How we apologize to our friends, lovers and family can be very powerful and help relationships grow. Or not.

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We’re all wired differently and so how we apologize and how the person we’re apologizing to can be very different. So how we apologize to people, in a workplace, to family, to a partner is different depending on the situation and the person. The language we use and sometimes the gestures and actions we take are critical to convey how genuine an apology is. For some, just saying “I’m sorry” can seem trite and feel insincere.

Gary Chapman, PhD, wrote a book withe Jennifer Thomas titled The Five Languages of Apology and defined these five languages as follows;

  1. Expression of regret (I feel very very ashamed for hurting you)
  2. Taking responsibility (What I did to you was wrong)
  3. Being repentant (I can barely imagine for the pain I caused you and I’m truly sorry, next time I will do ____ differently)
  4. Restitution (This is how I will make it up to you for what I did)
  5. Asking forgiveness (Will you forgive me for letting you down?)

If a relationship is important to us, then the apology must be sincere, come from the heart and address the nature of the offense, the expectations of the person we’re apologizing to and consider what they expect.

“They allow individuals to strengthen their relationships by improving their ability to facilitate forgiveness,” says psychiatrist Leela R. Magavi, MD. And properly understanding your partner’s apology language will help “individuals apologize in a manner in which all parties feel heard and valued,” she adds.

When apologizing, consider the context of the situation and person. A minor transgression can be addressed in the moment. A major breach of trust can take a long time to repair and depending on the the situation, it can cost us a friendship or relationship. An apology is a lot about compromising and that’s important. It’s also about considering our own ego, and getting that out of the way.

Read the situation, truly try to understand how the person was offended and communicate! Talking after an argument or doing something wrong is important. Sometimes, after making an apology, you may want to step away and give the other person time to process what happened. But be sure to reach out. Address the situation quickly and make the amends called for by the situation.

When we apologize, and it is sincere and the other person feels it is sincere, our relationships and trust can grow.  When we make trite apologies or refuse to apologize even when we know we’ve done something wrong, relationships can’t grow, trust drifts away and we can lose an otherwise wonderful relationship.

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