Apology and Acceptance in Intimate Partner Relationships

Document Type

Book Chapter


Brown Walker Press


E. Kourkoutas and F. Erkman


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




This chapter was originally published as: Slocum, D., Mckillop, D. R., Allan, A. , Allan, M. M., & Drake, D. G. (2011). Apology and acceptance in intimate partner relationships. In E. Kourkoutas and F. Erkman (Eds.). Interpersonal acceptance and rejection: Social, emotional and educational contexts (pp. 175-181). Brown Walker Press.


A range of human needs and motivations, such as those for adult attachment and acceptance, is met in the context of intimate partner relationships. However, by virtue of that intimacy, such relationships also have the potential for more negative interactions, such as transgressions by one partner that are experienced as rejection or as a betrayal of trust by the other. Part of the ongoing task of relationship maintenance and repair is the offering of an apology and its acceptance. Relationship restoration is enhanced by apologies that are accepted as genuine and as indications that the transgressor is truly sorry. The present study took a phenomenological perspective to investigate experiences of apology and identified apology aspects that led to the belief that the transgressor was truly sorry for the offence. Participants were ten male and thirteen female adults (aged 2.6-58 years) in intimate relationships whose partners had committed a serious transgression in the previous two years. Audio-taped, in depth, semi-structured interviews produced extensive transcripts that were analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Findings, in association with quantitative measures that were not the main focus of this report, indicated that an apology, alone, was not significantly associated with forgiveness. However, the transgressors' perceived sorriness was significantly associated with apology and forgiveness. The grounded theory methodology generated a preliminary framework for understanding what constitutes an authentic apology in the specific context of relationship transgressions. Important elements of apology were expressions of affirmation, affect and action with a self-other focus, rather than a self-focused apology that emphasized the wrongdoer's own perspective. Conclusions regarding the utility of the framework for couples counseling and suggestions for extending it through testing in various alternative contexts are offered.

This document is currently not available here.