What to Say When Sorry Isn’t Enough

Welcome to my blog. I’m a psychologist and the co-author (with Gary Chapman) of When Sorry Isn’t Enough. I share tips about What to Say When challenging conversations arise and I welcome your thoughts and questions. I’ll check back in frequently to chime in on the conversations here.

Below, you’ll find a letter I’m sharing (with permission) and my tips for dialogue with others who don’t speak your apology language.

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Jennifer,

I finished your book (When Sorry Isn’t Enough) within a week of buying it, which is much more indicative of the value I saw in its pages than that I’m a fast reader or have lots of time on my hands.  Very interesting stuff.

For me, it complemented the understanding I’ve had for decades, as I’ve understood the five components of apology since the late 70’s via the Bill Gothard Basic Youth Conflicts seminars.  But I never really had the big picture.  For me, a legitimate apology included “all five” of the languages.  That’s been my understanding…and that’s how I’ve been inclined to apologize, or authenticate an apology I received.  (Can’t go wrong with that approach as an “apologizer”…but it hinders the “apologizee.”)

That explains why I have not been able to “receive” some apologies very well.  An apology given in only “one” language seemed grossly deficient.  It’s specifically because of a crucial “one-dimensional” apology I’m struggling to process now that I picked up your book.  And I now see my present scenario in an entirely different light.

My children are also struggling to process the same situation, so I started reviewing your book with them last night.  An interesting question arose.  Just because I now know that my wife may speak the language of regret, and my language is repentance, does not necessarily make it any easier for her apology to connect with my heart.  Granted, with my wife, perhaps I can help her understand the languages, and we can overcome that barrier in the future.  But…what about when dealing with someone I don’t have much of a relationship with – what if I receive a one-dimensional apology that’s not in my language?

In discussing this resulting “gap,” I told my daughter that perhaps I could bridge it via some simple interrogation.  My wife says, “I’m sorry.”  That doesn’t work for me…so I respond, “Sorry for what?”  She gets more specific…as you indicate a good apologizer might inherently do.  But that still leaves me empty.  So I then begin to ask her a series of leading questions that allows her to specifically translate her language into mine.  (But still in her words, from her mouth!  “Steering,” not “leading.”)  For example,

I’m sorry….

For what?

Do you understand how that made me feel?

Why do you think you did that?

How do you think you can prevent from doing that in the future?

What do you think you could do to make it right?….

Just a thought for the FWIW department.  I enjoyed the book, and believe my family will benefit from your efforts.

Blessings to you,

R.S. in Stokesdale

When two friends understand each other totally...

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My Advice:

Here are a few phrases you could try when you want to hear how sorry they are:

“Thank you for what you’ve offered me by way of an apology.  It would help me even more if I could hear more about”:

§ Expressing Regret: “I am sorry”

How my feelings were hurt, how much worry, trouble, inconvenience I experienced.

How you would have felt if you were in my shoes.

§ Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong”

The details of what mistakes you made.  Where you went astray.  How you were responsible for the problem.

What you might have said or done to someone if they had treated your mother (or father) or son (or daughter) this way.

§ Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”

Words are a good start.  Now, I’d like to see what time, money, or effort you are willing to expend to show your sincerity.

I’ve still got this mess on my hands.  When can you take the lead on clearing this up?

I’m really hurt by what you’ve done and it makes me question how much you care about me.

§ Genuinely Repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again”

Going forward, I don’t want to end up in this uncomfortable spot with you again.  What can you change to prevent this from happening next time?  Do you need to set a reminder for yourself?  Get counseling?  Go to rehab?  Double-check your numbers?  This is not just about being more careful.  I’d like to hear HOW you are going to be more successful (for your sake and mine) next time.

§ Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

I’ve heard your words and I thank you for them.  When I was growing up, I was taught that sincere apologies end by asking the other person for forgiveness.  If you feel ready to ask it, that question would mean so much to me.

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Your Turn:

Do you want to hear more or better apologies?

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