5 Types Of Apology Language & How To Choose The Right One

Upset Couple In An Argument

Many people have heard of the five love languages, a popular framework designed to help people understand how they and those around them express and receive love. More of a well-kept secret, though, are the five apology languages. 

The 5 apology languages.

The five apology languages are expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness. The language system was researched and developed by counselor and creator of the love languages Gary Chapman, Ph.D., and psychologist Jennifer Thomas, Ph.D., to offer various approaches to apologizing. 

While some people may lean more strongly toward one apology language, it's possible to have multiple, depending on the situation. Here is a breakdown of each one and how to tell if it's your preferred apology language: 

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1. Expressing regret.

The first apology language, expressing regret, is the simple act of saying "I'm sorry." While it sounds obvious enough, many people allow pride or guilt to get in the way of this kind of apology. Along with saying the words "I'm sorry," Thomas says this type of apology involves listing the hurtful effects of your actions and showing remorse. "It doesn't count if someone is only sorry that they got caught," she writes on her blog. 

This may be your apology language if:

  • You want someone to acknowledge the hurt they caused. 
  • You want someone to genuinely express that they regret their actions.
  • You want to feel validated in your emotions. 

2. Accepting responsibility.

The second apology language, accepting responsibility, occurs when someone earnestly admits they were wrong to do what they did. Along with acknowledging your fault in the situation, Thomas says to name the mistake so it doesn't ring hollow. "Note that it is easier to say 'You are right' than 'I am wrong,' but the latter carries more weight," she notes. The person should be able to explain what they did wrong and why it was wrong.

This may be your apology language if:

  • You want someone to take ownership of the hurt they caused.
  • You want someone to clearly state what they did wrong, to prove they can learn from the mistake. 
  • You don't want to hear excuses. 
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3. Making restitution.

The third apology language, making restitution, includes finding a way to correct the situation. This is a common apology scenario if something is lost, broken, or damaged and the apologizer offers to replace the item or pay for the inconvenience. It can also occur in more serious situations if a person is deeply betrayed, and the person who did it makes it up to them.

This may be your apology language if:

  • You want someone to prove they're willing to correct the problem (i.e., put their money where their mouth is). 
  • You find it important that the perpetrator "makes things right again," whatever that might look like.
  • You want someone to take the lead in a situation. 
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4. Genuinely repenting.

The fourth apology language, genuinely repenting, requires a change of behavior. With this apology language, saying sorry is not enough. "Engage in problem-solving. Don't make excuses. Make a better, specific plan for change," Thomas says. There should be a sincere drive to do better.

This may be your apology language if: 

  • You need proof that someone is growing and working toward change. 
  • You need assurance that you won't be let down the next time around. 
  • Words aren't enough for you. 
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5. Requesting forgiveness.

The fifth apology language, requesting forgiveness, allows the other person time to process their hurt before assuming everything is back to normal. Saying "I'm so sorry for letting you down. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?" places the power back into the hands of the hurt party. While most people won't refuse an apology altogether, it does leave room for them to make exceptions, including the need for repentance or restitution. 

This may be your apology language if:

  • You're not quite ready for reconciliation yet. 
  • You need more from the apology and want the space to ask for it. 
  • You need to know the person apologizing is willing to wait until you're ready.

Other frameworks for apology.

While Chapman and Thomas' concept of apology languages can be helpful, they're not the be-all and end-all of saying sorry. Other researchers, activists, and experts have outlined other frameworks for apology and restitution.

For example, in a 2016 study published in the Negotiation and Conflict Management journal, researchers outlined a specific six-step process for apologizing:

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

In this model, all six elements are necessary for an effective, meaningful apology—as opposed to in Chapman and Thomas' model, which suggests the most people will need only one or two of these elements as their preferred form of apology.

Another model of reparations stems from the concept of restorative justice or transformative justice, which are political frameworks that focus on restitution and community healing instead of punishment for crimes. This accountability process has gained some popularity in recent years as a way of making amends for racist behavior. In addition to earnestly acknowledging one's wrongdoing, making repair according to the wishes of the one who was wronged is key to effective apology (and justice).

"Apologizing and becoming more aware is great, but changes in action and physical proof of continued change and 'working through' is what most often helps other people feel that we are sincere in our apologies," licensed therapist Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, tells mbg.

"That also means not shying away from when we mess up again (which we will!). It means actively calling ourselves out in those uncomfortable moments and restating our commitment to change, which is then followed up by visible action."

When to apologize.

In general, if you're questioning whether or not to apologize, you probably should. Finding the right time depends on the person you're apologizing to, though. "Sometimes they will need things to cool down, and others like it right away," marriage and family therapist Sulonda Smith, MFT, LPC, tells mbg. 

Still can't figure it out? Smith says if the person stops talking to you, becomes sarcastic, or throws verbal jabs, those are a few signs they're harboring resentment and an apology may be warranted. "The more obvious time to apologize is when you see painful tears, worry, or disappointment," she adds. "If you don't know what happened to cause pain, then ask. Don't be afraid to ask what's wrong." 

Remember, even when it's difficult, apologizing is the first step toward reconciliation, and determining someone's apology language may improve that process.

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