Learning About Apology Languages Will Make Your "Sorry" Actually Stick

You've probably already heard about the five love languages, but you may not be as familiar with the five apology languages. The love languages — which are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch, and acts of service — describe ways people give and receive love best. But apology languages? They describe ways people give and receive apologies.

According to the book "When Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right With Those You Love," written by Gary Chapman (the same author behind "Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts"), PhD, and Jennifer Thomas, PhD, apology languages are ways we "heal hurt" and ways we want others to "heal our own hurt." Think about them as being "your preference in receiving an apology," says Lauren Cook-McKay, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist who helps couples struggling in their marriage at Divorce Answers.

Similarly to love languages, there are five apology languages: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness. Experts say that knowing the apology language of yourself, your friend, family member, partner, and/or coworker, can help you apologize to them more effectively in the way that means most to them.

Let me give you an example. Let's say your loved one forgot dinner plans you had together. They try to make amends by expressing regret and they say something like "I feel awful about tonight," but you were looking for them to make restitution by saying something like, "Can I take you out to eat next week to make up for it?" instead. You'll leave the interaction feeling dissatisfied and possibly angry and resentful, which can lead to issues in the relationship.

However, this interaction doesn't necessarily mean that your loved one wasn't sorry — they're just be using an apology language that doesn't resonate with you. For this reason, learning each other's apology language can help you find the best way to communicate your apologies in a way that makes each other feel seen and respected. And since disagreements are inevitable, Cook-McKay says, "The best way to navigate [these disagreements and conflicts] is to understand each other's apology language to solve conflicts with less damage in a way that satisfies both parties."

So if you're interested in knowing your apology language — and let's be honest, you should be — you can take The Apology Language Quiz or talk to a mental health professional. Once you know which one resonates most with you, keep reading for more details on what each one entails.

— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan

Expressing Regret
Getty | Carol Yepes

Expressing Regret

This apology language is all about telling the person you're in conflict with that you wish you hadn't caused them pain. "Either you or your loved one acknowledge the pain you've caused to the other, and you express your regret for that," Cook-McKay explains. This could be your apology language if you feel really seen and validated when someone expressed regret for something they did to hurt you, which then allows you to forgive and move on.

Expressing regret examples:

  • "I'm so embarrassed I spoke poorly of you in front of our coworkers."
  • "I'm ashamed I hurt your feelings again."
  • "I feel so bad for forgetting about our plans."
Accepting Responsibility
Pexels | Liza Summer

Accepting Responsibility

By accepting responsibility, you're verbally accepting fault for hurting the other person. "This apology language includes acknowledgment of their responsibility for their behavior and not making any excuses for it," Cook-McKay says. Owning your actions as hurtful is key with this one.

Accepting responsibility examples:

  • "I'm so sorry I spilled my drink on your shirt. I need to be more careful next time."
  • "I take full responsibility for what I said last night. There's no excuse and I'm sorry."
  • "It was my fault we were late to the show."
Making Restitution
Pexels | Amina Filkins

Making Restitution

If your loved one's apology language is making restitution, they want you to make the situation right. "You pair the apology with an action to make up for what you did," Cook-McKay explains. "This is typically used to reach a compromise and to make things fair for both parties." If you don't know what you can do to make up for it, you can also ask what they want from you.

Making restitution examples:

  • "I feel terrible that I broke your necklace. Can I pay for it to make it up to you?"
  • "I'm so sorry that I lied to you. I know it's going to take time, but I want to do everything I can to earn your trust back."
  • "I'm sorry I acted that way. What can I do to make up for it?"
Genuinely Repenting
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Genuinely Repenting

Genuinely repenting means acknowledging the hurt you caused and working to do better next time. "This involves putting yourself on the receiving end of what you did in order to realize the impact of what you said or did," Cook-McKay says. "You acknowledge the emotional hurt that was created by what you did."

Genuinely repenting examples:

  • "I'm so sorry I embarrassed you in front of our friends. I will do my best to never do it again. Next time, I'll be more thoughtful before speaking."
  • "I saw how much it hurt you when I spoke that way and I'm sorry. I understand why that was so painful to hear."
  • "I know how much you were looking forward to this weekend and I'm so sorry I spoiled it. I understand why you've been so angry with me."
Requesting Forgiveness
Getty | Mixmike

Requesting Forgiveness

This apology language is pretty straightforward. To request forgiveness, you simply ask the other person to forgive you for what you've done. "This apology language asks a direct question and gives the power to the person you hurt to accept your apology," Cook-McKay explains. You may also want to add something along the lines of "but it's up to you" when asking, because you don't want to force or beg them to forgive you — it's their call.

Requesting forgiveness examples:

  • "I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, but I understand if you can't right now."
  • "I'm so sorry. Will you forgive me?"
  • "I want to ask for your forgiveness, but I get it if you're not there yet."