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The Four Different Apology Languages (and Why They Can Help Your Relationships)

~ FEBRUARY 2023 ~

By this point, we’ve all heard of love languages… right?

But it turns out that’s not the only relationship-based tactic worth decoding, as apology languages can be just as useful, too. In a similar sense to love languages, apology languages can help you hone in on the way you most appreciate being apologized to (and the best way to say ‘sorry’ to your partner – or indeed a friend, or family member, if you know theirs, too).

For some, saying sorry might mean more if it involves physical touch, for others, it’s all about the significant words or gestures that accompany the remorse.

Here, the experts break down everything you need to know about discovering and nurturing your apology language.

What’s an apology language?

Psychologists often quote the adage, “it’s not the rupture that’s the problem, it’s the failure to repair.” But reconciling differences with a loved one is no easy task.

“Apologies are at the heart of repair,” says Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, an Austin-based therapist. “Apologies have their own unique types of styles and sentiments, which can include acts of service, emotional ownership, or physical affection.”

Simply put, your apology language refers to the way you choose to express your regret or to make amends with others. First coined by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., in his book with co-author Jennifer Thomas, The Five Languages of Apology in 2008 (yep, the same man who also penned The Five Love Languages), experts stress that we all have preferences on how we give and receive apologies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, your apology language of choice can be traced to your upbringing. “As children, we all learned subtly different ways to make and receive apologies when there’s been a breach in a relationship,” says Gretta Duleba, LMFTA, a Seattle-based therapist. Some of us never learned to apologize at all, while others learned to emphasize remorse, reparations, or empathy.

Are you apologizing too much?

Let’s examine the common practice of over apologizing. Sometimes, we simply apologize out of habit. “Women, in particular, often take responsibility for the emotions and feelings of others,” says Victoria Woodruff, MSW, LMSW, a therapist practicing in Maryland, US. If someone is having a bad day, try: “It looks like you’re having a tough time. Let me know if there is anything that I can do,” instead of an apology (assuming you didn’t cause the bad day, that is).

Of course, we all do things that warrant an apology, whether it’s losing your temper, criticizing someone unnecessarily, or, you know, using the last drop of milk. So when the time comes to pony up and make amends, “do so with intention and sincerity,” advises Woodruff. “Be specific about what you’ve done and reflect that you understand the effect your actions may have had on others.”

The benefits of knowing your apology language

Being aware of your apology language can help you in various aspects of your life. “Knowing your personal style can help you educate your partner, cultivate more creative solutions, and change future behavior in a way that allows the apology to aid in genuine repair,” says Laves-Webb.

In turn, this means stronger relationships: Laves-Webb says that knowing your apology style, coupled with taking responsibility for your actions and offering those you’ve slighted a sincere apology, can increase self-esteem and compassion for yourself and others.

So, what’s your apology language?

If you’re not sure exactly which framework is your preferred apology language, you may want to reflect on how you’ve apologized in the past, think about how you like apologies conveyed to you by others, and try out a few different ways of apologizing as situations call for it until you find the one that feels right, says Laves-Webb.

Below, he breaks down some common apology styles:

Words of ownership: talking

Apologizing through words is all about acknowledging your actions in the past and noting how you’ll change your behavior in the future. And as Laves-Webb says, “words matter.”

Words of ownership: writing

Some people get flustered during high-pressure convos and apologies can feel like that sometimes. If you prefer to send a thoughtful email or write your S.O. a nice note, this apology style is all you. It may also be a solid strategy if you feel like tensions are still kind of high.

Acts of service

People who prefer this form of apologizing treat apologies like a verb. As with other forms of apology, if you fit this archetype, you’ll want to be as specific as possible in any moves you make to show your regret. For instance, if your boyfriend calls you out for always hogging the desk, make a desk schedule and post it to your fridge to show you’re taking his concern seriously.

Physical affection

Do you crave hugging or physical connection after a rift with your better half to ask for forgiveness? Then, physical touch is your apology language. “Physical closeness and physical bonding as a means of apologizing can be reparative, soothing, and genuine,” says Laves-Webb.

“When physical closeness is combined with true ownership and sincere apologetic sentiments, it can create a unique brand of apologizing that not only acknowledges the hurt but simultaneously offers positive affirmation.”

How to deal if your apology language is different from your partner’s

In addition to IDing your own apology language, it’s also important to determine what category your partner or another important person in your life falls under (if it’s not obvious, then ask). As Duleba puts it, “the better we understand what others would like to hear, the better we can repair with them.”

Just like love languages, it’s totally normal to encounter different apology languages in a healthy relationship. At the end of the day, the best you can do is strive to understand your partner’s apology language and make sure they know your language.

Laves-Webb also recommends ditching the golden rule of treating others the way you would like to be treated in favor of the “platinum rule,” treating others as they would like to be treated. “Learning your partner’s apology language and making a concerted effort to ‘speak’ in their language can bring about better communication, openness, and emotional understanding,” he says.

A version of this article originally appeared here on

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