Name-calling is a serious issue that falls into the category of verbal abuse. Whether it is the first time you called your girlfriend names or it is something that happens regularly when conflict arises, a casual apology isn't sufficient. If you want to maintain a healthy relationship with your girlfriend, the name-calling will have to stop. And your apology has to be honest, empathetic and solution-oriented if it is going to be effective.
Sincerity Is Essential
Sincerity is a key element in a heartfelt apology. When making a sincere apology, take time to think about what happened between you and your girlfriend. Don't apologize because it is socially expected or because your girlfriend demands it. That would be an insincere apology. Apologize only if you sincerely believe that you were wrong to call her names. Losing your temper and calling her names doesn't make you a bad person, but it is a clear indication that you need to learn how to handle conflicts better.
Full, Honest Ownership
Be specific and honest when you apologize to your girlfriend. Don't try to minimize what happened by insinuating she's being overly sensitive or should know you didn't really mean it because you were angry. Saying that you wouldn't have called her names if she hadn't used the tone of voice she did, that you'd had too much to drink or that you'd argued with your boss all day at work sounds like you're shifting the blame -- and, thus, the responsibility -- elsewhere. Own your actions completely, making it clear that they were yours and they were wrong.
How You Made Her Feel
Empathy is essential to the process, according to “I’m Sorry: Three Components of an Effective Apology,” a "Psychology Today” article by David Bedrick, a counselor, teacher, lawyer and writer. Think about how the name-calling made your girlfriend feel as you plan your apology. Consider not only the pain those words caused but also how they may have made her view you and the future of your relationship. Talk to her about these things to let her know that you spent time thinking about the effects of your words.
Plan to Make It Better
Have a solid plan to offer with your apology that details how the future will be different. Detail resources for learning how to better manage conflict that you're willing to use, such as a local class or a self-help program. Discuss and agree on some basic conflict ground rules. These can include sticking to the subject at hand, not dragging in past conflicts, being respectful to each other with no yelling and no name-calling and honoring time-out requests by stopping discussion and resuming it after a cooling-down period. Ask your girlfriend what else you can do to make up for what happened. Taking these steps can help to restore her confidence in you and the relationship.
- Michigan State University Extension: Verbal Abuse Is More Than Name Calling
- University of Massachusetts Amherst, Family Business Center: How to Give a Meaningful Apology
- Psychology Today: I’m Sorry: 3 Components of an Effective Apology
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Marriage Enrichment: Conflict Resolution
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