Have you heard of Apology Languages? Do you know yours?
We’ve previously discussed Love Languages, and how those five categories can break down the communication between a particular pair of people because if you aren’t ‘fluent’ in your partner(s)’s languages it can make managing a relationship a lot harder. The same writer has a theory of Apology Languages - ways to say you’re sorry that speak to your partner and are heard. Similarly to the love languages book, the book is fine but has a rather heavy Christian and marriage-centric angle and so isn’t ideal for the polyamorous reader - so we’re going to summarize here and I give you that grain of salt to take with you over to the book if you decide to go read it.
So then, gentle readers, onward, to the five Apology Languages.
Let’s talk about how each of those work, since, much as with the Love Languages, we have one or maybe two that speak to us more clearly and so do each of our partners, and learning to be polyglots in apology languages can make us more emotionally intelligent and prepared for the present and the future, since no relationship will be without disagreement and without need for apologies.
First, Expressing Regret: This might sound too simple to be a language, to be a thing people need to learn, but saying “I’m sorry,” especially in a detailed way - “I’m sorry for ignoring you and I wish I’d listened better;” “I’m sorry I wasn’t at the party, I realize it was important to you,” can really be important to someone where just trying to make restitution immediately might feel like “buying them off.”
Second, Accepting Responsibility: This is the one you know you don’t naturally speak if you arrive late places and start explaining why as you walk in the room -”there was X traffic on Y highway and kid wouldn’t let me leave and packing up the car took longer” is the antithesis of this language and the pet peeve of its speakers. Speaking this language sounds like “I’m sorry I didn’t leave on time - I didn’t factor in the kids and traffic when I planned leaving time” for your partner(s) who need to receive this kind of apology instead.
Third, Making Restitution: these are the people who need you to ‘make it up to them.’ It’s easier when it’s finding a direct equivalent to get someone. If you’re just replacing an easy to find item, that’s simple. If it’s one of a kind, not in production, sentimental in value more than actually valuable, or an emotional moment got ruined? Those are hard to quantify and therefore hard to make restitution for. People who want to be uncharitable act like this is buying forgiveness, but just like gift giving as a love language isn’t all about big ticket items and wild spending, restitution isn’t all about spending like crazy after a fight - it’s about finding a way to make it up to the person with a physical item or event that is of equal value to the one spoiled.
Fourth, Genuinely repenting: This isn’t just an attitude - it’s changed behavior to prove the attitude is that key word, genuine. Was the bad behavior being apologized for related to problematic drinking? The partner whose apology language is genuine repentance needs to see steps toward sobriety. Was the behavior being apologized for misgendering someone and messing up their pronouns? The quick “oh thank you for correcting me, sorry about that” isn’t the apology that gets through to your genuine repentance friend or partner, it’s getting it right after that that does.
Last, Requesting Forgiveness. This one is interesting because instead of assuming that an apology is something that you give that the wronged party receives and must accept at some point, the wronged party can just go “No. Not happening. You’ve skipped an important step.” Requesting Forgiveness puts the power very firmly in the hands of the wronged party, and makes step one “I’ve done this very wrong, can you begin to consider forgiving me?” before whatever the person’s secondary language is kicks in for the rest of the process.
All of these languages have the same goal - better communication, clearer ability to let each other know when we have messed up and that we want to do better in the future - and we all want to learn to use as many of them as possible so that if our friends and partners have different ones than we do we don’t get stuck unable to communicate with them for very long - maybe just one fight while we figure that out. If you didn’t know your apology language before this article, I hope it gave you some idea what applied to you, and if not, there are quizzes online just like with the love languages.