Learn Your Spouse's Language of Apology
- Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary Chapman and Jennifer M. Thomas's book, The Five Languages of Apology, (Moody Publishers, 2006).
Have you ever apologized to someone, but found that person still upset with you? In your frustration, you may have thought there’s nothing more you could have done. But since people have different ways of apologizing, the way you expressed your apology may just not have gotten through to the person you offended.
If you speak a different apology language than the person you’re trying to reach, he or she will likely view your apology as insincere. But if you translate your apology into that person’s language, you can pave the way for forgiveness and reconciliation in that relationship.
Here’s how you can become fluent in the languages of apology and experience healed relationships:
Learn the first language: Expressing regret. This says, "I'm sorry." When you speak this language, you let the person you’ve offended know of your own guilt, shame, and pain over the fact that your behavior has hurt him or her. You don’t simply correct problems without acknowledging your remorse; instead, you verbalize your regret in specific ways.
In your apology, give as many details as possible to show you understand how your wrong behavior affected the offended person. Don’t tack on a “but …” to your apology, either blaming your actions on something the person did to provoke you or making excuses for what you did. Make sure you don’t try to use an apology to manipulate the offended person into reciprocating. To give your apology more emotional weight, consider writing it in a letter that the offended person can read again and again. Make it clear to the offended person that you feel hurt because your actions have hurt him or her, so you can identify with the pain he or she is experiencing.
Learn the second language: Accepting responsibility. This says, “I was wrong.” When you speak this language, you accept responsibility for your failures and refrain from rationalizing your own bad behavior or blaming others for it. Show the offended person that you fully own up to what you did and understand that it was wrong.
Learn the third language: Making restitution. This says, “What can I do to make it right?” When you speak this language, you try to right a wrong by making amends for what you’ve done. Realize that any offenses causes the person who’s been hurt to lose something – perhaps something tangible, such as a promotion after being publicly humiliated, or something intangible, such as self-esteem. Make it your goal to try to repay the person you’ve offended to restore a sense of justice and let him or her know that you still care.
When apologizing with this language to a friend or family member, try to express the sincerity of your love in ways that reflect that particular person’s love language: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, or physical touch. Beyond expressing your love, do whatever you can to restore something your wrong behavior took away, such as by repairing a damaged item or speaking to others to restore the person’s reputation. If you’re not sure what the offended person might consider appropriate restitution, ask for suggestions.
Learn the fourth language: Genuinely repenting. This says, “I’ll try not to do that again.” When you speak this language, you decide to change your behavior so you won’t repeat the offense. Tell the person you’ve offended that you intend to change, develop a specific plan for doing so, and ask him or her to be patient with you while you go through the process of changing from destructive to healthy behavior. Write down your plan for change so you can keep referring to it, and when you fail, get up and try again. Show the offended person that you’re making a concerted effort to change, and ask him or her to support and encourage you to help the changes last.
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