August 1, 2019

Part 2 – Apology Language: Regret, Responsibility & Restitution


Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Jennifer Thomas look at the importance of forgiveness in communication strategies for couples in their book When Sorry Isn’t Enough (2013). Throughout the book they discuss five different apology languages that humans have. You might be apologizing to your partner, but do they recognize it? Let’s start by going in-depth of the first three apology languages as an extension to the overview in my last post. If you haven’t seen that overview, you can click below to go back and check out the introduction to all five.

Here’s the link to Part 1 in this Series: Recognizing Apology Language and How It’s Different than Forgiveness.

Expressing Regret

Expressing regret means hearing someone say the words “I’m Sorry”. To be able to truly forgive someone we need to hear that they regret what they have done. Is the statement “I’m Sorry” enough? As we will discuss, it might not always be enough, but it is a good starting point. Expressing regret is a foundational piece to any good relationship. As Dr. Chapman and Dr. Jennifer describe, expressing regret is the emotional aspect of any apology. Regret expresses guilt and shame that one’s behavior has hurt someone else. Expressing regret shows the person that you have hurt that you understand how you hurt them. The more specific the apology, the more impact it has to the person you hurt. The more specific we are with our apologies, the more we show the offended person that we understand how much we hurt them.

Accepting Responsibility

Sometimes just expressing regret is not enough. For some people they need to hear you take responsibility for your actions within your apology. Many people need to hear the admission of responsibility for what you have done. This means being able to accept the responsibility for the hurt you’ve caused them. For many individuals, the most important part of an apology is the acknowledgement that your behavior was wrong even though it can be really hard for us to admit when we were indeed wrong. This is a problem that we see in our society today. For many people, to admit that we are wrong is to be perceived as a weakness or even tied to one’s sense of self-worth. Dr. Chapman and Dr. Thomas gives us a great example as to why this is a problem in our society. One example given is of a child being excessively punished for minor offenses as they are growing up. When this happens their sense of self-worth is diminished. Subconsciously the child makes an emotional link between wrong behavior and self-worth. This leads that child to deeply feel that admitting wrong is equivalent to being bad. If you feel like you have problems with admitting when you are wrong, don’t worry, there is so much hope that help is available to you to overcome these negative emotional patterns!

Making Restitution

The third apology language is making restitution. Making restitution means making a tangible effort to right the wrong that you might have committed. For people who have their primary apology language as restitution, the apology statement needs to be followed up with something like, “What can I do to show you that I still care about you”? Dr. Chapman suggests that it is important for us to express restitution in the love language of the other person. So by either giving them words of affirmation, an act of service, giving them a gift, spending quality time with them, or by using physical touch. Often times making restitution goes beyond the five love languages and may require repayment or restoring. For someone who has the apology language of making restitution, an apology needs to end with a statement of restitution. That would sound something like, “Is there anything I can do to make up for what I have done?”

If you feel like any of the concepts that was just discussed resonated with you, then do not hesitate to reach out. Being in a relationship where both sides feel heard is hard work, but it can transform how you interact with different people in your life! Whether you are ready to make a change towards a healthier relationship where both people are heard, or if you are just interested in learning what your own apology language is and what that means for you, give us a call; I know I would love to work with you.

Written by therapist Alex Parlette

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