The Five Apology Languages: When “I’m Sorry” Doesn’t Cut It

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Maybe you’ve heard of the love languages, the way we most need to receive love, but did you know that we each also have our own apology language? The way that you give and receive “I’m sorry” can make all the difference in whether you truly get past an argument or if you hold resentment until you explode. We each require to hear something different to move on, and sometimes “I’m sorry” just doesn’t cut it.

This language system was researched and developed by the same creator of the love languages Gary Chapman, with help from psychologist Jennifer Thomas. Here’s what they found out.

Expressing Regret

man hides his face with his hands covered in tattoos

Felopepelaquim / Unsplash

Felopepelaquim / Unsplash

The first apology language may seem like the most simple one, it’s just saying the words “I’m sorry” Yet, this is still difficult for some of us to do when we have to swallow our pride. We then allow the guilt to set in by admitting that we’re in the wrong.

The authors do suggest giving the apology some more value by also listing out our recognition of the hurtful effects of our actions. That way our words seem sincere and our “sorry” isn’t just a sorry that we got caught.

Accepting Responsibility

woman stands with her hands on her hips while looking away from man apologizing

Alex Green / Unsplash

Alex Green / Unsplash

An apology is basically canceled if it’s given alongside a bunch of excuses. A sincere apology doesn’t justify our hurtful actions. Maybe there actually was a very good reason behind why we behaved the way we did, but in the moment, the circumstances don’t matter for this language.

This apology language needs accountability to be taken. Even if you’re not exactly sorry for what you did, at least say sorry for the way it made the other person feel.

Genuinely Repent

woman hugs man from behind with her ees closed

Gustavo / Pexels

Gustavo / Pexels

By the author’s definition to repent is “to turn around” or “to change one’s mind.” Those with this apology language need some kind of validation that it’s truly sincere. To do that, they need assurance that it won’t happen again.

While it may be impossible to predict the future, you can both make a plan together to ensure success. For example decide before conflict whether one of you should walk away and come back when they’ve calmed down, or whether you want to write letters to each other when you’re angry to let out your thoughts concisely. Whatever the method, it provides some sort of guarantee of effort towards repentance.

Making Restitution

man and woman sit at table with wine talking

Cotton Bro / Unsplash

Cotton Bro / Unsplash

Think of this apology language this way: when a kid steals another’s kid toy, what do we tell them to do? Not only do we encourage the kid to apologize, but also to return the stolen toy. The same goes for wrongful actions or words. Rather than apologize with no action, those with this apology language need to see change.

You can take them out to dinner, or clean up the dishes that night, just to show them that you will physically try to do better.

Requesting Forgiveness

man and woman stand in front of window holding hands

A. L. / Unsplash

A. L. / Unsplash

​This one is one of the hardest to give for some of us. To ask someone to free us of guilt can set both of us free, but asking for forgiveness is a huge risk. It requires a lot of vulnerability as this puts us in a position where we have to give up all of our power and give it to the person we’re apologizing to.

They might reject it, and they might even end the relationship. But, when this is their apology language saying the magic words “will you forgive me?” might be the secret to healing and moving forward.

Higher Perspectives Author

Higher Perspectives Author is one of the authors writing for Higher Perspectives