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The Languages of Apology

What do you say or do when you apologize to someone? For some, it’s “I’m sorry.” To them, that is an apology. To others, “I’m sorry,” is just getting started. They want to hear, “I was wrong. I should not have done that. What can I do to make it up to you? I want to find a way that I will not repeat this behavior next week. I do hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me.” After two years of research, Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I discovered that there are five ways that people typically apologize. We called them the five languages of apology. Most people only speak one or two of the languages – the ones we were taught as children. In order to apologize effectively, we must learn to speak our apology in a way that the other person will understand.

Apologizing Enhances Self-Esteem

People who grow up with low self-esteem, often find it difficult to apologize. To them, an apology seems to be a sign of weakness. In reality, apologizing enhances one’s self-esteem. People respect the man or woman who is willing to take responsibility for their own failures. Receiving the respect and admiration of others thus enhances how we feel about ourselves. On the other hand, those who try to hide or excuse wrongful behavior will almost always lose the respect and affirmation of others. A sincere apology is always a sign of maturity, not a sign of weakness. Apology opens the door to forgiveness. And forgiveness means that we can now continue to grow in our relationship. It’s never too late to learn to apologize.

Barriers are Removed with Apologies

When Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I wrote the book: The five languages of Apology, we discovered that some people almost never apologize. One wife said, “My husband rarely apologizes, because he doesn’t see a lot of what he does as wrong. He finds it hard to admit that he makes mistakes.” This husband is living in an unrealistic world. All of us sometimes make harsh, critical, and unloving comments. When we are unwilling to accept responsibility for our words or behavior we erect a barrier between us and the person we hurt. Barriers are not removed without apologies and forgiveness. In fact, you cannot have a growing marriage without apologies.

Why is Apologizing so Hard?

Why is apologizing so hard? One husband said, “I know I did wrong, but so did she. In fact, she precipitated the whole thing. Why should I apologize when she’s the one who started it?” The problem with the waiting game is that the average lifespan for men and women is 75 years. How much of your life do you want to spend in a ‘cold war’? I’ve know people who have spent 30 years living in the same house, waiting for the other person to apologize. Why would you do that? I know it’s not all your fault, but some of it is. Apologize for your part and see what happens. The first step is often the hardest. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Take responsibility for your failures and request forgiveness.