other for a while. That can be scary; you might be thinking that giving him time away from you will make him used to your absence and cause a breakup.
If he loves you, he won’t do that. Just give him the alone time that he needs.
Don’t push to fix things as soon as possible if he isn’t ready for it.
5) If he’s ready, show him some love
Everyone’s got one or more of the five love languages. When he’s ready to talk again, show him that you love and care for him using one (or all) of his.
If his love language is words of affirmation, make sure you verbally express your love to him and communicate openly about your desire to make things better.
If it’s material things, give him gifts; they don’t have to be extravagant, but make them meaningful to show him that you know him and are making an effort to find the best possible gift for him.
For physical touch, show him physical affection. Hug and kiss him, hold his hand while you’re watching a movie, and all the ways you know he appreciates.
If it’s act of service, ask him what you can do to make him feel better. Ask him if he needs anything from the grocery store if he would like a massage — little things to show that you’re willing to put in the effort to mend things between you two.
Lastly, if his love language is quality time, put your planning skills to use. Go out on dates, set aside time exclusively to spend time with each other, do activities that he loves.
It’s also possible that his love language isn’t one of the five, and that’s okay. If you don’t already know what it is, ask him. If his love language is receiving photos of cats or talking about shoes, show that you’re interested in those too.
Bottom line, if you hurt your boyfriend and you’re trying to fix it, show him some love in a way that he’ll appreciate (because it’s not always the same love you assume you should give him).
6) Talk about what comes next
The big question — will he forgive you?
Explicitly ask if things are okay between the two of you after you’ve tried making it up to him. Bear in mind that it’s possible that no matter what you do, he chooses not to forgive you (especially if the mistake was severe).
Maybe there’s a mismatch in the way you were trying to make it up to him. Communicate about whether you made things a bit better or he didn’t feel better at all because you might have been doing something wrong.
If what happened was big, it might be hard to bounce back. It’s possible for you to take these steps more than once, or for you to take these steps and end up not being forgiven by your boyfriend. But that comes with the mistake that you’ve now accepted that you made.
Talk about your expectations for the relationship. Do you both see this experience as something that you can move past, or is what happened not something that you can move on from? If he forgives you, what change can he expect from you?
Especially during these conversations, you have to be patient and keep in mind why this is happening in the first place. It’s easy to get defensive when talking about the situation, but if you want to fix the relationship, you both have to calmly and objectively talk about what happened and whether there’s still a relationship to save there.
If he chooses not to forgive you and you think you’ve done all that you can, maybe it’s time to seriously consider ending the relationship.
If he does choose to forgive you, resolve to do better in the future.
7) Do better but accept that things might change — for good
Remember what hurt him and promise him that you intend to never do it again.
The promise is only the beginning; you have to commit to walking the talk to see it through.
If you hurt him because you snapped at him, work on your impatience. If you hurt him for more serious reasons (like cheating), consider going to couples’ therapy to talk it out with a professional.
Be more cautious of your behavior and learn from your mistakes.
Things might change in your dynamic depending on what happened, and that can’t always be reversed. What will happen is that your relationship will be a new one; how that works is up to the two of you. Good things can come out of this transformation, and you both can learn and grow from it.
With all of this in mind, don’t panic if you’ve hurt your boyfriend and you don’t know what to do; put all these steps into practice. If you take all of these steps and he forgives you, there’s hope for your relationship.
Take this whole situation and learn from it, because it’s the only way forward.
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