What Are the 5 Apology Languages?
When it comes to relationships — of all kinds — knowing how and when to apologize is essential. That said, it's not easy for everyone. After all, an apology also means acknowledging that you've done something wrong and fessing up to it.
And for it to truly feel genuine, an apology needs to be more than simply saying, "I'm sorry."
If you've ever felt lost as to how to apologize to someone you love — or felt utterly unaffected by an apology someone gave you — then "apology languages" may help you better understand. You've likely heard of the five love languages. Well, there are also apology languages, or certain ways to apologize that people may prefer or find more meaningful than others. They were developed by clinical psychologist Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., and Gary Chapman, Ph.D., marriage counselor and creator of the love languages.
Curious? Read on to learn about the five apology languages and what they can do for all the relationships in your life.
What Are Apology Languages?
There are five types of apology languages, according to Chapman and Thomas. Just like love languages, everyone has an apology language. When you discover just what that language is, you're better able to communicate your remorse with those around you and resolve conflict in a positive and healthy way. Learning your apology language will also help you better understand how you receive apologies from others and what apology styles work best for you.
"When you know what your own apology language is and what is meaningful to you, you can let those around you know," says Karen Donaldson, a certified confidence coach and celebrity communication and body language expert. "Likewise, if you're aware which apology language is meaningful to those around you, you can apologize using that language so it resonates with that person, and it's better received." (Related: Signs a Relationship Is Over, According to a Therapist)
The 5 Apology Languages
If you're unsure of your apology language, here are five examples to help you identify which language rings most true for you. You can also take the apology languages quiz on Chapman's website if you need help figuring out which one you relate to most.
1. Expressing Regret
Example: "I feel bad that I didn't XYZ. I'm sorry."
The expressing regret apology language is about reaching deep inside and admitting to yourself that you hurt someone, that you owe them an apology, and that you regret your actions that warranted the apology. This apology language is simple — it's expressed simply in the act of saying "I'm sorry I hurt you" — but it's important to admit guilt and recognize the pain you caused the other person.
2. Accepting Responsibility
Example: "I'm sorry for XYZ. I should not have done that, and there's no excuse for it."
Being able to hold yourself accountable for your behavior when you're apologizing takes a lot. You're not just conceding you were wrong, but you're also accepting responsibility for it — something not everyone is easily capable of doing. This apology language should be direct and to the point, without making any excuses for yourself, says Donaldson. Instead, you own it.
"For some people, their ego or pride can get in the way of them offering this type of apology in a manner that is genuine," says Donaldson. "This type of apology is where you are taking personal ownership for what has happened and not making excuses or projecting it onto someone else."
This may be your apology language or your partner's apology language if either of you needs to hear the words "I was wrong" in order to feel an apology is truly genuine.
3. Genuinely Repenting
Example: "I'm genuinely sorry for XYZ. Next time, I'll XYZ instead, so it won't happen again."
The genuinely repenting apology language is not just about taking responsibility, but also about the promise that you'll do better in the future and that what you're apologizing for will never happen again. The key thing here is verbalizing your desire to change.
"You let the person know what you're going to do about it, to rectify it, or what you'll do next time," says Donaldson.
4. Making Restitution
Example: "I'm sorry for XYZ. Here's what I'm going to do to make it right."
As this apology language suggests, this is about apologizing through action in addition to verbalizing that you're sorry. Words simply aren't enough; this apology language is about doing something to make it up to the person. This might be your or your partner's apology language if either of you feels the need for justice or a visible demonstration of love to feel you can truly accept an apology. (Finding out your partner's love language and then using that to "repay" them can help.)
5. Requesting Forgiveness
Example: "I'm sorry for XYZ. I hope you'll forgive me, but I understand you may need time to do that."
As U.S. Naval Officer Grace Murray Hopper once said in an interview, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission." While this is definitely true in some cases, asking for forgiveness, depending on what you're hoping to be forgiven for, can make one wish they did ask for permission.
But, as Donaldson explains, you can't force someone's hand to forgive you and pressure them for a response. Requesting forgiveness also means giving the person from whom you're asking forgiveness time to process whether or not they want to forgive you. (Related: The Psychology of Why You Keep Going Back to Your Ex)
Why Do Apology Languages Matter?
Just as it's useful to understand how you receive and give love with your love language, the same can be said about apology languages. As humans, we're ultimately flawed. Because of this, we're all guilty of saying and doing things that negatively affect the people in our life. Part of being a person in this society and getting along with others is having the ability to know when and how to apologize, as well as what you need when someone is apologizing to you.
"When we have wronged someone, the right thing to do is apologize, if at all possible," says Donaldson. "What you say as an apology and how you say it can turn the interaction into one where all parties involved are able to effectively resolve the issue, or where both or one party walks away feeling like it was disingenuous." (See: How to Have Healthier Relationship Arguments)
Harnessing apology languages and understanding them (as well as their impact on your relationships) can really enhance your communication skills. Resolution is the goal; making someone feel you just apologized for the sake of apologizing resolves nothing. Unless you're fine with that and fine with letting down someone you care about, then acquainting yourself with apology languages should feel just as important as love languages.
How You Can Use Apology Languages IRL
In order to make the most of your apology language and the apology languages of those who are important to you, the first step is being accountable for what it was that led to the need for an apology in the first place. Then, the next step is configuring that apology to meet your language as well as your partner's language.
"The best way to use apology languages in real life is to first try to understand and practice your apology language, and seek to understand your partner's apology language," says Alexander Burgemeester, a licensed psychologist who specializes in relationships. "This is essential if you want to be able to practice forgiveness and grow together. You should also keep in mind that your partner's needs are just as important as your own."
And, to be honest, if you include bits of every apology language in your next sincere apology, you're probably off to a good start. After all, truly regretting your wrongdoing, accepting responsibility for it, asking forgiveness, and doing what you can to make it right can't hurt. (Related: What Is Emotional Cheating, or Emotional Infidelity?)
To make relationships last — whether they be romantic or platonic — apologies, in general, are important, says Burgemeester. Being able to apologize for your own mistakes as well as accept apologies is fundamentally important in strengthening relationships. It helps everyone involved realize that their hurt feelings are valid — and an apology shouldn't be too much to ask for, really.