The Fastest Road to Forgiveness

They were sitting in my office when the wife said,

"I'd forgive him if he would just apologize."

He responded, "I did apologize."

"You did not."

"I told you I was sorry," he said.

"That is not an apology," she responded.

Have your apologies often fallen flat? Do your spouse's apologies connect and motivate you to forgive? Or are you married to someone who seldom apologizes?

As children, we learned about what it means to apologize. When little Johnny pushed Mary down the stairs, Mother said, "Tell her you're sorry." So Johnny said, "I'm sorry," even if he wasn't. As an adult, Johnny's concept of apologizing is probably saying, "I'm sorry." However, his wife, Julie, learned to say, "I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?" To her, that's what it means to apologize. So when her husband says, "I'm sorry," in her mind he hasn't apologized. He may be sincere, but his sincerity isn't getting through to his wife. After two years of research, Dr. Jennifer Thomas and I discovered that people have different apology languages. A person may be sincerely apologizing and yet, the apology isn't perceived as sincere because it's spoken in the wrong language. We discovered five distinct languages of apology.

  • Expressing Regret: "I am sorry." "I feel badly that my behavior has hurt you so deeply." This language identifies with the emotions of the offended party.
  • Accepting Responsibility: "I was wrong." Name your mistake and accept fault. "I should not have done that. There's no excuse. What I did was wrong."
  • Making Restitution: "What could I do to make this right? How can I make amends to you? How could I restore your confidence in me?"
  • Genuine Repentance: "I'll try not to do that again." Repentance doesn't make rash promises, such as "I promise I'll never do it again if you'll forgive me." However, repentance does express the desire to change one's behavior. "I don't want this to continue happening. Help me think of ways I can change my behavior."
  • Requesting Forgiveness: "Will you please forgive me?" This language expresses humility. "I realize I can't restore this relationship alone. It will require mercy on your part, but my sincere desire is that you will forgive me and we can continue our relationship."

If you listen to most apologies, you'll discover that the apologizer is speaking only one or two of the apology languages. If these aren't the languages of the offended person, the apology will sound hollow. He may choose to forgive you, but he'll have lingering doubt about your sincerity. It isn't enough to be sincere. You must express your sincerity in a language your spouse can understand.

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Forgiveness; Hurts; Marriage; Reconciliation
Today's Christian Woman, Spring, 2007
Posted September 12, 2008

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