FamilyLife Blog

5 Apologies That Work

by | Mar 27, 2020 | Conflict, Marriage

My husband’s very good at apologizing. It’s not that I don’t apologize. Admitting when you’re wrong is hard, but I always do it when I believe I’m wrong. It’s just that the way I apologize doesn’t get received as being sincere. I’m working on getting better at apologizing and this is what I’ve learned so far.

In any apology, the hearer is usually willing to accept it if we believe the apologizer is sincere. The problem comes in how we determine whether or not someone is sincere. This all has to do with how we were taught to apologize.

We Didn’t Hear Each Other

In my family, we can do or say something nice as a gesture of apology. If we use words, we just say, “I’m sorry” — and that is enough. But in my husband’s family, apologies are more detailed than that. Rather than simply saying, “I’m sorry,” they say what they’re sorry for. In his family, apologies are specific. He’s used to hearing things like, “I’m sorry I reacted without getting clarification first.”

Our different methods of apologizing have lead to some complicated situations in our home. I would do something inconsiderate. My husband would point it out. I’d mull it over, agree internally that it was inconsiderate, and do something nice as a gesture of apology. Then my husband would get mad that I glossed over the issue by doing something nice. I’d be left confused by the whole incident.

Other times I would do something inconsiderate. My husband would point it out. I’d mull it over, agree, and say, “I’m sorry.”

My husband would say, “You’re not sorry, you don’t even know what you’re sorry for!”

So I would say, “But I agree with you! I’m really sorry!”

And would he say, “I don’t believe you’re truly sorry.” Once again, I’d be confused.

5 Ways to Apologize

The differences in the way my husband and I hear apologies are pretty common. So what do we do when the person we love doesn’t hear us when we say, “I’m sorry”? In his book Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, Dr. Gary Chapman details five languages of apology that are universal.

1. Expressing regret — This language appeals to the emotions. It indicates that we are aware that we caused pain. “I’m sorry I spoke harshly. I know I’ve hurt your feelings and I’m so sorry for that.”

2. Accepting responsibility — This language spells out what was done wrong. “I was wrong to speak to you in that tone. I shouldn’t have reacted like that.”

3. Making restitution — This one is all about how to make up. Usually the request will fall in line with that person’s love language. “I can’t believe I reacted that way. Please tell me what I can do to make it up to you.”

4. Expressing the desire to change behaviour — This one is pretty self-explanatory. “I keep losing my temper and I know that’s not right. I don’t want to repeat this. Can you think of anything that could help make sure this doesn’t happen?”

5. Requesting forgiveness — This is where forgiveness has to be requested before the apology is seen as being sincere. “I’m so sorry I spoke harshly and reacted the way I did. I know this hurts you. Will you please forgive me?”

One of these apology languages will resonate more strongly. (For me it’s expressing regret). And likely, a different one will resonate more strongly with your spouse. (For my husband it’s accepting responsibility). Now we’re learning how to apologize in each other’s languages, as well as to extend the grace in accepting an apology that didn’t come out in our preferred language.

Something else I try to practice is to never say “I’m sorry… but…,” even if there was wrongdoing on the other side. The “but” nullifies the whole apology. It’s an attempt to excuse your own bad behavior based on their bad behaviour. It takes strength and humility, but we always have a choice over our actions. Let’s be responsible for owning up on our end.