Apologies are important. Without them (and consequent forgiveness of course) Corey and Topanga couldn’t have grown their relationship into marriage on Boy Meets World, Meredith and Derek wouldn’t have made it past the first season of Grey’s Anatomy, and Blair and Chuck never would have found their way back to one another on Gossip Girl. We’d certainly be cursing TV gods for such disappointing shows. And more importantly, our own relationships would come tumbling down before we could even be sure they were official. But alas, apologies are effective and forgiveness is possible—that is, if you follow my advice in your approach to apologizing. Here are 5 steps to asking for forgiveness that, if followed, ensure the best possible outcome for every sticky situation:

1) Be genuine.

If you want forgiveness and you’re going to apologize, be genuine. Otherwise, save your effort (or lack thereof). Every time me and my brother argue, he starts to laugh because he thinks it’s funny when I get angry. When he knows he’s wrong, he’ll try to muffle his laughter and tell me he’s sorry. But you know what that results in? Further anger on my end, continuing laughter on his, and a full reboot of the entire fight. Only is everything resolved once I stop letting my anger get the best of me and he stops provoking me with his laughter and genuinely apologizes for making me upset. You have to genuinely feel bad and express that in your apology for someone to seriously consider forgiving you.

2) Acknowledge your mistakes.

You’re never going to truly earn forgiveness if you don’t own up to your mistakes. You must take responsibility for what you did wrong and show the other person that you realize you messed up. Communication was a big issue in a past relationship of mine. My ex was the opposite of an open book: he only offered necessary details or none at all. That rang true when it came to fessing up to mistakes and asking for my forgiveness. One night, a very trustworthy friend of mine told me that my ex cheated on me. Knowing exactly what happened, I asked him point blank if it was true. He denied it. Then he admitted to it. But he eased into telling the truth, accepting responsibility for bits and pieces at a time. It’s safe to say, he’s my ex for a reason. Instead of living in a state of denial, admit your mistakes so the individual can think about taking the steps to forgive you.

3)Understand the individual’s feelings.

The whole reason you’re in this mess is because you made a mistake. So even if you’re feeling upset or sorry for yourself, you need to put the other person’s feelings first. Understand if they’re angry with you, accept if they need some space from you, and let them get it all out if they want to discuss their feelings with you. Basically, it’s now your job to cater to their needs and ensure that they’re as good as they can be considering the circumstances.

4) Utilize ingenuity.

Feeling bold and like you might need a little extra luck on your side? Make a grand gesture. Stand outside their window with a boom box blaring above your head. Serenade them on the bleachers in front of the whole school. Show up at their house in the middle of the night, throwing rocks at their window until they agree to talk to you. I’m not telling you to force them into accepting your apology, but maintaining the ‘I won’t take no for an answer’ mentality combined with an impressive performance could definitely persuade them. It certainly worked for John Cusack in Say Anything and Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You.

5) Be respectful.

We already touched on this a little, but the best thing you can do is be respectful of the individual—of their feelings, of their forgiveness process, and their ultimate decision. There’s no given way they should feel or way they should react, it’s all based on the situation at hand, how they view it, and really how you treat them after the matter. If you show them this respect, genuinely acknowledge your mistake, and even risk embarrassing yourself in front of other people for their forgiveness, you just might get it.