Can Knowing Your Apology Language Help to Keep the Love Alive?
Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT
By now, many are familiar with the "Five Love Languages," because of Gary Chapman's book and the quizzes that were made shortly after. Many have learned their love language and now understand how to love or communicate love to their partner. But what happens when you don't succeed in loving your partner the way they deserve to be loved or the way you vowed to love them? That's right: an apology is given. Along with love languages, there are also apology languages. So what is this idea of apology language? It is the way that you tell someone you are sorry.
Do you know your apology language? Are you aware of your partner's? Learning your apology language is an integral part of a relationship, and understanding how you give and receive an "I'm sorry" can make situations more comfortable to handle. Have you ever apologized to someone and felt like it wasn't enough? Has someone ever questioned your apology after you've tried to make amends? Knowing your apology language, much like learning your love language, will strengthen each relationship you make by improving your ability to facilitate forgiveness. It will also increase the chances of you being forgiven. It will deepen your understanding of one another and build positive self-esteem within your relationship when conflicts arise. You can better work with them and make amends while growing together. However, before growth, taking time and learning for yourself and your partner is essential. Just like an individual's love language may be words of affirmation, and you provide them with that at times of need, we need to understand each other's apology language so that when the time comes to make amends, you have the tools to do so effectively.
What are the five apology languages, and what might they sound like?
1. Expressing regret
Someone who expresses regret will show that they are upset with themselves for what they have done to you. Someone with this apology language will say, "I feel ashamed for what I did to you." (Do we really want to say "ashamed"? How about, "I truly regret what I did to you"?)
2. Accepting responsibility
The person who takes responsibility will acknowledge that they know what they did and how it affected you. This person might say, "I am wrong," or "I messed up, and I take full responsibility for it."
3. Genuinely repent
This person will acknowledge what they did and make it known how they will change to avoid a similar situation. One who genuinely repents will say, "I am sorry for what I did. Next time I will do things differently."
4. Making restitution
A person making restitution will either have a way to make it up to you or ask you how they can make it up to you. They might say, "This is how I will make it up to you." or "How can I make it up to you?"
5. Requesting forgiveness
This person will be asking for forgiveness from the person they wronged. Requesting forgiveness usually sounds like, "Will you please forgive me for what I did?"
After reading the five apology languages, reflect on how you apologize. How does your partner apologize? Do you change how you apologize depending on the person or the situation?
After a challenging conversation, a fight, or an all-out screaming match, it is easy to focus on the emotions sparked by the argument. Many need to step away to calm down, and after both parties are level-headed, the struggle to apologize begins. What should you say? How should you say it? Will you say the right things in the right way? Take all the guesswork out of the equation by doing the work to identify your and your partner's apology language or languages. You can identify your apology language to become self-aware and focus on your needs following an argument. What is it that you need? Do you need your partner to justify their actions? Admit they were wrong? Or take steps to not engage in that behavior again? Whichever one it is, becoming aware of your feelings will assist in how smoothly you can move forward and compromise with one another. Because every person is different and has a different set of needs, much like the five love languages having a percentage rating system, the apology language can also be on a scale. Some people may need just one of the five apology languages, and others may need a few. It's also essential to recognize that you and/or your partner may need a different apology language based on the offense. A simple "I'm sorry, please forgive me" may be all that is required when accidentally stepping on someone's toes, but what if it was done on purpose or out of spite? What if it was done repeatedly over time? In that case, the person may need you to accept responsibility for what you did, "I'm sorry for purposefully hurting you, I was wrong to do that, and I messed up." now you need to go into a repentant apology, "I'm sorry for stepping on your toes multiple times. From now on, I will avoid hurting you in any way." Do the work! This can be tedious work, and you may get it wrong a few times before it becomes natural. But isn't it worth it to save or improve a meaningful relationship?
Let's not forget that after the apology comes to the make-up stage. You and your partner are trying to heal from the incident that occurred. You both are getting back to that secure spot in the relationship. This is where the five love languages come in. Show them you are sorry in the way that they need to be loved; to know they are loved.
Communicating with your partner makes forgiveness easier and removes the guesswork from the healing process. Figuring out your apology language and your partner's apology language means opening lines of communication and expressing or outwardly telling them what you need from them and asking them what they need from you. This can be done after an argument or even before wrongdoing to make forgiveness easier when required.
Apologizing is only the first step in the healing process, and you may have to do it more than once. Depending on the offense and the pain it inflicted on your partner, the time varies on how long it takes before forgiveness is offered. Returning to the "stepping on someone's toes" scenario, when it was done out of spite, what happens when you apologize through your partner's apology language and it is not accepted right away? That doesn't necessarily mean you did it wrong or must fully understand their apology language. It may take time. Think of it this way, after you apologize for the offense of stepping on their toes, does the pain immediately go away? Now every time the foot throbs, they are reminded of the offense. Does your partner need to hear the apology again? Would you? That's how intentional the conversation needs to be when figuring out your or your partner's apology language. Don't leave room for misunderstandings. Take the time and map out your needs regarding receiving an apology. Think even further than the words themselves. Will my apology need to have action steps moving forward to signify changed behavior? Should I seal the deal by offering a gift to increase the validity of the apology? In this case, the apology language may connect more strongly with the person's love language to restore their faith in you and strengthen the relationship with them.
Knowing your and your partner's apology language can make or break a relationship at its most vulnerable place, causing possible friction between you that will take time to dissipate. Don't get lost in the confusion of addressing conflicts before knowing how you and your partner can effectively communicate your feelings for what may have been said or done that upset or offended the other. Exploring the five apology languages is a significant first step before sitting down and sharing/learning from someone else. Healthy, knowledgeable, and informed communication is the key to having a healthy relationship. Information on love languages and apology languages is easily accessible, but it can become a challenging task. It is available if you, your spouse/partner, or both need help understanding the languages, your results, or need help navigating this conversation.
It is not always easy to objectively come to a mutual understanding that you can each agree upon or even see what needs to be changed and/or how to change it. It is common to contact a professional counselor or therapist for guidance, particularly when you are struggling to find a way through the hurt and pain.