Communicating and Receiving Apologies

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Have you ever been in a situation where you are trying to speak to someone who doesn’t know English?  This happens to me once in a while at work, and I find myself speaking slower and louder.  But I’m still speaking English!  So, um, speaking louder is probably not going to help, is it? The only solution is to learn the other person’s language so that you can translate your directions into their language.

Marriage is the same way.  The key is to learn my wife’s language so I can translate my thoughts and emotions and desires into a message that she can understand.  We introduced this topic in our post “Communicating and Receiving Love,” where we shared what we have learned from Dr. Gary Chapman and his concept of the Five Love Languages.  Today we share Dr. Chapman’s insight into apologies.

If you have been married more than 5 minutes you have had an opportunity to say “I’m Sorry.”  Dana and I have been married long enough that I have moved past my Caveman relational clumsiness, so I don’t have to apologize quite as often as I used to.  However, as we have worked to improve our marriage and strengthen our relationship we have had growing pains again where mistakes were made and feelings were hurt.  Going deeper is not without its dangers!

Recently we had one of those moments where I messed something up and needed to apologize.  So, I did, and figured we could move on.  But it was obvious that my apology had not had the intended effect.  So, I tried again and apologized again, with more detail.  (You husbands out there know what I mean.)  Again, no effect.  Actually, I could tell that she was actually getting more angry.  (Not the effect I was hoping for.) So at this point, I tried to evaluate the best route: keep digging the hole that I have found myself in, or put down the shovel, throw up my hands, and buy her something.  (Surely you husbands out there know what I mean!)  And then, just when I thought all hope was lost, Gary Chapman came to my rescue!

We stumbled upon Dr. Chapman’s Five Languages of Apology and realized that perhaps it could help us.  We each took the online profile and then compared notes.  The results showed me that I didn’t have a strong preference for one specific type – each type of apology would work, depending on the situation.  However, Dana had a specific type of apology that made more sense to her.  More importantly, the test revealed that one of the ways is her least favorite.  Upon more discussion, it turns out that this type of apology actually makes her mad.  Thus my situation.  Each attempt at apology was just making it worse.

5 Ways to Say I’m Sorry

Dr. Chapman points out that there are five basic ways to apologize.  Here are the basic descriptions, from

  1. Expressing Regret:  “I wish it would have turned out differently.  I wish I would not have done that.”
  2. Accepting Responsibility:   “This was definitely my fault.  Here is what I did wrong.”
  3. Making Restitution:  “What can I do to fix this or make it up to you?”
  4. Genuinely Repenting:  “I will never do this again.  I’ve learned my lesson.”
  5. Requesting Forgiveness:  “Please accept my apology.”

In order to make this new idea stick, I would suggest that you and your spouse:

  • Take the Apology Language Profile
  • Discuss it together.
  • Read the 20 examples of each of the 5 apologies.  Talk about which of the 100 apologies make sense to you under different circumstances and which would annoy you.  You might find that the kind of apology your spouse is looking for is not the natural way you apologize.  Practice your lines and eventually it will come naturally!
  • Read through this quiz.  How Good Is Your Sorry?
  • Discuss the tendency to deny guilt, make excuses, and blame others.  Let’s be honest – we have all wanted to say each of the ‘wrong answers’ at some point.  Practice the good answers and avoid the wrong ones.

The Apology is similar to jumper cables – it’s a tool that you hope you don’t ever need, but it’s a tool that you are glad that you know how to use when you do need it. Hopefully the 5 Languages of Apology will be one more translation tool that you can use to communicate love and respect to your spouse.


Other Resources

Rosetta Stone:  If you ever need to learn hieroglyphics and ancient Egyptian language, this is the key.

An Example From Business:  Why I’m Sorry Doesn’t Always Translate

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