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The 5 Languages of Apology
Learn the apology languages of your friends and family members.
Dr. Jennifer M. Thomas

  

Learning to speak in the different apology languages can help you communicate and heal where it hurts.

Are there friends or family members whom you rarely hear apologize? Their apologies may be long overdue. Here's the problem: We have a natural tendency to gloss over what we've done wrong. Perhaps we hope if we don't say how self-centered or thoughtless we have been, then others won't take notice and scold us. Ironically, the opposite is true. Others are hesitant to forgive us if we really don't seem to "get it." Further, if we don't seem to recognize all the pain we've caused, aren't we likely to just hurt them again? Learning to speak in the different apology languages can help you communicate and heal where it hurts.

What do you need to know in order to apologize well? As my husband and I have talked about our successes and failures in apologizing, we've realized we have separate "apology languages." If you're familiar with the landmark work of psychologist Dr. Gary Chapman in The Five Love Languages (1992), then you'll recognize this concept of "languages." Dr. Chapman's principle is that many relationship problems stem from miscommunication. Specifically, he recommends that in order to be "heard" by others, we need to speak not in our natural language, but in the language of the listener.

How do apology languages work? Have you ever tried to apologize, only to be rebuffed? It may be you were offering a partial apology in a "language" that was foreign to your listener. The five languages of apology include*:

Apology Language #1 | Expressing Regret: "I am sorry." List the hurtful effects of your action. Show remorse. It doesn't count if you're only sorry you got caught!

Apology Language #2 | Accepting Responsibility: "I was wrong." Name your mistake and accept fault. Note it's easier to say, "You are right," than, "I am wrong," but the latter carries more weight.

Apology Language #3 | Restitution - Making Amends: "What can I?do to make it right?" How is the person you hurt now? Is any debt owed or repayment due? How shall you make amends? Does the one you wounded need help getting back up on his or her feet?

Apology Language #4 | Repentance: "I'll try not to do that again." Repentance literally means turning around 180 degrees. Engage in problem-solving. Don't make excuses.

Apology Language #5 | Requesting Forgiveness: "Will you please forgive me?" Be patient in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. They may need some time or greater clarification of your input from Apology Languages 1 - 4.

When you know you've offended someone, you should act with urgency to repair the problem. Spell out what you've done wrong, how this has "put out" the other person, show concern for them and explain what will truly be different next time.

In order to give the most successful apologies, you should ask the people close to you what they most appreciate hearing in an apology. (Dr. Chapman and I have included an assessment profile in our book, The Five Languages of Apology, to help with this process.) After you learn the apology languages of your friends, family members and co-workers, you'll have the extra benefit of being able to give targeted apologies. These apologies will hit their mark and impart the full measure of your sincerity.

How do apology languages influence my marriage? To my husband, being accurate and winning debates are of primary importance. So, my apologies should include Apology Language #2

("I was wrong") in order for him to best hear my remorse. In contrast, feelings are of central importance to me. When my husband offers the apology that's most difficult for him to utter (Apology Language #2, "I was wrong"), I STILL need to hear him say that he's concerned about my feelings (Apology Language #1, "I am sorry"). We're in our 15th year of marriage and are finally learning to shorten our arguments by apologizing not in our own languages, but in the language our spouse will hear.

A tip: When you don't know someone's "apology language," work extra hard to cover all your bases. If you completely cover each Apology Language, you're likely to hit upon something that will be music to his or her ears.

I've also had my share of chances to apologize to my children. For example, my 6-year-old-daughter loves to make crafts. She was delighted when she found a sun-catcher kit at a local discount store. She raced to her room with the kit and re-emerged an hour later with the metal molds filled with carefully placed colorful bits of plastic. She was ready for me to bake her creation, but I was busy with projects upstairs. She agreed to lay the pan with her treasure on my bathroom counter until I could get to it. Much to our dismay, her little brother soon found, and toppled, the pan. My daughter was heartbroken. She no longer likes for me to scoop her into my arms, but I wanted to show her my sorrow and my love. So, I put my arm around her and told her how sorry I was that I had not protected and finished her beautiful craft project.

It's important to note that even though I had not intended to damage her project, I still needed to take responsibility for the damage. In addition to protecting her little brother from bodily harm, I needed to help her re-make her craft.

Sincere apologies are a precious gift. They impart a feeling to the receiver of being deeply valued. Further, they smooth the way to true forgiveness and reconciliation. May you surprise others with the transparency, humility and boldness of your apologies!

Dr. Jennifer M. Thomas is a wife and mother of two school-age kids and one feisty 2-year-old. She joined a MOPS group in 1999. Now a motivational speaker and part-time psychologist in private practice in North Carolina, she's the co-author, along with Dr. Gary Chapman, of The Five Languages of Apology (Northfield Publishing, 2006). Visit her Web site drjenthomas.com and relationship issues blog: drjenthomas.wordpress.com.

From The Five Languages of Apology by Jennifer Thomas and Gary Chapman, © 2006 Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D. All rights reserved.