It was our first interaction, our first meeting and her vocal knife sliced the conversation. “As a retired school teacher, I’m very concerned about the future of your children if you continue to homeschool them,” she stated.
Stunned doesn’t begin to describe the emotions swirling. I took a deep breath and prayed for discernment as she continued to spew on topics ranging from my educational, vocational, political, and even spiritual choices. I’d never experienced anything like this and was confused as to where this animosity stemmed? She’d never met me or our children, so I shouldn’t take this personally, right?
The cliche rings true: Some things are easier said than done.
Over the past ten years, I’ve developed an amiable relationship with this distant relative, yet never received an apology. Our world and life views stands in direct opposition, so it’s made for lively family visits, regardless of how often we remind our children to avoid spicy topics, especially during election year.
I’m sure we can all think of someone in our life who rarely apologizes. It’s our natural tendency to gloss over mistakes, underestimate our sin — along with the painful process of admitting “I am wrong.”
Yet, a heartfelt apology can change lives and I want to be one who freely gives them when I’ve offended. It’s the most underrated act by which we can completely alter relationships.
Acts 3:19 reminds us:
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
I camp on that last phrase: times of refreshing. Unforgiveness limits our joy. It robs us of the full life God intends for us, while forgiveness breathes new life into relationships.
So when my relative finally apologized for her actions, why did it feel so insincere? Is there a “right” way to apologize?
Years ago, I sat down with my friend, Jennifer Thomas, co-author of 5 Languages of an Apology: How to Experience Healing in all Your Relationships. She shared how everyone has separate “apology languages,” and we all receive apologies differently. Those familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s work, The Five Love Languages, recognize this concept of “languages.” Dr. Chapman’s premise is that many relationship problems stem from miscommunication. Specifically, he recommends that in order to be “heard” by others, we need to speak not in our natural language, but in the language of the listener.
How do apology languages work?
Have you ever tried to apologize, only to be rebuffed or misunderstood?
Most likely, you were offering a partial apology in a “language” that was foreign to your listener. The five languages of apology include:
Apology Language #1 – Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.” If this is a person’s primary apology language, they desire an apology that connects with their emotions. They need to know that you truly feels sorry for your actions and for how they were wounded. When apologizing, list the hurtful effects of your action with genuine remorse. It doesn’t count if the person is only sorry they got caught! It often sounds like, “I’m so sorry for ‘x, y, z.’ I feel awful for what I’ve done.”
Apology Language #2 – Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”
Name your mistake and accept fault. Note that it is easier to say, “You are right” than “I am wrong,” but the latter carries all the power. The person with this apology language needs to know you understand that you were wrong and all they need to hear is that simple admission of fault.
Apology Language #3 – Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
For this apology to feel genuine, they need to know what you will do to make amends. What can I do? Is any debt owed or repayment due? Do they need help getting back up on their feet?
Apology Language #4 – Genuine Repentance: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
True repentance literally means to shift actions, express regret, and then engage in problem-solving without excuses. The person who has this apology language needs to be assured that you desire to change and won’t make the same mistake again.
Apology Language #5 – Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”
Many assume that this step is a given, but this person needs to actually hear the words, “Please, will you forgive me?” Be patient in seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. They may need time of reflection or greater clarification of your input from Apology Languages 1 – 4. Unfortunately, there are times when forgiveness will never be granted. The restoration desperately desired may not happen in your lifetime, yet you will be free.
Ben Franklin reminds us, “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” It means, there are no “buts” in an apology. We can’t apologize and then qualify the reason. Even when feeling justified in our actions, to truly seek repentance, often the hardest thing required is to apologize and stay silent. NO ‘BUT’s ‘ allowed!
This is why my relative’s apology didn’t ring true. It was riddled with qualifiers.
In summary, when we know we’ve offended someone, act with urgency to repair the problem, speak what you’ve done wrong, empathize with how it has hurt them, show concern, and explain what will be different next time.
In order to give the most successful apologies, ask those close to you what they most appreciate hearing in an apology. Understanding these languages allows us to go even deeper by giving targeted apologies. My desire is to communicate with sincerity and this has the potential to impact relationships in a powerful way.
Which language stands out most to you? When you’ve been wronged, have you received the apology you most needed?
(I wrote more about teaching our children to apologize here, as well as the Biblical Model of “Carefrontation.“)
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I love the wisdom of good old Ben Franklin. He nailed it. I think so many times we stop after, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes that alone rings hollow. I know that it can for me. This has really made me think about how I apologize. I need to accept my responsibility, admit I was wrong, ask how I can make restitution (this is probably the most overlooked aspect), and ask for forgiveness. I don’t know if there’s even such a thing as a “good” apology, but I think what you’ve outlined is a great model to follow. This post is a “saver”… great insights!!
Jennifer Schmidt says
Right after I wrote this post, my son and I had an exchange. I apologized and immediately wanted to say, “but you did…”
Good thing this was fresh in my mind. Silence was difficult, yet important.
I have to admit this is a hard concept for me. My husband is good at telling me that I always think I am right (when I guess I am sometimes wrong??)and that I should apologize for “saying too much” or “giving my opinion too literally” to others. (Oh, I can kind of feel my heart start racing just by typing the words…..)
We can and have gone round and round about the subject. When one should apologize for their feelings/view points if those feelings/statements hurt others. I usually tell him I have a hard shell and just go with it where as, he feels more. Opposites in the traditional male/female roles….
Words for thought for sure..
Jennifer Schmidt says
It is such a hard concept, isn’t it? Yet so important. Now I am not saying that you should never give your opinion. In this age of being politically correct, often people misconstrue being sensitive , therefore brushing necessary truth telling under the rug, but in the case of an apology, I always err on the side of issuing it.
The timing for this could not be more perfect….
I honestly did not realize there are “apology” languages! This makes so much sense!
Currently struggling with a couple of relationships, and your wisdom unveiled a gift of clarity… THANK YOU!!!
Jennifer Schmidt says
I am soooo glad that it brought an unveiling just when you needed it. That’s only God. 🙂 xoxo
Emily Conrad says
I’d never thought of there being different languages for apologies, but this makes absolute sense! A friend once mentioned how important it was to ask for forgiveness for an apology to be complete. I had always left it unsaid (implied, I thought, like you wrote), but I see now how that’s simply a different apology language. Thanks for this!
Jennifer Schmidt says
You are so welcome, Emily. It was enlightening when I first thought it through too.
Joanne Peterson says
I read about the apology languages a few years ago when the book was being published. It has changed the way I apologize and the way I teach my kids to apologize. I do forget to add the asking to give restitution, and the asking for forgiveness. I will have to remember to add this, and teach my kids to do these two steps too.
I have learned that some people will not ask for forgiveness and I still need to forgive them anyway for my sake and my relationship with other people. If I forgive from my heart, then I am keeping accounts short and not allowing bitterness to take root. I had to learn this lesson the hard way, and the root of bitterness in me was toxic until I learned this truth about forgiveness. I had layers of unforgiveness to peel back and deal with before I was free.
Jennifer Schmidt says
Just think of the new generational legacy we can give our kids when they learn about biblical confrontation and then making restitution. As moms, I pray as we model this, it impacts not just them, but our children’s children as well. xoxo
I wrote about teaching my kids to apologize. It’s an old post, but you may find a little something more. http://beautyandbedlam.com/teaching-your-child-to-apologize/
We hear so much about forgiving but hardly anything about being accountable and taking responsibility for how we hurt others. A simple, “I’m sorry”, seems like a very easy price to pay in comparison to the soul crushing damage one experiences and sometimes continues to struggle with for a long time. Add the pressure to forgive, and the guilt in feeling as if one can’t, or hasn’t and the scales tip heavy for the one that is wronged. It seems like understanding what you are saying you are sorry for, and hearing and acknowledging how your actions affected the other person would be a BIG piece of apologizing.
In my case, someone that caused a lot of pain has said they were sorry, but they will not say what they or sorry for, nor will they hear me, ask me or listen to how their actions affected me. I am given articles on forgiveness, Bible verses on forgetting the past…but where is accountability and compassion and not being dismissive and unsupportive?
Crystal Storms says
Hearing “Will you please forgive me?” is the one I needed. Those five words tell me ears they recognize their wrong, admit it, and seek restoration in the relationship. Thanks, Jennifer, for the clarity of what speaks true to my heart. : )
Jennifer Schmidt says
I need that too. I had an issue with our son today and he texted me, “I’m sorry.” I was thankful he did, but it still feels so empty since there’s so much more that needs to be said. I can only work on myself now and realize that I need to give more too.
Crystal Storms says
So agreed, Jennifer, that we can only work on ourselves. People will not / cannot always give us what we need. But when people fail to give me what I need, it reminds me only God can meet all my needs. Sweet blessings, friend. : )
This is marvelous Jen, thank you! I agree with Bev, this is definitely one I will save. Languages of apology; so beautifully written Jen.
I have had experience with the person who apologizes with “Well, I’m sorry that what I said offended you”, but more often with those who don’t know how to deal with receiving an apology and a request for forgiveness. The two that still come to mind, but no longer hurt, are a woman who, after hearing my apology for speaking of her with a mutual friend (and I hadn’t driven a block away from that home when God said, “that was gossip and is not fitting behavior.” ) laughed in my face and said “oh forget it. That’s nothing!”
The other was a leader in my church. I had been in disagreement with him and when it came to me that I was rebelling against a man in authority over me I went to Him as he closed a meeting and said, “I need to ask your forgiveness for my behavior, I’m sorry . . .” and he interrupted me, picking up his books as he said, “That has nothing to do with me, that’s between you and God,” and walked away.
I struggled with that until I visited her church with a sweet neighbor of mine and in his teaching her pastor stopped what he was saying and stood quietly a bit and then said, “Folks, I want you to know that if someone, anyone, ever comes to you with an apology and a request for forgiveness, you do NOT cast that aside as of no importance. It IS important” I knew that God wanted me to hear that. And in these twenty years since those incidents I am sure I have been a more forgiving, thankful person because I know that my Father God is not just watching my life, Jesus comes and walks through my mess with me and helps me grow.
Jennifer Schmidt says
Isn’t is something how those old memories from years ago can still have such an impact? For me, I can revisit one ministry hurt in particular and it feels like yesterday, yet like you, it taught me so much and for me, it changed who I am now as a leader and I m so thankful for that experience.
I’m so glad that the Lord brought you right to that visiting church for that sermon that was just for you to hear. And, I agree with him 100%.
Rebecca L Jones says
I understand love languages but there are still some people who won’t apologize or accept apologies. I had an experience with this, saying i was sorry this happened to you. Some wounds only the Lord can heal and the person still has to receive.
Jennifer Schmidt says
Yes, that’s so very true. My justice oriented personality sometimes struggles with that and I have to open up my arms wide to the Lord and let him take it. (Sometimes, it just takes a bit longer to pry those arms open. ;)) xoxo
Beth Williams says
Apologizing comes easy to me, along with forgiving. I want to forgive people for their mistakes, or misspoken words. If I don’t forgive them then God will not forgive me of my trespasses. Loved the 5 apology languages. Never thought much about how to apologize correctly. My hubby and I are always apologizing for saying or not doing something we should have done. It has helped our marriage immensely. For me I want to accept another’s apology if done in the right spirit.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we learned to really apologize as a child. How many hurts we would save ourselves and others. I think we have been on both end, trying to apologize and the other person not buying a word we say and us not knowing what to say. And hearing an apology that leaves us still feeling like the other person didn’t even apologize. Thanks for your helpful words. I am sure it won’t be long before I get to put them into practice.
I am so grateful, Jennifer, for these wonderful words from the Lord. I have never though about how to speak forgiveness except as from a heart of repentance, but see what I say when I ask for forgiveness. I remember someone once telling me about how the Hawaiians ask forgiveness Ho’oponopono: I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. Maybe what is needed depends on the situation too, but ultimately I pray that I say what is needed with the help of the Lord to help heal the hurt. May each of us approach one another in His love to give and receive forgiveness every day 🙂
Pearl Allard says
Jennifer, thank you for this! I can readily think of two persons that have hurt me but never apologized. But I think of them in love and with pity. Over a decade of struggle with ongoing issues with these persons, God has helped me see that when He says we’re to live in peace with all men insofar as it depends on me… Well, there’s a whole lot more I can do than I initially wanted to think. It doesn’t feel lovely to pray for persons that feel like enemies. Or go above and beyond for these persons to show kindness. Or to be often misunderstood and be ok with that because God understood my real intent. God also revealed some of the hurts to me that these persons struggle with. It’s so much easier to pity and love those we see hurting, than those we just see being jerks. The closest to an apology I received was a comment made that I was the only person that things worked out with (in the workplace). I was surprised. I bore scars from the wounds they inflicted on me, but the perspective they had was that things worked out. Just goes to show that even if only one side of the relationship is trying to do things God’s way, there’s hope. Thank you, Jennifer!
Renee Swope says
This is so good Jen!! I’m going to get this book and try to learn more about the languages of apology. Im so glad you wrote about this important topic friend. Thank you for living a life that teaches me so much about grace, forgiveness and letting God work in the hard places of unhealed hurts.