How many times have you uttered the words ‘’I’m sorry’’ to your partner without sincerity? And how many times has your partner apologized and the apology didn’t feel genuine? There are a couple of reasons why you felt that way, and why your apology was either not accepted or accepted with slight doubt.
We explore those reasons on this relationship feature with Relationship and Intimacy coach, Tracy Jacobs, whilst we also unpack genuine ways to apologise, also known as The Five Languages of Apology.
The Importance of An Apology
Jacobs begins by sharing that it is important to apologise when in the wrong as the person who has been wronged must feel heard, acknowledged, seen, and considered.
‘’Secondly, to show empathy is a very positive character trait as it is the ability to, unselfishly, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really consider how they feel,’’ says Jacobs.
She also points out that an apology allows the relationship to move from point A to B, otherwise, no learning or growth can take place.
Five Languages of Apology
Jacobs takes us through the following languages of apology and expands on why each of them is important.
1. Expressing Regret.
Recognizing that you have caused pain, hurt, humiliation, etc, to your partner is the first step in expressing regret. This is a humbling process and can be the most effective way of apologizing, especially when followed by a sincere “I’m sorry”. For example, “I didn’t realize I embarrassed you. I’m really sorry.” Never end this statement with a BUT.
2. Accepting Responsibility.
This apology language is also humbling and requires empathy as the accused digs deep within to recognize that there is no excuse for their behaviour. It requires sincerity and saying “I’m sorry” will cement the apology. For example, “I should never have said that. I’m really sorry.”
3. Making Restitution.
The third apology language is about making things right again. It encompasses the first two apology languages, expresses regret, accepts responsibility, and then ask what it is you can do to make things better. There may be nothing you can do to make things better and this apology language may not work. For some, a make-up dinner may be just the answer.
4. Genuinely Repenting.
This apology language is about expressing the desire to change. For the apology to be accepted, some people need to hear a plan of action in which a commitment to change is made and documented. They may even strategize around avoiding the same scenarios or using signals to prevent a repeated offense.
5. Requesting Forgiveness.
The last apology language is asking for forgiveness. All the above apology languages can be viewed as steps to be taken in preparation for this last one. Firstly, we must say what it is we have done wrong, i.e., name it. Secondly, take responsibility for what we did. Thirdly, ask ‘how can we make it better? Fourthly, say that we won’t do it again and these are the steps to be taken to avoid doing it again. And lastly, we ask for forgiveness. However, each type of apology language may stand alone as one apology, always saying “I’m sorry” without any ‘’buts.’’
It is also important to keep in mind that sometimes an apology can erase the wrongdoing, depending on the severity of it, and of the person who was wronged.
Jacobs further explains:
“Some people receive an apology well and others make the accused ‘beg’ for forgiveness or jump through hoops before they are forgiven, no matter how big or small the offense/wrongdoing is. An apology makes the ‘harmed’ feel heard, seen, valued, and understood. If it is sincere, and the offense is not often repeated.’’
Forgiveness Isn’t Instant
No matter how earnest you are in your apology, being forgiven may not happen immediately in some instances. There are people who struggle with forgiving and Jacobs asserts that this may be an internal issue that the individual in question needs to work on.
‘’People who struggle to forgive generally have difficulty trusting others. For this person, internal work would focus on how early was trust broken as a child and by whom? Exploring more about that broken trust, was there any apology given for that broken trust/hurt/pain/? Was there any closure with that person? What does it mean to hold on to things that are not serving anymore? Some people do not know how to forgive others and in this case, the person would need to learn this,’’ Jacobs explains.
What To Avoid When Apologizing
As elaborated above, an apology requires more than just saying you’re sorry. Your behaviour as well must be in sync with your words. Jacobs suggests that we should avoid the following behaviours when apologizing:
● Never say ‘I’m sorry, but…”.
● Don’t become defensive by blaming the one who was wronged/offended.
● Don’t apologise with snide comments or sarcasm.
● Don’t say you are sorry if you do not think you did anything wrong.
● Avoid crying and being over emotional as that can be manipulative behaviour to avoid having to apologize.
Be mindful that you can’t force someone to forgive you within a certain time frame as some people take longer to get over things. Jacobs concludes by sharing that if the apology was sincere and the harmed individual felt heard and acknowledged, yet still can’t forgive, then the person needs to see a therapist.