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How to Apologise

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Dr Gary Chapman and Dr Jennifer Thomas have spent over 2 years doing research on this topic by interacting with hundreds of individuals on what are their thoughts on a genuine apology. They pointed out that the right way to apologise depends on whom you are apologising to because people differ in the words they need to hear in order to accept an apology as sincere. So, what are these “magic” words?

The following are the five languages of apology, each serving a different purpose.

The Five Languages of Apology.

“I am sorry.” – to express Regrets.

“I was wrong.” – to accept Responsibilities.

“What can I do to make it right?” – to make Restitution.

“I will try not to do it again.”– to Repent genuinely.

“Will you please forgive me?” – to Request for forgiveness.

These apology languages are probably familiar to you as you would have said them at some point in your life. Dr Chapman and Dr Thomas have found that each of us has one or two primary apology languages. In other words, when the offending party utters your primary apology language, you accept the apology more readily to foster a greater sense of forgiveness and reconciliation. They also found out that the primary apology language of a man is usually different from that of a woman. Therefore, both husband and wife should learn each other’s primary apology language.

Jun Jie and Chai Ting are an example of a loving couple, but struggle greatly to resolve their relationship conflicts. Both insist that they will always apologise to each other after a fight, but it did not seem to appease anyone’s anger. Jun Jie will say, “I am sorry and I will try not to do it again.” He prided himself as a precise person who seldom made mistakes. For him to admit that he was wrong is a big deal as it undermines his self-confidence. However, Chai Ting has grown up seeing how her father had apologised to her mother by forthrightly admitting that he was wrong, so she thought she needed to hear the same words for it to count as a genuine apology. After I guided Jun Jie to be more specific in his apology i.e., saying “I was wrong to say the hurtful words” instead of a generic “I was wrong”, they were able to make restitutions to their relationship quickly.

If you would like to discover each other’s apology language, take the following online quiz to find out how you can say sorry in your partner’s preferred language!


The Other Side of the Apology Coin

The other side of the coin is forgiveness. A restoration of relationship happens only when one party says “I am sorry” and the other says “I forgive you”. To forgive is not to forget, or to say it does not hurt anymore, or to condone the bad behaviours. Forgiveness is a choice we have to consciously make to not allow the hurt and anger to weigh us down and imprison us with resentment.

If you are the offending party, do not expect the offended party to forgive according to your timing. The offended party needs time to sit with their anger and pain, and the space to release them. Getting angry for not receiving forgiveness undercuts the apology and acting like a victim as well will render it a double-wrong. Forgiveness must be given, not demanded.

Offences are mostly committed unintentionally. In a relationship, we seek to show affection and not to hurt. Due to differences in values and beliefs, we may say or do something unintentionally to hurt the person you love the most.

Learn their apology language. Adopt non-defensive listening and allow your pain to be heard. Be specific about what you are sorry for.

Let us strive not to be right, but to be kind, in all our relationships!

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”