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Sorry, But It’s Your Responsibility to Know Your Apology Languages

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Saying we’re sorry is a confusing experience, but we’re presented the rules like they’re simple and immutable: If you hurt someone, say you’re sorry. If someone says they’re sorry, say you forgive them.

For most of us, those rules don’t get reexamined much since we’re taught them in kindergarten.

But Dr. Gary Chapman thinks they should be.

Recognize the name?

He’s the same man who brought us the five love languages… And in case you don’t remember those, they are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Chapman believes it’s important to healthy, functioning relationships for each partner to understand how they prefer to receive love as well as give love. The idea is that being able to reflect on your preferences allows you to effectively communicate them to your partner, and understand the ways they’re showing you love even if it isn’t the same way you would show love.

Turns out, knowing your apology language preferences is vitally important for conflict resolution.

How often have you found yourself frustrated that your partner thought a bunch of flowers would soften your ire when all you really wanted was for them to help with the laundry? Or said they were sorry, but didn’t seem to understand that you wanted them to show you that they were committed to changing the offending behavior?

Let’s break down the five apology languages, so that you can clearly rank them for yourself.

Apology Language #1: Accepting Responsibility

This apology language is all about eliminating the “but” clause of an apology. “I’m sorry I didn’t make dinner tonight, but there wasn’t anything in the fridge.”

It’s an unequivocal admission of remorse. “I made you a promise and I broke it.”

If this is your preferred apology language, you probably don’t often provide reasons or excuses for your behavior. No mention of the traffic when you were late, because it doesn’t matter. You were still late.

If this is your preferred apology receipt, it may not be clear to those around you and can cause friction when you feel like your needs can only be honored if the external circumstances allow it. You may just want to hear someone say “I was wrong” without any decorative reasoning.

Apology Language #2: Expressing Regret

Here’s where you can include the “but” clause of an apology, as long as your remorse is sincere.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get here on time, but the traffic was really heavy. I know that it impacted your day and I regret it.”

This may be your default apology-style, and it may be enough to hear when someone else is sorry. Consider carefully whether hearing this apology really solves the problem for you, and if giving this kind of apology really solves the problem for the intended party.

Apology Language #3: Requesting Forgiveness

This kind of apology style can serve as an addendum to any apology, and is often overlooked. 

Why?

Because it means giving up control. It means accepting the possibility that the answer to “Will you forgive me?” might be “no”. But for someone you’ve hurt or offended, knowing that you’re willing to respect their decision about how to move forward from a transgression can be immensely healing.

Do you need to be asked for forgiveness? Are you also willing to ask if that’s what your loved one needs to hear?

Apology Language #4: Genuinely Repenting

Everyone’s interpretation of “genuine” is a little different, so you’ll have to get as granular as possible if this is your apology language.

Genuinely repenting can look like making a plan of action to prevent the offensive behavior from occurring again. “I’m sorry I was late. I didn’t plan for traffic. In the future, I’ll make sure that I leave 15 minutes earlier than I usually do.”

It can look like creating new systems to make the offended party feel more comfortable trusting you not to cause them hurt again.

Apology Language #5: Making Restitution

This apology style leans on knowledge of the five languages for it to work. 

What will make you feel better when you’ve been hurt? Is it spending quality time together to make up for the time lost when your loved one was late? Is it words of affirmation, hearing from the person who hurt you that they care about you and factor you into their decisions? That being late wasn’t about not caring enough about being on time?

Making restitution is about reassuring the person you’ve offended that they’re loved and cared for, in their language — not yours.

It’s always worth having a conversation with your loved ones about your personal styles and preferences, and being equally curious about theirs. 

Love doesn’t last without work — and the real work is knowing yourself and your loved ones well enough to know what they need. 

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