What Are Apology Languages & How Can They Help Your Relationship?

Uttering “I’m sorry” to our partner is sometimes more difficult than saying, “I love you.” Both phrases are essential in building a solid relationship. Like love languages, wherein we learn about how we give and receive love, mastering an apology language is a great tool in repairing and growing a relationship.

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“I believe that heartfelt apologies are one of the key aspects of a healthy relationship,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, author of Date Smart and Joy from Fear.Many people fear making apologies because they mistakenly think an apology is a sign of ‘being wrong’ or ‘being weak.’ We all make mistakes because we are imperfect, and when we slow down to truly apologize for our errors, we show respect and love for ourselves and others.”

And, as Dr. Manly puts it, when we see that we’ve hurt a partner — someone we really love — it only makes sense that we want to learn how to not hurt that person again. However, despite our good intentions, all humans are wired differently and not every apology will be heard and received no matter how earnest and sincere it might be. This is where the Apology Languages comes in to save the day — and our relationships.

“Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas developed The Five Apology Languages to smooth and preserve relationships. Through their copious amounts of research and feedback from real-life couples, they designed a framework that could be useful in understanding how we prefer to give and receive apologies,” says Victoria Licandro, a Brooklyn-based psychotherapist working in private practice at Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy. “The beauty of the Five Apology Languages lies in their simplicity and accessibility. Every couple has conflict. The question is: do you have a functional structure for dealing with it?”

By following the Five Apology Languages, you can have that structure.

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Accepting Responsibility

In this apology language, says Manly, the focus is on being fully accountable. “The person who feels hurt wants and needs the other person to take responsibility for the harm that was done. A heartfelt apology will include the nature of the mistake or harm as well as clear responsibility-taking.”  An example of an Accepting Responsibility apology:  “I take full responsibility for not remembering we had plans tonight. I can see how much I’ve hurt you by not being on top of my schedule.”

Expressing Regret

According to Licandro, this is the simple act of offering a genuine, no-frills “I’m sorry.”

“The potency of this apology language rises and falls on one’s sincerity and acknowledgment of the emotional hurt they caused,” she says. “Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe for some. However, a barefaced apology with no qualifying footnotes can be the hardest to deliver for those who struggle with pride and ego-related issues.”

To increase the impact of your regret, Lincandro suggests listing the hurtful effects of your actions and inactions. “Why are you sorry? Because you’ve been called out? Or because you understand how you may have contributed to the regrettable incident at hand?” Essentially, this language telegraphs that you understand the intricacies of what went awry, which will go a long way in validating your partner’s emotions.

An example of an Expressing Regret apology:I am so sorry I upset you by taking out my work stress on you. I can see how much I’ve hurt you, and I truly apologize.”

Requesting Forgiveness

In this apology language, “The focus is on a request for forgiveness,” says Dr. Manly. “The individual who feels hurt or harmed needs to hear the words, ‘Please forgive me.’  The person who is hurting wants the other individual to sincerely ask for forgiveness; it is then in the hands of the hurt individual to decide when—or if—to forgive the other person.”

The key to this apology language, says Dr. Manly, is the responsibility of the party who caused the harm to specifically ask for forgiveness and then give time and space for forgiveness to occur.

An example of a Requesting Forgiveness apology: Would you please forgive me for forgetting our anniversary? I know I’ve hurt you and ask for you to consider forgiving me.”

Genuinely Repenting

“This one goes out to the “the-best-apology-is-changed-behavior” crowd,” says Licandro. “If your partner values genuinely repenting as an apology language, this means that a change of your behavior is in order.” Rather than stopping at just expressing regret, with this language, “you’re going the extra mile to communicate a strong desire for future change and eventually, set realistic goals to bring about said changes.” This apology language is highly future-oriented because it rests on your commitment to grow and evolve. Liacandro says for this language it’s best to “parlay your remorse into corrective action.”

An example of a Genuinely Repenting apology:I apologize for not doing my part with keeping on top of chores and cleaning. I can see how inconsiderate my behavior has been. I’ve created a list that I’m keeping on the fridge so that I remember to do my part every day.”

Making Restitution

Essentially, making restitution as an apology language is about rectifying a situation in order to identify a pathway forward, says Licandro.

“There are numerous ways to ‘make things right again’—start with your partner’s love language(s),” she suggests. “Although there are plenty of ways to make restitution, one detail must remain clear: the onus is on the offender to do the legwork.”

Ultimately, Licandro says it’s key to meet your partner’s love language (i.e., acts of service, words of affirmation, etc.) in your apology attempt. “Assure your partner of your love and care by meeting their needs in the ways that are most relevant and impactful to them.”

An example of a Making Restitution apology: “I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to spend as much time with you lately. I will plan a special date this weekend to make it up to you and I plan on scheduling more free time so we can connect more consistently.”

Like anything, sticking to Apology Languages and making them work for you and your partner as you resolve conflicts will take some practice. “Communicating remorse and empathy is a relationship skill — one that needs to be well-honed and catered to your partner’s apology language in order to be effective,” says Licandro. “Be gentle with yourself as you learn your partner and potentially stumble your way through apologies. Good-faith apologies—even those that are slightly imperfect — can be heartwarming and transformative. Also, don’t be afraid to prompt a dialogue around apology languages. Curiosity and accepting your partner’s influence are key.”

Once you and your partner have made up, cozy up with one of these steamy movies for a sexy night in: 

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