February 11, 2022

The 5 Apology Languages: Determine Which Type Is Best For You And Partner(s)

Knowing your apology language can be the key to happier conflict resolution.
Written by
Elizabeth Kirkhorn
Published on
February 11, 2022
Updated on
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The way we say ‘I’m sorry’ is important, especially since everyone’s needs are different when it comes to processing and moving on from an argument. While you might want your partner(s) to accept responsibility for their actions, they might expect an action plan that keeps the problem at bay before they can feel appeased. This is where knowing a partner’s apology language, and your own, can be handy in tackling conflict. 

Is there a right way to apologize? 

According to Rachel Facio and Stacey Sherrell, therapists and co-founders of Decoding Couples, the answer is yes. “We see a lot of people go, ‘You know, I’m sorry, but I don’t agree you should be hurt.’ Well, what’s the point of that?” Facio explains to O.School. “If you’re apologizing, whether you agree or not, it’s important to prioritize your partner’s feelings and create space for their experience. Once that’s solidified, you can talk about whether you agree or not.”

“The type of apology that you are used to giving may not be what feels good to your partner, making it so no matter how much effort you put into your apology, it’s going to miss the mark,” says Sherrell. “Knowing their apology language is key so that you can both be on the same page as to what genuine repair looks like.”

5 types of apology languages

Apology languages were officially coined by psychologist Jennifer Thomas in partnership with Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages. They culled thousands of responses to the questions, “When you apologize, what do you typically say or do? And when someone apologizes to you, what do you expect them to say or do?” Their findings became When Sorry Isn’t Enough, which delineates the five apology languages and explains how to employ them in a relationship. The idea is, the better you speak each other’s apology languages, the more effective you’ll be in handling disagreements. Here are the five apology languages to keep in mind. Try to determine which type works best for you and your partner(s). 

1. Expressing regret 

Expressing regret is the simplest form of apology. While saying “I’m sorry” seems like a no-brainer when it comes to managing discord, pride or guilt can get in the way of an honest apology, and this can be an issue if your partner responds best to expressing regret. Thomas also adds that this specific apology language comes with listing the hurtful effects of your actions, so that your remorse is clear. 

Example: “I’m really sorry that I showed up late to dinner tonight. I know it was important to you, and I feel terrible.”

This might be your apology language if:

  • You expect your partner to recognize their part in the conflict.
  • You want to be validated with an apology that shows you are right to feel hurt. 
  • You need to see an authentic expression of regret if you have been wronged by a partner. 

2. Accepting responsibility

This type of apology language comes with an earnest admission that the wrongdoer should not have done what they did. The apologizer will name the mistake they made, and admit fault without attempting to soften the situation. 

Example: “There’s no way around it. I fully admit that I messed up, and I’m sorry.”

This might be your apology language if:

  • You don’t want to hear excuses. If your partner has done wrong, you’d like them to clearly state it. 
  • You expect someone to take ownership if they are in the wrong.

3. Requesting forgiveness 

Requesting forgiveness allows one party to process any damage or injuries before the relationship “goes back to normal.” By requesting forgiveness, the apologizer hands the power over to the hurt party, creating space for them to decide how and when to forgive. 

Example: “I know I’ve hurt you, and I hope you can forgive me.”

This might be your apology language if:

  • You take your time to absorb, sift through, and process feelings. You find you typically need time to make an emotional decision.
  • You need more than an apology, and want the space to ask for that.
  • You need to know your partner is willing to wait for forgiveness, or even work towards it, if the situation warrants it. 

4. Making restitution

Making restitution involves finding a way to correct a conflict. This style is common if something has been lost, damaged, or broken, because it offers a tangible way to replace the item and remedy the situation. However, if it’s important to you that the fix to an argument directly correlates to the problem, making restitution can apply to more serious or emotional arguments as well.

Example: “Thank you for X. I’m really sorry you weren’t able to Y because of me. I’d love to take you to Z, my treat, to make it up to you.”

This might be your apology language if:

  • You like your partner to take charge of solving a problem they catalyzed.
  • You find it important that the apologizer “makes things right again.”
  • You want to see proof that your partner is willing to correct problems with actions, as opposed to just by saying they will. 

5. Genuinely repenting

This last apology language requires a planned change of behavior. In this situation, saying I’m sorry is not enough, and the apologizer will take it to the next level by making a specific proposal for change. In order for genuinely repenting to be effective, there needs to be a sincere drive towards being better. 

Example: “I don’t like the way I handled the situation. I want to make it right. Can we talk about a plan of action to rekindle our relationship after this?”

This might be your apology language if:

  • Words aren’t enough for you to feel like the issue has been resolved.
  • You need concrete assurance that your partner will not let you down if this situation arises again.
  • You’d like to see proof that your partner is willing to grow. 

How to apply apology languages to your relationship 

Applying the appropriate apology language in a relationship can help you and your partner(s) better approach conflict resolution. Talking about what works best for each of you is an important step for meeting each other where you’re at with empathy. There are few steps to applying apology languages to your relationship to effectively move on from any conflict you may experience. Here are a few steps you can take. 

Identify the best apology language for you and partner(s)

The way that you’d prefer to receive an apology may vary from situation to situation, but if you’d like to solidify your Primary Apology Language and begin to better understand how to heal your hurt, start by taking the quiz on Chapman’s website. You can also try journaling about how conflict impacts you. Ask yourself about a time you felt most seen and validated by a partner after they wronged you. What type of apology language were they speaking at that time, and how did it make you feel

When it comes to determining your partner’s apology language, Sherrell and Facio advise going right to the source. “Don’t assume the way that you want repair done, or that the way you want to be apologized to is the same,” Sherrell suggests. “Regardless of how long you’ve been together, or what might have worked in the past, we really encourage checking in and asking your partner, ‘What would feel best?’ ‘What would mean the most, coming from me, and what feels good about that?’”

Know that it’s okay if apology languages differ 

Say you’ve done your research, opened that dialogue with your partner, and feel ready to employ each of your unique apology styles in your relationship. But how can you handle it if your partner is “genuinely repentant” and you’re “making restitution?” Can apology languages be used to iron out issues if you have such different needs?

“Differences in apology languages isn’t a bad thing. Outing that they’re different is the thing you want to do first and foremost, to agree that you don’t value being apologized to in the same way,” says Facio. “If you want your relationship to be successful, you’ll have to prioritize it over being right or agreeing that you need to apologize in the same way. It’s a really hard thing to grasp, but it’s so, so important.”

Understand it can take effort to get on the same page 

Getting on the same page about how to apologize to each other becomes more complicated if one partner identifies with an apology style that requires a bit more care. Facio and Sherrell point out that the genuinely repenting style, which depends on the apologizer furnishing specific proof of guilt, might require more effort to fully appease the injured party. 

“That can be really difficult if the apologizer starts reacting with, ‘Look I said I’m sorry. When are you going to let this go? Just forgive me,’ when their partner really needs an action plan. That can get couples stuck in a cycle,” Sherrell asserts. “You just need to understand that apology style takes more time for action to align with it. A lot of times, we want things to be better immediately, or soon, but that can’t be the case here and understanding that is key.”

Communicate openly if needs are still not being met 

There are flags to be aware of if you appreciate expressing regret or accepting responsibility. Since both of these apology languages are based on words, they rely on trust that actions will follow. Ultimately, we can’t control our partner’s behavior. When accepting an apology language that’s based on word of mouth, it can be scary to believe that after we forgive them, that it won’t happen again.

“There are two things you can do if you suspect your partner’s apology isn’t aligning with their actions. For example, if I’ve asked you not to do something, and you apologize, and get my forgiveness, and then you start doing things that are not in line with how we repaired, the first thing you should do is notice that individually. Don’t deny it to yourself, recognize that experience,” Facio says. “The second part is bringing this up to your partner right away. Don’t shove it down like, ‘Oh, I know she’s had a really hard day.’ ‘I know he’s really stressed about something.’ If you’re noticing the incongruence between actions and words, you want to bring it up in real time. Do these two things to not only bring the issue top of mind, and also respect our own boundaries.”

The bottom line 

At the end of the day, even if your partner speaks your apology language and touches on all of your markers, the decision to forgive is entirely yours. You might feel as though, no matter how thorough their atonement, you can’t condone what they’ve done. At least, not right away. If this is the case, you don’t need to rush out of your relationship or make a quick decision that it’s doomed. Be honest with your partner when you’re unable to accept an apology, or if you’re not in a place of forgiveness, and your relationship can continue to progress.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Elizabeth is a graduate student from New York, New York. She writes personal essays about identity, womanhood, and love.

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