Did you screw up royally with your loved one? It’s never too late to eat crow—and learn the right way to apologize for next time your foot meets your mouth (and we all know it will). Authors of The 50 Fridays Marriage Challenge, Jeff & Lora Helton present the languages of apology to help our relationships grow stronger.
How are you at apologizing when you’ve messed up in your marriage?
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
– Ephesians 4:31-32
“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Some of us who were around in the 1970s will remember this line from the movie Love Story. Though it may have been a hit movie, the line simply isn’t true. Rather, living in a real loving relationship will require the ability to not only say “I’m sorry,” but to live in a posture of forgiveness, grace, and restoration. Let’s face it, we’re all imperfect people who make mistakes. And since that’s true, we need to learn the art of apologizing well.
Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas have written a very practical book that gives a simple outline for how to speak a language of apology more fluently. In The Five Languages of Apology, they explain what they call the five fundamental aspects or languages of an apology. Much like Chapman’s classic, The 5 Love Languages, the big idea of the book is that we each have a primary language of apology and we need to be aware of our own and our spouse’s language. Here’s the overview of the languages of apology:
• Expressing Regret – “I am sorry.”
• Accepting Responsibility – “I was wrong.”
• Making Restitution – “What can I do to make it right?”
• Genuinely Repenting – “I’ll try not to do that again.”
• Requesting Forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me?
Learning these languages of apology is certainly a good starting point for dealing with conflicts, disagreements, and hurts in our marriages. But there’s more than just learning the right words to say. At the core, we must develop attitudes and hearts that are bent toward taking responsibility when we’ve wronged our spouse. That requires growth in humility. Let’s face it, apologizing can really be difficult for some of us because we have to admit we’re wrong. At times, it’s easier to justify and rationalize the behavior that was actually hurtful to our spouse.
Sometimes, we offer a flippant “I’m sorry” in an effort to move on and not really own what’s happened. A flippant apology is no apology at all. A good apology is always specific, offers no excuses or blame, and express regret and empathy. Additionally, a good apology offers more than words, but it also takes action that shows that moving forward things will change and the offending behavior will not continue.
Ultimately, becoming a good apologizer is an important skill in growing intimacy in your marriage. The movie Love Story was wrong. The true statement is, “Love means often having to say you’re sorry.” And as we do that well, we will come to trust each other more, and unity grows in our marriage.
It takes one person to forgive; it takes two people to be reunited. – Lewis B. Smedes, The Art of Forgiving
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Jeff and Lora Helton have been married 24 years and have co-authored Authentic Marriages and its companion workbook. Jeff has spent 25 years as a pastor working with men, marriages, and families by offering spiritual direction, coaching, and practical equipping. He earned two Masters Degrees from Wheaton Graduate School in New Testament Theology and Communication and founded WellSpring Coaching and Consulting. His wife Lora is a graduate of Taylor University in Indiana and Wheaton Graduate School where she earned her M.A. in Clinical Psychology. Currently, Lora works part-time at WellSpring, where she counsels with women and partners with Jeff in their work with marriages and pre-married couples. Jeff and Lora are parents of four wonderful children and they live in Franklin, Tenn., with their boxer, Miah.