The Apology Languages

Apology Languages

Do you know that there are five different apology languages? As an experienced couples counselor and marriage counselor, I’m going to give it to you straight: unresolved relationship injuries don’t just go away. Healthy relationships require many things, but among them is the ability to make a meaningful apology for the purpose of healing your relationship, and restoring trust — as well as emotional safety. Without it, an injured relationship is like a broken bone that doesn’t get set properly: It’s never the same.

In online marriage counseling and couples therapy sessions, we often work with couples who have felt hurt by their partners (and partners who don’t know how to make it better). The relationship wounds are painful, but they never really heal unless, and until, a meaningful apology is made. Remember, when it comes to apologizing, it’s not just what you say – it’s the way you say it, and, even more importantly, what you DO in the aftermath that counts.

A genuinely meaningful apology is about so much more than words. “Sorry” isn’t good enough. A true apology is verbalized in a humble and vulnerable way but also shown with behaviors that communicate your sincere understanding and care more than words ever will. And not just any behaviors — it has to be the ones that are meaningful to your specific person. “Apology languages” refer to the combination of words and behaviors that will heal the rupture in your particular relationship.

Today, on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, I’m sharing the five apology languages and how, in understanding others’ apology languages (and what they need from you), you can start to experience true healing and forgiveness in your most precious relationships. 

You can tune in on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow, Together.

Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.

Without a meaningful apology, even small relationship injuries can become a relationship-threatening abscess of unresolved hurt.

We All Make Relationship Mistakes

Some relationship injuries are obvious and dramatic, like having a horrible fight, being married with a crush on someone else, or even worse — actually having an affair. Some relationship injuries are only revealed after you both grow together through couples counseling, such as when you realize you’ve been engaging in a codependent relationship dynamic or habitually communicating in emotionally unsafe ways that make your partner feel invalidated or lead them to shut down.

But many relationship injuries go unnoticed. These “relationship-death by a thousand cuts” scenarios are incredibly common, and I think we can all relate to making some of these common relationship mistakes that destroy a relationship. But I can also tell you as a marriage counselor that when relationships fail and marriages end, it’s not usually because of some big explosive event. It’s because people have been so disappointed by each other, over and over again, they haven’t been good friends to each other, and have then missed the opportunities along the way to make meaningful apologies that repair your relationship effectively. Without a meaningful apology, even small relationship injuries can become a relationship-threatening abscess of unresolved hurt.

Empathizing with Apology Languages

Picture this common scenario: You’re on your way home for dinner, running late again for the 4th time this week. You are in the middle of a crazy project at work and are doing the best you can to juggle it all, but it’s hard to set boundaries with your job. 

As you rush home, you are apprehensive because you know your partner is going to be hurt. They work from home, alone, and really look forward to the two of you sitting down for dinner together. They’ve told you many times how important it is to them. 

You know that you didn’t intentionally stay late at work, and the past few months have been so busy, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are late again. You’re thinking of how to apologize the moment you walk in the door. (Though, as a human, you’re also secretly hoping that they can have empathy for your perspective, too). 

Can you relate??

Not All Apologies Are The Same

What does your apology sound like? Do you tell them you’re sorry for running late? Do you tell them you understand why they feel hurt because of your actions? Do you talk about how you can make sure you aren’t late again? Do you ask your partner for forgiveness and give them time to decide?

“Sorry” Only Counts When It’s Meaningful

There are many ways to apologize to our loved ones, but did you know there are different apology languages, and depending on which one you speak, some will be more meaningful than others? Similar to The Five Love Languages written by Gary Chapman, the Five Apology Languages each capture a different type of apology we need when our partner is trying to make amends. Just like each love language (i.e. Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Gift Giving, and Acts of Service) are simply different and not superior to any others, the same can be said about each apology language. One is not better than the other, we simply prefer a way of apologizing and feel most heard when our apology language is spoken by others. All are great ways to strengthen a relationship… but not every relationship. Understanding what truly matters to your partner is vital.

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The Apology Languages

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The Five Apology Languages

What are the five apology languages, and how are they different? Let’s take a look at each of the apology languages to understand better which apology language fits you. Keep in mind that, while you may have one or two apology languages, each apology language is important and serves a purpose. Don’t underestimate the power of any of these apology languages!

  1. Expressing Regret: This apology language focuses on the emotional hurt you’ve experienced from the other person’s actions or behavior. Focusing on emotional hurt means that hearing a genuine “I’m sorry” goes a long way for you. When someone is expressing regret, you feel that they are expressing the guilt and shame they feel for hurting you or causing you pain. You are not looking for “the next step” in how to fix the problem; you are looking for the person who’s hurt you to own the emotional hurt they’ve caused.
  2. Accepting Responsibility: This apology language requires the person apologizing to admit they were wrong and accept responsibility for their wrongdoing. This can be difficult for us to do as it is challenging to admit to your mistakes, especially if those mistakes have caused pain to someone else. However, if this is your apology language, you are looking for a genuine apology that accepts responsibility and does not attempt to make excuses or justifications. For an apology to feel genuine, you need the other person to simply say “I am wrong,” without further explanation.
  3. Genuinely Repent: This apology language focuses on how the person apologizing will modify their behavior in future similar situations. Not only is there a genuine apology for the pain caused, but also verbalization for the desire to change. Genuinely repenting takes an extra step towards change, as you need to hear the person express they want to change and set realistic goals for how they will make those changes. Unlike expressing regret, you ARE looking for that “next step” and how your partner will ensure this does not happen again.
  4. Make Restitution: This apology language requires justification or explanation for the person’s wrongdoing. If this is your apology language, you want to hear from your partner that they still love you, even though they hurt you. There are many ways to make restitution, especially if we look at the five love languages. Essentially, you’re looking for assurance that your partner still cares and is attempting to assure you by meeting your needs in the ways that are most important to you.
  5. Request Forgiveness: This apology language is all about asking for forgiveness and giving your partner space to decide if they forgive you. If this is your love language, it is meaningful to you for your partner to actually ask for your forgiveness. Requesting forgiveness is much different than demanding forgiveness. The key to requesting forgiveness is to allow the hurt partner to make the final decision, rather than force it upon them. By demanding forgiveness, you are taking away the sincerity if forgiveness is given.

Understanding Your Partner, and Yourself

If you’re not aware of your partner’s apology language, you’re going to be making relationship repair attempts that feel meaningful to you… but not necessarily to them.

If you’re not aware of your partner’s apology language, you’re going to be making relationship repair attempts that feel meaningful to you… but not necessarily to them.

Many people think that marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching is all about trying to make people change. While positive change is certainly part of the process when couples grow together, what is actually the first priority is helping them understand each other accurately, and develop love, appreciation, and acceptance for who they really are. 

So with that intention in mind, hold your partner in your mind for a moment. Think about their personality, way of being, values, and the things you know are important to them. From that place of understanding and acceptance, I’d like to invite you to think about what your partner’s apology language likely is. 

Now, even more importantly: any guesses as to which apology language is yours? The reason it is important to understand your own apology language is that unless we have clarity about our differences, your default apology language is going to be your own. If you’re not aware of your partner’s apology language, you’re going to be making relationship repair attempts that feel meaningful to you… but not necessarily to them. Furthermore, if you have clarity about your apology language, you can share this information with others to help them understand what you need.

I know that I’m asking you to imagine here, in order to generate empathy for your partner’s perspective, but I’ll also say this directly: it’s a good idea to ask your partner what their apology language is, instead of guessing or assuming. If they haven’t heard that term before, share this article with them. 

Apology Languages In Action

Let’s say that your apology language is Expressing Regret, and your partner’s apology language is Genuinely Repent. While there are similarities to these languages, there is a pretty big difference. You may not need to hear your partner verbalize a desire to change and share how they are going to make those changes, but it sounds like this is something your partner needs to hear. It can be challenging to add that extra step to your apology if it’s not what you are expecting. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know how your partner’s apology language differs from yours so that you can apologize in ways they feel heard and understood, ultimately turning conflict into connection? (Hopefully, you’re answering “yes!”).

Now that you know there are different apology languages, I challenge you and your partner to take the Apology Languages quiz online (https://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/apology/ ). After learning what your apology languages are, sit down and talk about them. Learn about each other, and how you can apologize in a way that your partner feels understood and cared for.

For even more detailed information to help strengthen your bond, take our free online How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz to get a snapshot of your relationships’ strengths and growth opportunities in a variety of domains. Then you can have a productive conversation about what you both love about each other… and what you’re also needing more of. Take this opportunity to grow together!

Also, some free relationship advice: when the hurt is big, or when there has been a major betrayal such as infidelity, “sorry” is just not good enough — no matter how you say it, or which apology language you use. The work ahead is not about making amends. It’s about restoring and repairing trust in your relationship. Restoring trust is difficult, but it can absolutely be done. Just remember that restoring trust is never an “event” where you say or do one thing to make it better. Trust is restored over time, and with intention and effort. There is a healing process that couples need to go through in order to mend their bond, release anger, and recover from infidelity. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it usually requires the support of an expert relationship coach or couples therapist. However, remembering your partner’s apology language is a great place to begin showing them that you love them and that you’re committed to doing what it takes to repair your relationship.

Grow, Together.

Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.

Episode Highlights

[02:44] How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships

  • Injured relationships are like broken bones — they won’t heal unless you set them correctly.
  • Real apologies are humble and vulnerable.
  • The recipient of an apology should feel the remorse of the person apologizing.
  • There are apology languages, similar to love languages.
  • Not all relational wounds are dramatic. They can be small, like coming home late from work and being defensive.

[14:00] How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

  • Defensiveness can deepen existing relational wounds.
  • Expressing regret should be wrapped and delivered in empathy.
  • It’s vital to accept that your behaviors can be hurtful to your partner or people you love.

[28:06] Accepting Responsibility and Moving Forward — Together

  • What evidence is there that things will be different moving forward?
  • It’s essential to request forgiveness, but never force it.
  • Your partner has to give consent to the healing process.

[33:28] Growing Together in a Relationship

  • Growing together involves understanding your partner clearly and empathetically.
  • It’s also critical to understand yourself. Let your partner join you on that journey of self-understanding.
  • Sometimes, when your partner hurts you, it’s not personal. It may be that they’re struggling too.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: And I’ve actually been giving some thought to easier ways that you and I can stay connected. And I actually put together a new blog and podcast page on our website. If you go to growingself.com/blog-podcast, you have a few things here, I think that will be really helpful for you. First of all, at the bottom of our podcast homepage here, there is now a handy-dandy widget allowing you to record a voice memo and send it to me. So if you have a question, and you’re comfortable with having me play that question on the air, I’m happy to answer it on an upcoming show. I have also included an option where you can just send an email, which will be more confidential than having your voice on the air, certainly. But anyway, so two new tools to allow you to submit questions or even topic ideas for the show: growingself.com/blog-podcast

The other thing that is happening on our podcast page now that I think you’ll really like because we, you know, we have episodes about so many different things have tried to organize this for you to make it easier to find what you want to hear more about. So we have organized all our stuff into collections. We have the love collection, happiness collections, success collections. And then within each of those main collections, we have like, affair recovery, divorce, breakup, recovery, personal growth, emotional wellness, growing together as a couple, career clarity, so many different things.

So if you go into those collections, you will find content, really curated content just for you on the topic that you care about, you want to hear more about. So we’ve collected all the different articles that our experts have written for you. We have podcast episodes, certainly. And I have even created podcast playlists for you through Spotify.

So on those pages, you will have a playlist of episodes that I have selected for you around that specific topic so that you no longer have to scroll through, I don’t know, what are we at, 267 episodes and counting. So anyway, okay, I just wanted to share those things, because I’ve been thinking about you and how to make things easier for you and nicer for you. I hope that those help.

How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships

Okay, now, let’s please dive into our topic at hand. Because this is extremely important. Nobody alive as you know, blundered into a situation in a relationship where they’ve made mistakes, or has had their feelings hurt by another human, right. I mean, these things happen to all of us. Again, this is normal and expected in relationships, things happen. You know, some things are certainly more regrettable than others. But knowing how to effectively repair a relationship is the difference between having something happen that just blows your relationship up and it’s basically over for all intents and purposes, versus having an experience that helps you grow together.

It’s very important to know how to do this. As I said, in the beginning, people want to believe oh, well, that happened a long time ago, it’s over, that’s not happening anymore. So we should just move on. And that is not the way relationships work. That is not the way things are mended. What is true is that unresolved relationship injuries do not just go away, they don’t go away over time, even, you know, healthy relationships require many things. But truly among them is the ability to make a meaningful apology for the purpose of healing that relationship and restoring trust, as well as emotional safety.

Without that, an injured relationship. It’s like a broken bone, right? Like, maybe it heals. But if you don’t get it set properly, and do the right things and take care of it, it is never the same and relationships can go through things and if they’re not mended, the relationship is never the same. And I’m not saying this to be scary. It’s just it’s a reality. And I’m sure as you scroll back through your own life experiences and think about things that have happened in relationships where there was just, you know, unfinished business that was never resolved; it really never was the same.

We don’t want that to happen to your relationship, hence our topic. And so you know, I’m coming at this from a few different directions. Certainly, as a marriage counselor, I have worked with so many couples who felt hurt by their partners or you know, work with partners who, who really don’t know how to mend a relationship after having, having done something that I think that this goes in other directions, like certainly romantic partnerships, but if you think about situations with your friends, or with your family members, I mean, you know, from time to time, we have adult children, bringing their parents into counseling or relationship coaching here in our practice, because there were things that happened years ago that are still very much alive emotionally, and they want to resolve it, or even friends.

We’ve had siblings, like adult siblings in their 20s or 30s, want to come in and do some of this work. So, maybe using language or describing situations that is talking about, like couples specific work, but these are really applicable to many different relational situations. Even at work, you know, I mean, to work with a boss or an employee or a co-worker, certainly different kinds of relationships. Hopefully, it’s not quite as fraught, as you know, your intense personal relationships, but there are still things that happen, that need to be repaired in order for relationships to, to have a future, you know.

So just remember, when it comes to apologizing, and and mending these relationships, it is not about just what you say, it is not saying the words, I’m sorry, or even acknowledging the mistake, it is really about the way that you say it, the the language you use, and even more importantly, what you do in the aftermath that counts. So we need to be pairing your words with your actions and making sure that those things are congruent. People hear your words and can certainly have reactions to those, but people feel what you do, and harm occurs in the context of relationships, sometimes through words, oftentimes through actions, and it is through an experiential process, that relationships are also healed.

So, saying sorry is always helpful, but a true apology is verbalized in a way that people can feel. And you know, when I sit with couples in couples counseling, there’s a big difference between somebody that says, yeah, sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Because you can tell that they’re just like trying to get it over with, they’re saying the words they know they need to say, but there’s not like, feeling connected to it. A real apology is one that is humble. It is vulnerable.

Remorse is not just expressed in words, it is felt by the recipient. When that is combined with follow up actions that show you communicate sincere understanding that matters more than the words ever will. You also have to say the words for those of you who may be conflict-avoidant, or not like saying things out loud, you also do actually have to say the words but to follow up with those behaviors. And here’s the important piece, the behaviors and also the degree the words need to be meaningful to your specific person.

So that’s the whole concept. You know, apology languages, refers to this idea that we, through our knowledge of the people that we love and care about, are able to create a restorative experience that uses words and behaviors that are meaningful to the person that you care about. We all make relationship mistakes, some relationship injuries are quite obvious and dramatic, right? We have a really terrible fight where you say things in the heat of the moment that you regret afterwards. You know, some sometimes all the way up to a betrayal, financial infidelity, or having an affair you know, hiding things lying, there can be all kinds of stuff.

There can be sort of a spectrum of severity. But — and I have talked about this on another podcast, but I think it’s important enough, and I’m just going to revisit it briefly today — is that many relationship injuries are fairly quiet, in the sense that they can go unnoticed, they are not big dramatic things that you’re like, Whoa, I really messed that up, I need to do something about that. It’s more like this death by a thousand cuts kind of scenario where people over time, experience small, but wounding things that because they happen again, and again, and again, these relationship mistakes are very damaging.

I think that when people actually divorce or separate, it’s not usually because of the big dramatic reveal, you know, oh, my gosh, this person, I’m married to had a girlfriend and three kids that they were keeping an apartment in San Diego, I never knew. That’s not usually what happens. It is, over time, this sort of emerging and increasingly real belief that this person does not understand what they’re doing that is hurtful to me. Or if they do, they don’t care, or it’s always going to be like this, so the only way to get away from this relational experience, and I’m finding so hurtful is to leave the relationship.

I’ll refer you back to past podcast episodes I have done on this subject. I think one of the most powerful for me was that Why Relationships Fail episode, I don’t know if you caught that one. But that’s a great example of of this in action. And the other things that that happen is that after it gets past a certain point, you know, recognizing the mistake, trying to apologize for it, and and correct it. If you wait too long, and enough damage is done. It’s like it’s too late, and it doesn’t matter. So it’s very important. I’m so glad you’re listening to this podcast, hopefully, you know, if when you’re in this relationship improvements kind of phase rather than, you know, oh, relationship repair kind of phase, because learning how to do this well, is so vital. I mean, this is a skill that we teach our clients in premarital counseling; this is one of the things that you have to know how to do in order to have a healthy relationship for the long haul.

So if we want to use an example of a small kind of relational wound, that does matter, and that needs to be addressed. I’d like to imagine something that we’ve probably all done, I have been guilty of this, we’re on our way home for from work, you know, or coming back from dinner, or sitting in our home office in front of Zoom for longer than we intended to be right. But you told your partner, you’re going to be done at a certain time. You’re not, you’re in the middle of all these crazy things, you know, you have all these reasons why.

And you’re doing the best you can to juggle it all. But you know, the reality is that you maybe aren’t setting boundaries around your work that you should be, and it’s impacting your personal life, it’s impacting your partner. And so, you know, you you’ve like, oh, gosh, it’s almost seven o’clock, and you’re rushing home, and maybe you’re apprehensive, because your partner has told you before that they don’t like this, can you at least call if you’re not going to be home, I won’t make dinner for us. I mean, you know, valid.

How to Fix a Relationship After a Fight

As you’re having this experience, you’re already sort of feeling anxious like that. I know, they’re gonna be upset with me. And so what happens to us, when we’re anticipating somebody else being annoyed with us? We start reminding ourselves of all the reasons why we couldn’t help it. It’s just this project. It’s all I got a late email that I just had to respond to like, it’s like, we’re already getting defensive in our own heads. We are rationalizing our own behaviors. Am I the only person with my hand raised right now? Don’t leave me hanging. It happens; it’s what we do, right?

And so we’re kind of primed to come in the door with excuses with reasons why, with ra ra ra. Those could all be factually accurate. They could all be correct and true. But in that moment, there’s this Like fork in the road, where you can deepen the already existing wound between you and your partner with excuses and sort of preliminary defensiveness or you can have a different moment that feels differently to both of you.

That not just starts the process of healing the relationship, but also begins the process of creating a very powerful change in your relationship, because you are feeling it in a different way. Right? And so, when you’re in the space and thinking about, okay, how do I repair this in a meaningful way, you have, you know, the goal is to have an event that you both feel, and that leads to sustained change in the relationship. But I’d like you to consider that the way you say it, the language that you say, the things that you do need to be meaningful to your partner.

So you may be familiar with this, this book, the set of ideas around the love languages, right. So this was, I think, coined by Gary Chapman, the love languages back in the day, and I know we’ve talked about love languages, on previous podcast episodes, I had such a good time doing the love languages quiz for you guys, where I walked you through my informal IKEA relationship quiz. But it’s also true, these same ideas are true for apologies, as well, and many other things — it’s not just apologies.

But just like each love language. So we have words of affirmation, you know, saying nice things, spending, quality time having physical touch, gift giving acts of service, there are also love languages that I have found to be very powerful for people, which include moving towards long term kind of goals or projects together, and also having meaningful conversations of our love languages that I think Mr. Chapman didn’t include, but in my experience, are very salient for many people.

None of these love languages are necessarily better than the other, but they are fairly different. And understanding which of those is most meaningful to your partner. And using that intentionally, in a loving way, will create an experience that will mend. And so that’s why I wanted you to consider this. It strengthens your relationship. So like, for example, if we look at the different, different apology languages, one is, you know, simply expressing regret in a vulnerable and also like, detailed and emotionally evocative way.

This love language of really going into your experience of regret, verbally is very, very useful for people whose love language is primarily around words of affirmation, or very meaningful kinds of in-depth conversation that like, you know, connecting through communication. And when you go here, it’s really focusing on articulating your understanding of the emotional hurt that you have caused somebody else. You know, it’s not just saying, I know it annoys you when I come home from work later than I told you, I would. Sorry.

It’s saying, I understand that you work from home, you are alone all day. And you really look forward to me coming home and I know that you often do really nice things for me, you often prepare dinner, you know, it’s nice, you pick up the place. You’re ready to kind of talk about your day and are looking forward to spending time together. And that when I disregard that, or ignore that need that you have, it really feels bad for you. It feels like I don’t care about you. It feels like I don’t recognize your needs or care about them. It feels like you know, spending time with you isn’t as important to me as it is to you. I hate that that’s how my behaviors make you feel. I also understand why you do feel that way, it’s absolutely valid, that you would feel that way. I just want you to understand that I understand that I’m very committed to setting different boundaries with my work going forward so that this doesn’t happen to you again, because I want to have a relationship with us together where you feel my love for you. I know this is important to you. So if you, if you can forgive me, I’m, you know, going forward, gonna really be working hard on this.

That’s like really expressing regret, that is wrapped and delivered in empathy in, let me put myself on your side of the table, and understand how you experienced this through your, you know, personality, your life experiences, your history, your emotional needs, which may be different from mine, right? It’s important to recognize and have a lot of understanding that the things that might not seem like a big deal, or important to you, maybe exceptionally meaningful and important to other people.

I know it can be very tempting to assume that the way we think and feel and behave is actually correct. That is not true. We all have our own subjective truth. And if you would like to have good relationships that endure with other humans, it’s very important that you understand and value the subjective truth of others. More on the subject of emotional intelligence coaching in other previous podcast episodes, or you can browse that content collection, if you’d like to learn more about that. So that is one language, love language is really going in depth with the communication of understanding.

Another very important and salient love language, or an apology language kind of correlates with that acts of service kind of need, and that is accepting responsibility, combined with ideally making restitution. So when you are using the apology language of accepting responsibility, you are being very careful and very clear about articulating your behaviors from the perspective that they were wrong. And that you are accepting responsibility for your wrongdoing. And this is very, very hard. Again, going back to what I was saying about that scenario coming home late. You have 97 reasons why you did what you did that make sense to you.

From your perspective of your own values, your personality, your motivations. Maybe you don’t entirely believe that you were wrong in doing what you did. And so this can really be a sticking point for a lot of people to be accepting responsibility. And what I would like to submit to you is that when it comes to relationships, there is only subjective reality about what is true or not true. And if you are in a relationship that you hope to keep with somebody that you care about, the thing that was wrong, that must be accepted. The responsibility of acceptance is the fact that you engaged in behaviors that were very hurtful to your partner.

Even if you privately think that those behaviors whatever they were, shouldn’t have been hurtful to your partner because that’s not how you meant it, that’s happened to you nine times you don’t care when people do that to you just stop. You did something that was hurtful to somebody that you are trying to have a relationship with. If you didn’t know in advance that it was going to be hurtful, you get one pass. And this is it. This is the conversation where they get to tell you about how much that hurt their feelings, and why. And you get to understand this and change your behaviors going forward. Unless there is always this possibility, and I’ll just say this out loud, because it is a thing that happens if you are in a relationship that has really abusive relationship dynamics, where you are being unfairly controlled by another person who is making unreasonable demands of you in order to manage their own anxiety constrain you in some way.

If this was genuinely a toxic relationship, where you either have a choice of trying to help this other person feel loved and cared for, or participating, or I should say, By participating in behaviors that feel very incongruent, and unhealthy for you. That is a different situation. If you are in that situation, I would strongly encourage that you get yourself in front of a very qualified marriage and family therapist. So a therapist who has specialized training and experience in couples and family therapy, please unravel this, for your own sake, potentially, or partners. If you need to change the situation on your own, that’s completely valid.

But outside of those situations, if you are continuing to participate in behaviors, or do things that are hurtful to your partner, and you are not accepting responsibility for that, or seeking to change it, and continuing to do it, this is not going to be a sustainable relationship for you. So I just wanted to say that out loud, so that you have all of your choices really laid out there in front of you.

Sometimes there can be a middle path towards you if you genuinely believe that you are not doing anything wrong, and that your partner is being unreasonable for being as upset as they are. If that feels like an impasse, that would be another reason to take this to a licensed marriage and family therapist to help both of you find resolution and a middle path that will carry you forward. Otherwise, it will turn into this gridlocked kind of power struggle that will continue to damage your relationship for a long time.

Accepting Responsibility and Moving Forward — Together

So anyway, accepting responsibility is very, very important. And combining that acceptance of responsibility with making restitution and seeking to change. So accepting responsibility is yes, what I did was wrong, because it hurt you, right. And what it also means is, and here is what I am going to do differently going forward. It could mean, you know, here’s what you can expect from me, from now on, it could be an activity that you do together. Here, I am going to send you my meeting schedule at work, so you know what I have going on so you can see things more clearly. And here you can see I’m going to block out this time at the end of the day so I can wrap things up and send that one last email and be in the car on my way home to you by 05:10, or whatever it is.

But it’s like evidence that things are going to be different going forward, not just saying, yeah. And then another important component of a meaningful and genuinely healing apology is also a request. If you have earned this right through doing the things that we’ve talked about previously, expressing your regret, expressing empathy, accepting responsibility, you know, offering behaviors of restitution and showing people what you’re gonna do differently. If you are doing a good job of that. It can also be really important and healing to actually request forgiveness, right.

This is particularly true if your partner has a kind of intrinsic love language, where they are prising that acts of service, but also words of affirmation, connecting through communication, because it’s like, it’s very empowering when to your partner and to both of you, honestly, when you specifically request forgiveness, not forcing it, not forcing it. But it’s saying, I understand what I did wrong, I see this through your eyes, here’s what I’m going to do going forward. And I hope that you can forgive me and give me another chance. Then give them space to think about that and decide for themselves, if they can do that. If they want to do that, and it’s a little bit of a trust fall.

If you’re an animal person, you might be familiar with this experience — you can extend your hand to a dog or a cat or a horse, right, you don’t just like reach out and start scratching their head, you extend your hand, you let them know, this is available. And then that dog or cat or horse will decide if they would like to put their hand or their face on your hand, right. It’s kind of this way, it’s like co-creating a decision, you are extending a request for forgiveness, an offer of repairs, like a repair attempt. But in order to step into that with you, it has to be volitional. The person that you have hurt needs to have the autonomy and the power of choice to kind of work through that on their own and say, okay. All right, I’m going to do this, I’m going to take a chance and believe what they just said, and what they’re going to show me through restitution. And, okay, yeah, we’ll give this another try.

It’s like giving consent to the healing process. And I know, it sounds like a weird little small thing. But with out consciously giving that consent and making a choice to forgive and to move back towards connection with you, people can hang on to resentment and grudges for a long time. Because they, internally have not decided to forgive you or to allow healing to happen. And so to request that — again, only if you have earned it — then you get to request it. But requesting that and, and allowing time and space for independent decision can really help promote the healing process.

Growing Together in a Relationship

I also just want to share something and I think it’s in alignment with what we’re talking about right now. Many people view what I do, you know, marriage counseling, couples, therapy, relationship coaching, as being about trying to get people to change, right? Let’s change the way we do things. Let’s change the way we talk to each other. Let’s change our routines, you know, and certainly there’s time and place. I think we can all strive to be our best selves and do positive things with each other and for each other in our relationships. So yes, it’s part of the process to create active change.

But I think what is not as commonly acknowledged or discussed, is all of the other stuff that happens through the process of growth and relationships. The tip of the iceberg is maybe the things look differently after right? Everything underneath the water, all of the parts of the iceberg that you can’t see, but that are really the most important, meaty parts of all of this are the process of understanding your person in a much more clear and empathetic way.

Who they are. Why they are the way they are. What they care about; what are their values? How do they perceive the world? How do they feel? And why does that make sense? Right? It can be so easy to judge people who are different than ourselves and to really create that understanding, and also to have it go both ways to understand yourself differently. Why do I react the way I do? Why do I feel so strongly about this situation? Why is it so hard for me to accept responsibility for XYZ, right? That is personal growth for the service of a relationship.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times people are trying to have relationships with others, when they don’t fully understand themselves yet. And so it’s this growth process where you’re understanding yourself, you’re understanding your partner, and then mutually sharing those things with the other person. So as you’re understanding yourself, your partner is also understanding you, and vice versa. It’s through this process of understanding that generates a lot of empathy, generates compassion, generates insight. And the net result of all this a lot of times is not not just change, because that certainly can be a byproduct, it is developing a different level of appreciation and acceptance for your partner for who they actually are.

It changes your story about what is happening, to appreciate your partner and be responsive, and actively caring for who they are, and how they really feel, will help you. First of all, without understanding, you will probably not need to be making many apologies going forward, because through that understanding, you will be making choices day to day that are prioritizing your relationship or prioritizing your partner’s feelings or your friend’s feelings or family members feelings. So it’s like that insight and that work is very protective in that way.

But also, it becomes very easy to competently talk about articulate understanding of validate, be responsive to any hurts that may, you know, invariably happen along the way sometimes, right? I mean, nobody’s perfect; things happen. But it becomes very, very easy to repair relationships with people that you really get, right. Because you know what could hurt them, and you know how to make it better, because you’ve earned that knowledge and that ability to repair and vice versa, you know, you get that back.

And that is a different kind of thing than sort of, you know, trying to do things differently from a top down level, right? I’m going to say please, and thank you, whatever, you know, that you might get coached on, I think sometimes by therapists, providing couples counseling. You may not have the depth of understanding that I think real marriage and family therapists do sometimes is: to go through a process that helps you both evolve and gain this understanding at very deep levels underneath the surface.

Because with that, there’s not much hurt that happens in relationships anymore. And also, interestingly, when you have achieved that, and have that understanding, have that appreciation, have that tolerance, there’s also a lot of grace that goes along with that, because the narrative has changed. It turns into, she doesn’t get home late from work because she doesn’t care about me and would rather be working than talking to me because I’m not important to her. It turns into, she has ADHD, her mom had ADHD, nobody ever talked to her about time management skills and she loses track of time, she really struggles to stay organized. And then she has this Oh, crap moment right before she leaves the office about five things that she forgot to do.

It’s actually not personal. And it is actually really unpleasant and uncomfortable for her when that happens and I can see her struggle. We want to do some things differently going forward that minimize that impact on both of us. But, you know, maybe we can find a productive solution, as opposed to being really mad at each other about it. It changes the conversation.

So I hope that this discussion of apology languages, and how to go about them in meaningful ways was helpful for you just in talking about things, beginning to repair hurts. I will also say, though, that what is additionally extremely important with relationship repair, is not just that conversation itself. It is ongoing recognition of the harm that those behaviors or actions caused, and consistent demonstration of different behaviors that take your partner’s feelings into consideration over and over and over again

It is showing your partner that you care about how they feel and that you take them seriously. Because here’s what I’m showing you by your actions: if I am going to be late on the rare occasion — because I’m usually on time now, because we’ve talked about how much it bothers you and I’ve implemented strategies to help me get out the door sooner than I might otherwise — I’m going to be texting you well in advance, I am going to be showing you that I care. If this happens, I’m going to be in charge of dinner for both of us tomorrow, I’m going to stop or go out to a restaurant.

So it’s really not just thinking that the apology, or the conversation about it was in itself sufficient to be fully healing. It is a great start. But it is extremely easy to rip that scab right off, if it happens again. And so be very intentional and thoughtful about what you change in what you do and what you show people in terms of your process or changing your behaviors going forward. And figure out how to be very consistent with that if you know, and they know that it’s extremely important.

Now again, there is also that middle path of talking about a deeper level of understanding that creates change, like in the story for both of you, that is difficult to do, oftentimes without support of a marriage and family therapist. If you have something like that going on in your relationship that truly feels like a sticking point, it’s maybe not something that can change and is something that is consistently hurtful to one of you — very, very important that you are talking about that openly and seeking some kind of resolution for both of you with someone who knows how to help you.

Or, you know, if that isn’t the case, and you’re like yeah, you know, I really shouldn’t do that. That’s a bad habit on my part, it is something that I would like to have be different. And now I’m even more motivated, because I know how much it hurts my partner, you’d have a good plan in place to do that. And so you know, on that note, when it comes to changing your own behaviors, I have a number of podcasts that I’ve put together on those topics. Or you might want to check out the personal growth collection on our blog: growingself.com/blog-podcast and look for the happiness collection and then in there is the personal growth collection.

There are a number of podcasts and articles around ways to identify and then change things that you would like to change. Or if it is, you know, changing the way that you communicate habitually becoming a more emotionally safe person for yourself or your partner, you want to check out the emotional wellness collection or the emotional intelligence collection, both of those will be very useful to you.

Or if it’s something that you’ve tried to change on your own before and haven’t been successful. That can also be a sign that it’s time to connect with a coach, you know, a life coach just like if you’ve been trying forever to get in shape or achieve your fitness goals and you’re like, I’m failing, I’m failing, I’m failing. Get a personal trainer; that is how people do this. And there are coaches who can help you make positive changes personally. That is what we do.

So anyway, I hope that this podcast episode has provided you with some new information and some new perspective about how to repair relationships by using the apology languages. And if you have follow up questions here or would like to know more about maybe you know related topics that I may have mentioned today let me know where to growingself.com/blog-podcast, you can record a voice question for me that I may play on the air and speak to or if you’d like to keep it private, let me know that that’s fine, but send me your question. And we will continue this conversation. Okay, thanks, friends. Talk to you soon. Bye.

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13 Comments

    1. Honestly Andrew, that is a bad sign. Healthy relationships require both people to be actively engaging in self-awareness, and taking responsibility for how they’re showing up with each other. If that’s not happening, I would imagine that there are a number of aspects of this relationship that probably feel hard for you. In order for this to be a sustainable, happy, long-term relationship growth may be necessary.

      You might want to listen to a podcast episode I released recently entitled, “When To Call It Quits In a Relationship.” In it I address a number of situations similar to this one, about what to do when there’s a persistent problem in your relationship. The punchline is that it may not be an “all or nothing” but rather an opportunity to create positive change and growth in both of you. I also provide information about how to tell when growth and change is probably NOT possible, and what to do then.

      I hope in this case, your “exploration process” leads to your partner doing some growth work in couples therapy that allows them to do a better job of taking personal responsibility, and communicating their love, respect and empathy for you. You deserve that Andrew.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  1. What about a partner who decides to keep quiet and doesn’t want to speak to you for weeks , how do I engage and express my apology?

    1. Hi Ray! This is a good question. I think it depends.

      If your partner is communicating to you through their actions that they are not ready to engage with you and talk about things yet, the best course of action (and the one that will show them that you understand them, and that you care about and respect their feelings) would be to honor their desire for space. Then when they are ready, you can have the type of (hopefully) healing conversation that you’d like to have. The alternative here is basically chasing someone around wanting them to accept an apology and that’s not a good dynamic for you to be in.

      On the OTHER hand if your partner isn’t using the time to calm down and get into a better space where they are emotionally ready to get back into the ring with you, but rather punishing you or freezing you out, that’s not good for either of you and may make the problem worse. In that case, I’d recommend getting some help for both of you. For example, sitting down with a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you not just talk about what happened but learn more constructive communication skills for dealing with conflict, it would eliminate the problem going forward.

      Ideally, doing some meaningful work in couples counseling could also serve to reduce or eliminate the “mistakes” that are leading to your partner’s emotional withdrawal and requiring an apology from you. That would be my hope for you!

      Wishing you all the best,
      Lisa

  2. What if your partner apologizes but after you ask for an apology from them but then they repeat what they originally was told to apologize for? Then they get frustrated and shut down after knowing they have messed up again And apologizes in a frustrated way for how they are but show no change.

    1. Yes, I completely agree: That’s a big box of defensiveness wrapped up in apology paper. They are not understanding what is upsetting you in the first place, and while they’ll say “sorry” continue to view you as being unreasonable and not understanding of them. Because they don’t understand why you’re upset and feel that they’re right and you’re wrong, the behavior continues.

      I’m hearing that in your efforts to get them to understand, and their efforts to appease you and defend themselves, your relationship is spiraling down into a predictable pursue-withdraw dynamic.

      You are certainly welcome to learn more about this and educate yourself using the resources on the blog here at Growing Self, but in my professional opinion it may be time to get into high quality couples counseling in order to begin to repair your communication and build bridges of understanding. (Because continuing to do what you have been doing is not all of a sudden going to start working — your relationship will just get progressively worse).

      But here are resources for you to educate yourself:

      – How to communicate with someone who shuts down.
      – How to improve your communication.
      – What to do when you feel invalidated.

      If you’d like to pursue couples counseling or relationship coaching, please please please first read this article about how to find a good marriage counselor first so you don’t get entangled with a therapist who offers couples counseling but who doesn’t really know how to help you.

      If you’d like to get connected with one of the relationship experts here at Growing Self the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session with the marriage counselor, couple’s therapist or relationship coach of your choice to discuss your hopes and goals and see if it feels like a good fit before moving forward.

      Thanks again for reaching out. Good luck with things!
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  3. […] after a self-smack and reading a few articles on the topic, I did come to see apology languages in terms of “most effective” or […]

  4. Honestly Andrew, that is a bad sign. Healthy relationships require both people to be actively engaging in self-awareness, and taking responsibility for how they’re showing up with each other. If that’s not happening, I would imagine that there are a number of aspects of this relationship that probably feel hard for you. In order for this to be a sustainable, happy, long-term relationship growth may be necessary.

    You might want to listen to a podcast episode I released recently entitled, “When To Call It Quits In a Relationship.” In it I address a number of situations similar to this one, about what to do when there’s a persistent problem in your relationship. The punchline is that it may not be an “all or nothing” but rather an opportunity to create positive change and growth in both of you. I also provide information about how to tell when growth and change is probably NOT possible, and what to do then.

    I hope in this case, your “exploration process” leads to your partner doing some growth work in couples therapy that allows them to do a better job of taking personal responsibility, and communicating their love, respect and empathy for you. You deserve that Andrew.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

  5. What about a partner who decides to keep quiet and doesn’t want to speak to you for weeks , how do I engage and express my apology?

  6. Hi Ray! This is a good question. I think it depends.

    If your partner is communicating to you through their actions that they are not ready to engage with you and talk about things yet, the best course of action (and the one that will show them that you understand them, and that you care about and respect their feelings) would be to honor their desire for space. Then when they are ready, you can have the type of (hopefully) healing conversation that you’d like to have. The alternative here is basically chasing someone around wanting them to accept an apology and that’s not a good dynamic for you to be in.

    On the OTHER hand if your partner isn’t using the time to calm down and get into a better space where they are emotionally ready to get back into the ring with you, but rather punishing you or freezing you out, that’s not good for either of you and may make the problem worse. In that case, I’d recommend getting some help for both of you. For example, sitting down with a good marriage counselor or relationship coach who can help you not just talk about what happened but learn more constructive communication skills for dealing with conflict, it would eliminate the problem going forward.

    Ideally, doing some meaningful work in couples counseling could also serve to reduce or eliminate the “mistakes” that are leading to your partner’s emotional withdrawal and requiring an apology from you. That would be my hope for you!

    Wishing you all the best,
    Lisa

  7. What if your partner apologizes but after you ask for an apology from them but then they repeat what they originally was told to apologize for? Then they get frustrated and shut down after knowing they have messed up again And apologizes in a frustrated way for how they are but show no change.

  8. Yes, I completely agree: That’s a big box of defensiveness wrapped up in apology paper. They are not understanding what is upsetting you in the first place, and while they’ll say “sorry” continue to view you as being unreasonable and not understanding of them. Because they don’t understand why you’re upset and feel that they’re right and you’re wrong, the behavior continues.

    I’m hearing that in your efforts to get them to understand, and their efforts to appease you and defend themselves, your relationship is spiraling down into a predictable pursue-withdraw dynamic.

    You are certainly welcome to learn more about this and educate yourself using the resources on the blog here at Growing Self, but in my professional opinion it may be time to get into high quality couples counseling in order to begin to repair your communication and build bridges of understanding. (Because continuing to do what you have been doing is not all of a sudden going to start working — your relationship will just get progressively worse).

    But here are resources for you to educate yourself:

    – How to communicate with someone who shuts down.
    – How to improve your communication.
    – What to do when you feel invalidated.

    If you’d like to pursue couples counseling or relationship coaching, please please please first read this article about how to find a good marriage counselor first so you don’t get entangled with a therapist who offers couples counseling but who doesn’t really know how to help you.

    If you’d like to get connected with one of the relationship experts here at Growing Self the first step in getting started is to schedule a free consultation session with the marriage counselor, couple’s therapist or relationship coach of your choice to discuss your hopes and goals and see if it feels like a good fit before moving forward.

    Thanks again for reaching out. Good luck with things!
    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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