When you’re trying to figure out what to say to get your girlfriend back, the first thing you have to ask is, “why did she leave?” If you’re thinking you have any chance at all, it’s because you did something boneheaded. If she left “for cause,” as the lawyers say, you have less of a chance. That is, if it’s a structural problem—you have seriously different values, she wants to live in the city and you’re a farm boy (or the other way around), or she dumped you for the professor, I’d usually suggest a different response (see “how do you get a girlfriend?” will b).
Presuming the reason falls generically under the “you did something identifiably boneheaded,” then, the answer to “What do you say to get your girlfriend back?” is usually, “I’m sorry.”
90% of the time, saying “I’m sorry, and it will never happen again” will get your girlfriend back, IF anything’s going to work. However, if you’re reading this article, you probably tried apologizing already. Now you’re wondering, “why didn’t it work?” or “what else can I do?”
(I’ll write more soon about how to think through whether or not you really want to get your girlfriend back, but for today, let’s allow that trying to repair your current relationship is the right decision to make.)
Why didn’t saying “I’m Sorry” get your girlfriend back?
Here’s where people get “apologizing” wrong:
Did you make a mistake, or was what happened really the result of a choice?
A “mistake” happens when you did something wrong, but you didn’t know before hand that it was going to turn out wrong, and most reasonable people in your shoes / your age would not have known it was going to turn out wrong. You spilled something on her dress, for example. You broke the lamp. You ran over her dog, when he ran out in front of the car.
Mistakes are often forgiveable. Sometimes, your apology should be accompanied by a check. “Here—let me replace it.” (This will not work if the dog died.)
Effective apologies have an understanding of personal responsibility attached. If your apology in some way passes the buck, or worse, points the finger at her, just save your breath. “I’m sorry I made you cry,” for example, is not apologizing for what you did; it’s really putting the blame on her for reacting the way she did.
Where we get into to trouble is when we confuse “mistakes” with “choices.” A mistake is an outcome that turned out to be wrong. A choice, on the other hand, is when you took a course of action of your own free will, and the consequences were bad. In addition, pretty much anyone of sound mind could have predicted the consequences, given a hypothetical question about the choice you made.
While I don’t normally quote Dr. Laura, I have found this one sentence of hers invaluable: “Our problems are usually the inevitable and predictable consequences of our own actions.”
You vomited on her dress, because you were toasted, again. You broke the lamp, because you shoved her into it during a fight. You’ve promised to be true, and she caught you with her girlfriend.
Once you’ve ever been too drunk, drinking too much is a choice, not a “mistake.” (12 Step programs understand drinking and choice a little differently, but they don’t let you off with a “mistake” apology, either.) (By the way, saying “I’m sorry I did that” when the foul was sleeping with her girlfriend will not only not get your own girlfriend back, but will also offend her girlfriend.)
Bad choices are corrected with amends, not apologies. You have to make it right. Merely promising “not to do that again” is not sufficient. You have to also fix what you broke and restore what you destroyed, whatever that takes (cleaning the carpet? detailing the car? Those are easy compared to restoring trust), and implement a behavior change that will prevent the same bad choice again.
The fact is, there may be nothing you can SAY to get your girlfriend back, if she left because of your poor decision. You can only DO something—live a new life, one that makes amends for the damage you caused, and that demonstrates you won’t make that choice again. Don’t be sorry–be different.