“I am sorry.” Those three simple words can be so hard to say, yet if you’re trying to maintain any meaningful, healthy relationships in your life, there will probably come a time when you’ll need to utter the phrase.

Early in our marriage, we quickly realized that the easiest way to hurt each other was verbally. Ronnie has two children from a previous relationship. As a blended family, we discovered that one of our biggest challenges was finding common ground on issues such as discipline. My wife thought I was strict and that I was harder on the kids because they were biologically hers, not ours. Additionally, she had no frame of reference because we didn’t have children together yet. During a particularly bitter blowup, I told Ronnie, “Your child is ridiculous,” and she told me, “You’re not a good dad.” Our words cut each other like a hot knife through butter. We’d both hit where it hurt most: our parenting skills. I was crushed. She was embarrassed. And we were at a stalemate.

When your actions are harmful to the ones you love, regardless of whether intentional, how do you move forward?

The answer lies within making a sincere apology. But just “I’m sorry” is not enough. The perfect apology has a combination of compassion, accountability and timing. In our marriage, we had to learn that “I’m sorry” only put issues to bed temporarily unless the words were complemented with empathy. The offending party needs to come to a real understanding of the transgression so it won’t continue to happen. Love has to be bigger than any person’s ego.

Apologies are also most impactful when they are tailored to a specific audience. Here’s our advice on how to reconcile with any loved one:

Read more in the December 2014 issue of EBONY Magazine.