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Sorry Is Not Enough – Five Languages of Apology

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Saying ‘sorry’ can be hard.  But after doing it, is your partner or spouse still angry?  Why is that so?

Well, that’s because there are good and bad apologies.

A good apology melts away resentment and anger.  In other words, it rebuilds connection between 2 persons.  A bad apology is one that ends with a “but” and is chock full of justifications and excuses.  “I am sorry, but you should have done it without me telling you!”

A bad apology is also one which is based on how the other party has felt instead of what one has done.  “I am sorry you felt upset.  I did not know it was such a big issue for you.”  Not only will we appear insincere, a bad apology strains the relationship even further.

Why apologise

Saying I am sorry is a sign of care.  It is a way of communicating love after an offence.  It makes the other person feel respected and cared for.

Why do you apologise?  Is it to absolve yourself of responsibilities so that you can have inner peace?  Is it to establish a moral high ground so that you can demand an apology from the other party?  Or is it to express remorse, driven by the genuine desire to forge a better relationship?

If our intention is to have a better relationship, we need to put on our most mature self.  This means we have to be open to criticism, hold our tongues so that we do not lash out, and allow the offended party to express their hurt and anger and be willing to accept the responsibility of the hurt we have caused.

What to apologise for

You can please all people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.

It is inevitable that we will say or do something that offends someone.  Thus, we should apologise for the wrong we have done, and not for how the offended party feels.  We should take responsibility for the part we play in contributing to the conflict or wrongdoing.  For example, shouting, hurling unkind words or destroying the chair.

What happens if we don’t feel like we should be the ones apologising?  What if you don’t believe you have done anything wrong?  The first thing to do is to self-reflect.

Did we rationalise (“given the situation, I have no choice”), minimise (“it’s no big deal”) or deny any wrong-doing (“I did not shout at you”) to cover up our guilt and shame instead of empathising and owning up?  It is not easy to offer an apology since it puts us in a vulnerable position.  It takes self confidence in our competence and limitations to admit our wrong-doing.

Learn how to apologise in part 2 of this article in May newsletter.

Written by: Timothy Thong, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services


Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. 2013. “When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love”

Harriet Lerner. 2017. “Why won’t you apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts”