Learning to Apologize Effectively

February 11, 2009

Have you ever noticed that what one person considers to be an apology, is not what another person considers to be an apology? What is an apology?

It’s different things to different people. After three years of research, Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I have concluded that there are five basic elements to an apology. We call them the five languages of apology. Each person has a primary apology language, and one of the five speaks more deeply to them emotionally than the other four. If you don’t speak their language, they may consider your apology insincere.

A Question of Sincerity

Ever had someone apologize to you and you questioned their sincerity? Ever ask yourself why? It’s probably because they did not speak your apology language. They said, “I’m sorry.” But what you wanted to hear was, “I was wrong.” They said, “Will you forgive me?” But what you wanted to hear was, “What can I do to make this right?”

Many of our apologies come across as insincere because we are not speaking the apology language of the offended person. If couples can learn each other’s primary apology language and speak it when they offend each other, forgiveness will be much easier.

The Five Languages of Apology

Do you know the five languages of apology?

# 1 – Expressing Regret – “I’m sorry.” “I feel badly about what I did.”

# 2 – Accepting Responsibility – “I was wrong.” “It was my fault.”

# 3 – Making Restitution – “What can I do to make it right?”

# 4 – Genuinely Repenting – “I’ll try not to do that again.”

# 5 – Requesting Forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?”

Speaking the Right One

When you apologize, you are trying to make things right. So you say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know I hurt you and I feel badly about it. Will you forgive me?” But your spouse says, “How could you do that if you loved me? How can I forgive you when you never do anything to ‘make it right’?” You feel frustrated and don’t know what to do next. The problem is not your sincerity; the problem is that you are not speaking the right apology language.

Which Do You Want to Hear?

Which one of the five languages of apology do you want to hear? That is your primary apology language.

Apologize effectively by learning your spouse’s apology language and speaking it when you know you have offended each other. Ask your spouse, “When I apologize, what do you want to hear from me?” You may be surprised at their answer, but it will give you their primary apology language. Learning to speak each other’s apology language will lead you to a growing marriage.


  1. I loved this. SO true. According to your blog here, my husband is wonderful at apologizing (not that he has to that often!). He does all 5 of the languages. I am not so great at it, but am getting better! TY for this and many blessings!

  2. Thank you for a very useful post. My boyfriend sometimes thinks that I am apologizing without regretting what I have done or said. It appears that his love language is #3, making restitution. I will definitely keep this in mind (not that I want to do something to upset him, of course, but I am human…).

  3. I know that this has been a much needed area for couples to learn. It is definitely something that we have had to learn over the years and still are learning after almost 19 years. Thank you for your friendship and love for helping couples learn to live within God’s design of marriage.We love you!Michelle (Johnston) Dixon

  4. i love your books and what you do to effectively express what we can do to better be in a love relationship with others. i have learned SO much about myself and others through your ministry! i look forward to reading more on here….God bless!!!! 🙂

  5. I love that these books work toward healing and building relationships. Thank you for all your effort Mr.Chapman 🙂

  6. You are currently one of my favorite Christian authors that I am following – my husband and are are going through your “A Couple’s Guide to a Growing Marriage” and we are enjoying it and getting a lot of very usefull information for making our marriage better.Thank you for your love of the Lord and help with making things easy to understand and apply to our daily lives!

  7. Wow! I never really thought about this! I've recommended your books many times over to friends & family. I'll add this one to the list!!! Thank you so much! May God continue to bless you in your ministry!

  8. any suggestions for getting over “speed bumps” from old hurts that have never been worked through? My husband says I am being unforgiving if I bring up past hurts but I am trying to get him to see that he is still doing the same things and still hurting me.

  9. WOW! That was eye-opening to me! I need to get this book asap!! :o) I have a hard time apologizing and when I do, it is not always considered sincere by the other party. I can clearly see some of the steps I am missing. Thank you for this wonderful advice! It’s powerful and life changing!!

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