Symmetry Counseling

Apologies and forgiveness are pivotal aspects of intimate relationships. Saying “I’m sorry” is not about admitting who is right or who is wrong but about acknowledging when a wrong is perceived and empathizing with feeling hurt. Efforts to apologize signify a desire to put your partner and your relationship ahead of yourself. Without an apology, some relationship problems will fester and risk devolving into resentment.

Saying “I’m sorry” means something different to different people, and we vary in what we need from our partners after feeling hurt or betrayed. In other words, not all apologies are created equal, and it is important to understand what the hurt partner is looking for when you make an apology or seek forgiveness. Otherwise, you may find yourself caught in a cycle where you that feel your sincere efforts to apologize are rejected and your partner feels neglected and disrespected.

Gary Chapman, a relationship researcher who identified the 5 Love Languages, also identified 5 Apology Languages to address how some partners need more than an “I’m sorry” to feel reconnected in a relationship. He delineates that there are a variety of approaches a partner can make to apologize or seek forgiveness, and what is needed depends on the transgression and the hurt partner’s needs. Chapman suggests that by becoming more aware of you and your partner’s apology languages, you can strengthen your ability to repair your relationship.

The Apology Languages Chapman identifies are:

1. Expressing Regret
People who desire this apology seek for a partner to specifically acknowledge that he or she is sorry. It is enough in this instance to simply say “I am sorry” and thereby acknowledge that a wrong was perceived in the relationship.

2. Accepting Responsibility
This Apology Language acknowledges that you are aware of what you did wrong. “I am sorry, it was wrong of me not to call you when I knew our meeting was going to run late.” Your partner wants to hear that you understand your role in contributing to his or her hurt feelings, and only saying “I am sorry” can leave your partner asking, “Exactly what are you sorry for? Or are you only sorry that you are now having to deal with more conflict?”

3. Making Restitution
A partner with this language desires to know that he or she is still loved, despite what you did. Your apology should explain why you are sorry and how important the relationship is to you.

4. Genuinely Expressing the Desire to Change Your Behavior
The important piece to this apology is reassurance that it will not happen again. Your apology should dictate how you intend to keep this transgression from being repeated in the future. Without this, any apology will feel insincere to your partner.

5. Requesting Forgiveness
With this apology language, your partner wants to hear you say, “I am sorry, and will you please forgive me?” Your partner will feel that you are sincere when you acknowledge your need for forgiveness and relay how important it is to you that your partner forgives you.

An underlying rule for any Apology Language is to avoid a “but” at the end of the apology. You may also have had your feelings hurt, but an apology is not the time to seek restitution for any pain you are feeling. A “but” immediately negates and takes away from the apology you have just given, and no matter how sincere the apology, your partner will be sensitized to your inability to focus and address his or her hurt feelings.

Remember, it is not up to your partner to read your mind. If you desire a certain type of apology, it is okay to ask for it and explain why it is important to you. Embrace the power of apologizing to reconnect and reestablish a sense of safety and empathy in the relationship. It is not always easy to say “I am sorry,” but it is a necessary component to a long-term, healthy relationship.

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