Why can’t he say he is sorry?

In couples therapy, couples often come in to their first session with a lot of resentment and hurt. It seems like couples think that demanding their partner make up for all their indiscretions will somehow get them back on track. Funny things we do. So how can couples feel better?

That specific matter might be a topic for another, but the two are related. Couples who are struggling do not really understand their partner’s thoughts, feelings or desires. At Emergent, we help couples understand one another better so they can begin healing.

On the topic of apologies, did you know there is a specific way people like to hear an apology. Check out these descriptions and see which one fits for you and maybe even offer some curiosity to your partner.

The Apology Languages

It happens to the best of us – there’s a conflict in your relationship. Maybe it was a fight over the dishes, a disagreement about money, or a forgotten commitment. The next question is: how do you and your partner fix this?

At this point, the natural next step is to apologize. But apologies are usually more nuanced beyond a simple, “I’m sorry.” In fact, counselor and creator of the best-selling “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” Gary Chapman, Ph.D., along with psychologist Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., actually created what’s known as “the five apology languages.”

A lot of people have heard of the five love languages, but what are the apology languages? Below is a breakdown of each. While certainly, each situation might be a little different or might require multiple apology languages, understanding if you or your partner has a referred style can help resolve conflict more quickly.

Expressing Regret

Expressing regret is demonstrated through the simple act of saying, “I’m sorry.” That is all some people need to hear. While this may be obvious, those who prefer this method appreciate a verbal statement of regret over their actions. It helps them feel emotionally validated. Unfortunately, it is easy to allow pride, guilt, or even justification to be a barrier to expressing regret. For those who prefer this method, it is helpful for partners to recognize this and move beyond barriers.

Accepting Responsibility

As an apology language, accepting responsibility means directly stating where you were wrong. For example, you might say, “I was wrong when I forgot our anniversary” or “It was wrong of me to forget my promise to wash the dishes.” Those who respond to this apology language dislike excuses and appreciate ownership of what was wrong.

Making Restitution

We often think of making restitution in the more legal sense – for example, we pay up if we break something. However, more than that, making restitution involves offering a solution to the problem at hand. For example, if you break your partner’s favorite mug, you might say, “I will order a replacement immediately.” If you appreciate it when someone takes the lead in a situation, this might be your apology language.

Genuinely Repenting

For those whose apology language is genuine repenting, they appreciate not only a verbal acknowledgment but more importantly, a behavior change. This is all about problem-solving, about offering proof through a change in action. An example of this might be, if the checking account is overdrawn, creating a budget and sticking to it over time.

Requesting Forgiveness

For some partners, conflict resolution takes time. For those who respond well to requesting forgiveness, a helpful statement is, “I was wrong. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” This empowers the listener by giving them the space to steer the conversation – which leads to a dialogue about improving the situation.

While there are all kinds of models for resolving conflict, this best-kept-secret of apology languages could be useful for you and your partnership to understand each of your individual preferences. Conflict happens – but it can also lead to growth and change for everyone involved. Schedule a session and learn one thing you can do right away.

Get professional advice from a skilled couples therapist and learn healthy communication skills for your relationship with an Emergent Relationship Center licensed therapist.