A familiar chain of events in families today is the round-a-bout argument that goes something like this:
“No, you’re not.”
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it”
“Yes, you would. You say it all the time.”
This is the anatomy of the typical apology; one we learned as children. We offended our sibling and were forced to issue a half-hearted apology, which in their turn, they were forced to receive. In effect, Mom and Dad knew we were just going through the motions, and we became suspicious of apologies ever after. After all, we said them to get out of trouble, and it often worked.
Most people are familiar with The Five Love Languages thanks to Dr. Gary Chapman. In fact, the book is practically canon within the Christian community. Less well known is his subsequent book, The Five Languages of Apology. I first heard of this concept at a marriage conference he spoke at in Atlanta, Georgia, I attended with my husband.
It really resonated with me because while my husband and I accepted each other’s requests for forgiveness, they did not seem to result in the reconciliation we hoped for.
So without further ado, let me introduce to you the different languages. My guess is that you will locate yours immediately. Whether you can identify your spouse’s is a different story.
The Five Languages of Apology
- I’m sorry. Unfortunately, this verbal affirmation of one’s remorse is the least effective. Most people, according to the research in the book, do not respond to this particular effort. My guess is for the reason I mentioned above. We are programmed to disregard this apology, forced as children to regurgitate the words, “I’m sorry” as the key to reconciliation. I think that we are more likely to sense insincerity because we ourselves were often insincere.
- I was wrong. Now this one is harder to say. This is my husband’s language of apology and at first, it was a bitter pill. When I figured this out, I dreaded saying it. To me, it felt like I was saying that I was unworthy of love. But quickly I learned that was all me and none of him. For me to admit that I was wrong acted like a healing balm. For my husband to hear me admit that I was wrong puts every crooked thing in the world straight. Before I learned this, when I apologized, he half-heartedly acknowledged it. Now, when I confess that I was in the wrong, his whole being relaxes and whatever it is fades much more easily. I feel forgiven.
- I know I really hurt you. Now Chapman’s talking my language. I need to know that whoever hurt me empathizes and understands my hurt. I need the validation that what was said or done really hurt me and the transgressor understands that. Before when my husband would apologize to me, it never landed. I forgave but the wound was never fully clean. A shard of hurt always remained, and I felt unheard and unloved. Now that he knows that if he wants to mend things, he needs to give me the true empathy and recognition of the effect that his action had on me. This really made it easier for me to fully forgive and forget.
- How can I make it up to you? Restitution tends to be the go to for those with the love language of acts of service. My son-in-law has the heart of a servant. He just knows how to take care of people. So when my beautiful, intelligent, wise, (and hot-headed) daughter oversteps the line, she knows to ask him how she can make it up to him. Usually a small act of service, a sacrifice on the altar of peace, goes a long way towards mending the rift.
- Will you forgive me? This is a humbling question to ask because it puts the control in the hands of the one who is being asked. But for some to feel heard, they must be offered a choice as to whether to forgive or not. Sometimes just saying, “I’m sorry” is presumptuous. It doesn’t recognize the free will and choice of the one handing out forgiveness. I remember reading in high school that the best way to forgive someone is to say, “I forgive you.” We have a tendency to say, “That’s ok,” instead. But that minimizes the offence. If it was really ok, then apology is not necessary. Try it sometime. It actually helps me forgive. It becomes a benediction, helping the one apologizing to receive forgiveness.
If you are not sure of someone’s apology language, you could just go through the list and see what hits. It sounds a bit like groveling to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I know I hurt you. How can I make it up to you? Will you forgive me?” Or maybe it just sounds like one of the best apologies ever.
Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. Luke 17:3-4
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
Find Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’ book here: