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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.

What do You Consider to be a Sincere Apology?

What do you consider to be a sincere apology? What does the person need to say or do that will make it possible for you to forgive them? I have discovered that there are five ways that people typically apologize. I call them the five languages of apology.

  1. Expressing regret. “I’m sorry for what I did.”
  2. Accepting responsibility. “I was wrong.”
  3. Making restitution. “What can I do to make things right?”
  4. Genuine repentance. “I don’t want to ever do that again.”
  5. Requesting forgiveness. “Will you please forgive me?”

Which of these is most important to you? That is your primary apology language. Why not share this information with your family and friends so they will know how to apologize to you.

Love Languages & Apology Languages

She was sitting in my office visibly upset. “I’m sick and tired of his apologies,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” “That’s all he ever says. That’s supposed to make everything all right. Well, I’m sorry, but when he yells and screams at me and calls me names, that doesn’t make it all right. What I want to know is ‘does he still love me, or does he want out of the marriage? If he loves me then why doesn’t he do something to help me around the house?” In that brief statement she revealed to me that her primary love language is “Acts of service” and her primary apology language is “Making Restitution.” How I wished her husband understood this. Learning your spouse’s love language and apology language could literally save your marriage.

Actions that Demonstrate an Apology

If you have been hurt deeply by your spouse or a close friend, you have probably asked this question: “How could they do that if they really loved me?” So, they come to apologize and say, “I’m sorry, I should not have done that. I was wrong.” But you are still asking: “Do you really love me?” That is a legitimate question. Jesus asked that question of Peter three times: “Do you really love me?” When Peter said, “Yes,” Jesus said: “Then feed my sheep.” He gave him something to do to demonstrate his love. Words can be empty. Actions show your sorrow and say to the other person: “In spite of my failure, I really do still love you. I want to make things right between us.” This is the road to lasting relationships.

Apology Vs. Blame

“I’m sorry but if you had not provoked me, I would not have lost my temper.” That is not an apology. It is blaming your spouse for your poor behavior.  Sincere regret needs to stand alone.  It should not be followed with “But…” One husband said, “Her apologies always come across as attacks on me. She says she’s sorry but then she blames me. To me that’s not an apology.”

How about you?  When you say, “I’m sorry,” do you use the word ‘but”?  If so, then you’re not apologizing.  You are blaming.  You are creating resentment inside your spouse.  They have a hard time forgiving you because in their mind you are not apologizing.  In the future, try eliminating the ‘buts’.

There’s more to an apology than saying “I’m sorry”

Perhaps you’ve said “I’m sorry” but your spouse is finding it hard to forgive you. So you feel frustrated and are saying to yourself, “I apologized, what else can I do?” If you’re serious, I’ll tell you. Ask your spouse this question: “What can I do to make this up to you?  I know I hurt you and I feel bad about it, but I want to make it right. I’d like to do something to show you that I love you.”

This is far more powerful than simply saying, “I’m sorry.” You are trying to make restitution. You are demonstrating that you really care about your relationship. After all, what your spouse wants to know is “are you sincere in your apology?”

Apology Language Profile for Adults

The following profile is designed to help you discover your apology language. Read each of the twenty hypothetical scenarios, and check the one response you would most like to hear if that particular situation were to occur in your life. Assume that, in each scenario, you and the other person have a relationship in which it is in both of your best interests to maintain a respectful and considerate attitude. In other words, if the relationship is damaged in some way by the other person, assume that the relationship is important enough that you feel it necessary to receive the other person’s apology when he/she has offended you. Also, assume that the “offender” is aware of his/her offense because you have expressed your hurt in some noticeable, direct way.

Some of the possible responses to each of the twenty scenarios are similar. Focus less on their similarity and more on choosing the response that most appeals to you, and then move on to the next item. Allow 10 to 15 minutes to complete the profile. Take it when you are relaxed, and try not to rush through it.

Q&A: Are we to forgive without receiving an apology?

Question: Jesus said that we are to forgive 70 X 7. Does that mean with an apology or without an apology? My wife never apologizes and I’m having a hard time dealing with the hurt.

Answer: We are to forgive others as God forgives us. So, how does God forgive us? The Scriptures say, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.” If we don’t confess, the Scriptures indicate that God will discipline us (Hebrews 12). Jesus gave us clear instructions in Luke 17: 3, “If your brother (or wife) sins against you, confront him or her. If they repent forgive them.”

In Matthew 18 Jesus said we should make more than one attempt at confronting them. Eventually, if they don’t repent, we are to treat them as a pagan. How do we treat pagans? We pray for them; we love them; we return good for evil. It is unconditional love that often touches the heart of the offender. You will need God’s help to follow God’s plan, but it is the most powerful thing you can do when someone refuses to apologize.

Q&A: Are We to Forgive Without Receiving an Apology?

Question: Jesus said that we are to forgive 70 X 7. Does that mean with an apology or without an apology? My wife never apologizes and I’m having a hard time dealing with the hurt.

Answer: We are to forgive others as God forgives us. So, how does God forgive us? The Scriptures say, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.” If we don’t confess, the Scriptures indicate that God will discipline us (Hebrews 12). Jesus gave us clear instructions in Luke 17: 3, “If your brother (or wife) sins against you, confront him or her. If they repent forgive them.”

In Matthew 18 Jesus said we should make more than one attempt at confronting them. Eventually, if they don’t repent, we are to treat them as a pagan. How do we treat pagans? We pray for them; we love them; we return good for evil. It is unconditional love that often touches the heart of the offender. You will need God’s help to follow God’s plan, but it is the most powerful thing you can do when someone refuses to apologize.