Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman: Improve Your Marriage
When hurt, it's hard to forgive. In a marriage, we build walls of silence. To renew intimacy, we must be able to apologize and forgive. Let's learn how . . .
A Promise of Hope
What Are Apology and Forgiveness?
"Learning to apologize is a life skill that will make all of your relationships more authentic," says Dr. Gary Chapman, primary author (with Jennifer Thomas) of The Five Languages of Apology.
I would suggest that apology is not about fixing something broken, or just about making right what has gone wrong. It is about stepping away from our mistake, and stepping back into a loving relationship.
When we apologize, we recognize our error and turn around. When we forgive, we return to a state of love. When a couple learns to apologize and to forgive, they can renew their love relationship or marriage and it grows stronger even through difficulty. And, as Dr. Chapman shares, apology is not just for love relationships. It is for parents and children, friends, and even business associates. We can all benefit by a return to healthy relationship.
The Five Languages of Apology
People apologize in different ways. And each way of apologizing has a different meaning. Here are the five forms of apology that Dr. Chapman and Ms. Thomas present in The Five Languages of Apology:
- "I'm sorry" expresses regret. That is, when I say I'm sorry, I am recognizing that I have hurt you or our relationship.
- "I was wrong" or "I made a mistake" is a recognition of our own error.
- "What can I do to make it right?" is about restitution - in some way, making up for or paying for the damage done.
- "I'll try not to do that again" is genuine repentance - a commit to grow, to learn, to change, and, if possible, not to make the same mistake.
- "Will you please forgive me?" is a request that puts the situation into the other person's hand, and recognizes their feelings and their part in the process of healing.
We Each Have Our Own Favorite Language(s) of Apology
We each have our own favorite languages of apology. And, if someone apologizes, but doesn't use our language, the apology will feel incomplete or insincere.
For example, my language of apology is, very strongly, genuine repentance. When someone apologizes, I want to know that they are going to make sure not to make the same mistake again. In fact, this feels so strong that if someone apologizes by saying "I'm sorry," I'm likely to feel they are being phoney. I've learned to be patient, but I feel like saying, "You're sorry, but what are you going to do about it?"
If they say, "I made a mistake," then I know they are accepting responsibility, but I want to know "What are you going to do about it? Just make the same mistake next time?" (I'm not quite this obnoxious, but I'm laying it out like this to make a point.)
My wife's primary languages of apology are accepting responsibility and making restitution. That is, she's likely to say, "I made a mistake, what can I do to make up for it?"
At bad moments in our marriage, I was too likely to snap, "You've made that mistake before. how about if you just don't make it again? When are you going to learn?"
I wanted genuine repentance. She offered to make restitution. And it didn't work for me.
Meanwhile, if I made a mistake, I would commit to improving and not making the mistake again. But I didn't offer restitution - I just wanted to move forward and let the past go. And my wife thought I was being unfair.
She thought I was unfair and demanded too much of her. I thought she was a stick in the mud who admitted her mistakes but repeated them over and over again, never growing or changing.
This was not a happy part of our marriage.
It's really cool that, with Dr. Chapman's Five Languages of Apology we could solve the problem in two hours - and the solution lasts forever.
Working With the Five Languages of Apology
The Five Languages of Apology, like all of Dr. Chapman's books, is very practical and quite detailed. Any careful reader can learn to work with the languages of apology just be reading the book. And it helps to go to his website, www.5LoveLanguages.com, and take the assessment that will show you what one or two languages of apology work for you.
Even more important, you might want to find out what languages of apology make sense to your loved one or your spouse. You can strengthen your marriage or relationship by consistently using the language of apology your partner understands.
A Complete Apology
At first glance, the five languages of apology seem to work like Dr. Chapman's 5 Love Languages. The Five Love Languages are five different ways we can express love to our partners. And, similar to the languages of apology, it makes sense to use the ones that feel right to them. Then they will receive our love, feel it is genuine, be nourished, and return the love.
But I also see a unique aspect of the Five Languages of Apology. Each of the five is part of a whole, complete apology.
My wife and I are experimenting with this. And I've used it with one of my coaching clients as well. And it is working really well.
Here's my idea: When we make a mistake, we throw a lot of things out of kilter, and it's best if we fix them all. Each language of apology is one part of the complete correction that needs to happen for healthy relationship to be restored.
- "I'm sorry" gives the message that we know we hurt the relationship and that that fact matters to us. It show that, emotionally, we care.
- "I was wrong" or "I made a mistake" shows that, rationally, we take responsibility for our actions.
- "What can I do to make it right?" is practical. It says we are willing to take action to bring things back into balance for this one mistake.
- "I'll try not to do that again" shows that we clearly understand that we need to do something not to repeat the mistake, and not to let the same error create another breach in our relationship.
- "Will you forgive me?" is a spiritual surrender. If the answer is "yes," then the relationship can become more than okay, it can be reborn with a whole new level of strength.
It's Hard to Ask to Be Forgiven
Asking someone to forgive us is hard. Actually, it's downright scary.
Because, deep down, we're afraid they'll say "no." "No, Sid, you've gone too far this time, and our relationship is over."
And what is most scary about that is the other person has every right to do that. Forgiveness is a return to love. And love can only be freely given. It can't be demanded. If we've hurt someone past the point where they can handle it, then an end to the relationship - as painful as that might be - may be the best choice.
It's important to accept that. And, in saying, "will you forgive me," we are accepting their right to walk away. Often, that acceptance is powerful enough to help them see that the love and intimacy of the relationship is worth the pain of our mistakes.
When two people learn that together, we grow stronger and stronger in ourselves, and in relationship. Ultimately, we learn that we can always return to love, that forgiveness is always possible. And that opens the door to unconditional love, to spiritual love.
Now, I'm not saying that anyone should stay in an abusive or harmful situation. Forgiveness and spiritual love do not require remaining in harmful relationship, and certainly not in danger. But, if we have been harmed or abused, part of our own healing is to forgive the one who has harmed us. As an example, a close friend of mine suffered a lot when her mother-in-law was murdered. But she forgave the killer, and even fought to keep him from facing the death penalty. That return to love was part of her healing.
It Can Be Even Harder to Forgive Ourselves
Just as I was reading The Five Languages of Apology, I had a chance to put it into practice to help one of my coaching clients. This client had made a serious mistake repeatedly over several months. At the time, he did not have the inner strength or clarity to get beyond the mistake. And the mistake kept him unemployed and cost him a lot of money.
His mistake creates problems for me as well. And he did apologize, and really turn around. But I saw that, as long as he apologized to me, he wasn't facing the heart of the problem.
He needed to apologize to himself.
Fortunately, Dr. Chapman has an excellent chapter on apologizing to ourselves, with an example and a step-by-step process. I followed these steps and helped my client write a script for his apology to himself. Then he worked on it to make it feel real and right for him. Then he stood in front of a mirror and read it aloud to himself.
Then he forgave himself.
The result was both emotional and practical. He felt released from a great burden. And he became much more able to get to work and hunt for a job in a clear and responsible way, and to see more into his issues and grow more in trust and forgiveness.
Your Next Steps
I strongly recommend that you read The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, and put it to use. You can use it in love relationships and marriages, with children and parents, while dating, with friends, and at work.
And, of course, you can use it with yourself.
If you are religious or spiritual, you can use it with God or the Divine.
The Five Languages of Apology is a great tool for straightening out messes in our lives, for apologizing and forgiving, and for returning to Love.