What to Say When… He Is Uninvolved at Home

Uninvolved Partner


Saturday rolled around, and Ashley needed some help. All week, she had balanced work, the kids, and a long To-Do list. Her husband, Ryan, had a busy week, too. But, she was hoping he’d lend a hand with their weekend activities. Frustrated, she found Ryan sitting in his man cave watching sports. How could he just sit there for hours when she was so overwhelmed?

What to Say:

Ashley: Hey Ryan, can we talk for a couple of minutes? We’ve got a lot of stuff happening that needs your attention. I’m trying to finish the paperwork for the kid’s summer camp sign-ups, clean the house, and run some errands. Plus as I recall, you promised to pay the bills.

Ryan: Hmm…I’m actually busy here right now.

Ashley: I know watching the game may be important to you. But, can you hit the pause button for a second?

Ryan: Make it quick, because I’ve been looking forward to this game all week.

Ashley: I feel overwhelmed and stuck with the kids. I know your time alone is important. But, you’ve been in here for a while, and I feel like you’re in escape mode. How can you be so uninvolved with life at home?

Ryan: What’s wrong with relaxing, my dear? The pressure at my job has been crazy.

Ashley: I understand what you mean. But, if you’ll take a moment to agree which tasks you’ll finish by the end of this weekend, then I’ll keep an eye on the kids until the game ends.

Why This Works:

Ashley tackles the problem of Ryan living in his man cave by being assertive without getting antagonistic. She acknowledges the downtime that Ryan wants. But, both spouses are able to explain what each other needs and agree on a solid plan going forward.husband is uninvolved

What Doesn’t Work:

Boiling inside while your partner is uninvolved and oblivious to the problem. Most couples have different levels of energy and different priorities. Accusing one another of being in the wrong without understanding their perspective can backfire. Don’t assume that your spouse is too lazy or too uptight. Great solutions are found when both sides talk openly about their needs.

What to Say When He Always Runs Late



Kate had the babysitter settled in for the evening with her three kids. There was only one problem. Kate’s husband, Jon, was running late…again. He comes from a family of people known for running late. In fact, his mother is jokingly referred to as “the late Mrs. Brown.” Kate silently fumed while waiting for Jon to get home. She had reminded him to leave work in plenty of time to meet friends for dinner. Their lateness made her feel embarrassed when they were typically the last couple to show up. Would he break another promise to arrive on time? Fifteen minutes later, Jon rushed through the door blaming traffic and saying he was sorry for running late. They jumped into the car and sped off to their event.

What to Say:

Kate: While we’ve got a few minutes together, I need to talk to you about something that is important to me. When we show up late, it makes me feel embarrassed.

Jon: I said I was “sorry.” What’s the big deal? No one seems to care when we arrive a little later than anticipated.

Kate: I don’t want you to be “sorry.” I want you to be here when we you say you will. I understand that it can be hard to break away when important things come up at work. But, I feel like we’re rude to others when show up late to events.

Jon: Gosh. I know you think I always run late. But, you are too uptight about being on time.

Kate: I’m not uptight. I just think it’s polite to arrive on time, and I enjoy having more extra time to talk and catch up. So, here’s what I’d prefer to do in the future. Next time you know you’re running late, call me ahead of time and I’ll drive myself. That would make me feel better.

Jon: Why? Driving two separate cars seems like a waste.

Kate: When we arrive late, I feel like we waste other people’s time.

Jon: OK. I didn’t know that you felt that way. I’ll try to leave work earlier next time.

Kate: Thank you. This means a lot to me, and I have no problem driving myself if you get stuck at work.

Why This Works:

By starting the conversation, Kate avoids giving Jon the dreaded silent treatment. Nobody likes to be in a tension-filled position with someone who says through clenched teeth that everything is “just fine.” Kate puts Jon on notice that he should arrive when he agrees to arrive. And she offers to drive herself without him if he’s late in the future.

What Doesn’t Work:

Nagging. No one likes to be nagged and no one really wants to be a nag. They just want to see some change. Nagging rarely gets you what you want but it often drives a wedge between people. Being nagged makes adults feel like children. They push back and dig in their heels. Instead of nagging, try to understand the problem and be as supportive as your patience will allow.

Your Turn:

Do you chronically run late? If so, what causes this problem?

Do you have a late person living with you? How do you keep the peace?


3 Things Forgiveness Can Never Do


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.

Sorry on Australia Day-sky writing, National A...


Forgiveness Does Not Heal Everything. We often have the mistaken idea that forgiveness will wipe the slate clean. Let me share three things that forgiveness does not do.

(1) Forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of wrongdoing. The father who abandons his children may repent ten years later, but forgiveness does not restore the ten years of void.

(2) Forgiveness does not immediately restore trust. Once trust is violated, it must be rebuilt by the person being trustworthy. If that happens, then over time trust will be restored.

(3) Forgiveness does not remove the offense from one’s memory. It does mean that you choose not to hold the offense against them.Forgiveness does not change the past, but it d...

Apologies and forgiveness can be awkward. They can feel painful. In the long run, however, they give an immeasurable payoff: peace and connection with others. The starting point for forgiveness is a good apology. For pointers on giving a complete apology, read my blog post here.


Your Turn:

What do you think forgiveness can and cannot do?



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What to Say When Your Wife Is Urging You To Show More Ambition


Man of Steel

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.


Scott’s wife is at it again. She fussed at him for not pushing more for a promotion at work. Scott doesn’t know what to say. As usual, he feels a mixture of guilt (not very strong) and annoyance (growing by the minute). For their entire 15-year marriage, Jane has pestered him to work harder and be a better provider. Scott wonders if she even notices his strengths, such as he goes to work without fail, he treats Jane with kindness, he buys gifts for her when he goes on business trips, and he likes washing her car for her without being asked.

What to Say:

Scott: Sweetheart, you know you are the love of my life. I want to please you in every way. However, I am tired of you pushing me to make more of myself in the workplace.  When you say that you want me to be a more successful businessman, I shrink to about two inches tall.  I’m content in my hourly job and as long as we can combine our income and pay our bills each month, I feel that I’m doing my part.

Jane: Yes, you are doing OK, but I want to see you do more. I’m worried about the future and I just don’t feel secure in your ability to provide for us. I want you to develop greater ambition and be a star player in your office.

Scott: You’re doing it again. I’ve asked you to stop pushing me and just LEAVE IT ALONE. I’m a “human being”, not a “human doing.” Please don’t measure me by my career success. Let me feel your love and respect for who I am; not for what I do.

Jane: I can see that I’ve hurt you and I never meant to do that. Old habits die hard, but I’ll try to stop pushing you. I married you because I love you. While I might try to change you into a hard-driving career guy, I recognize you have many other gifts. I won’t do this perfectly, but I commit to back off and accept you as you are.

Kids Day - Dress upWhy This Works:

Scott takes the bull by the horns and addresses the problem. He lets Jane knows that he’s heard her message loud and clear. At the same time, he calls Jane on her actions and asks her to back off. Finally, he remains committed to Jane. He doesn’t threaten to retaliate in any way. He wants to work things through with his wife and he’s putting in the effort to talk about their problems.

What Doesn’t Work:

Feeling frustrated by your spouse and bottling up your anger is a recipe for an explosion. Remaining silent when you feel pushed will only backfire on you. While you might avoid some conflict in the short term, your spouse won’t realize that you want her (or him) to back off and you’ll grow a big head of steam. When you can’t take it any more, you’ll blow your stack and your spouse will be left wondering, “Boy! What got into him?”

Your Turn:

What things are really hard for you to say to others?

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Five Common Non-Apologies You Shouldn’t Fall For and Why Men Rarely Apologize


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.

This Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Bernstein was published a while back and I think it deserves a second look.

“I’m Very, Very, Very Sorry…Really? We Apologize More to Strangers Than to Family, and Why Women Ask for Forgiveness More Than Men.”

According to new research from Canadian psychologists, people apologize about four times a week. But, on average, they offer up these apologies much more often to strangers (22% of the time) than to romantic partners (11%) or family members (7%). The only folks we apologize to more? Friends (46%).

In the article, Bernstein shows one sincere or heartfelt apology and these five common non-apologies:

  1. The Strategic Apology
  2. The Defensive Apology
  3. The Contingent Apology
  4. The Too-Late Apology
  5. The Bully Apology

Illustrations by Serge Bloch

Two small studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, published by the journal Psychological Science, show men are just as willing as women to apologize if they think they’ve done something wrong. Men just have a different idea of what defines “something wrong.”

In the first study, 66 men and women kept daily diaries and recorded each time they caused or felt an offense. They also noted whether an apology was issued. The outcome: Women were offended more often, and they offered more apologies for their own actions. Yet men were just as likely as women to apologize if they believed they’d done something wrong.A Canadian Engineer's Iron Ring, Stainless Ste...

In the second study, 120 subjects imagined committing offenses, from being rude to a friend to inconveniencing someone they live with. The men said they would apologize less frequently. The researchers concluded the men had a higher threshold for what they found offensive. “We don’t think that women are too sensitive or that men are insensitive,” says Karina Schumann, one of the study’s authors. “We just know that women are more sensitive.”
The second finding lines up with my own observations about apologies. As I travel and speak with groups about love languages and apology languages, I hear one question over an over from women. They ask, “Why won’t my male boss (or husband) ever apologize? He acts like apologizing will cost him money and he just won’t do it.” In short, women have a lower threshold for offering apologies. This gender difference causes both frustration and hurt feelings between the sexes.


Your Turn:

Have you run into any of the apologies shown in the cartoon above?  What about other non-apologies?


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7 Simple Steps For Teaching Kids How to Apologize and Actually Mean It

feet sorry apologize

Redheaded child mesmerized.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.

If adults need to apologize (And who would argue that?), then the art of apology needs to be learned in childhood. Here are the steps we recommend for parents, grandparents, and teachers:

  1. Help kids to accept responsibility for their own actions. Our adult patterns of sweeping issues under the rug and shifting blame can often be traced all the way back to childhood habits. My own two-year old son passed gas and then blamed it on his diaper, saying, “My diaper burped!”
  2. Teach toddlers that their actions affect others. When you pull our pet’s tail, you hurt him.  When you rub our cat’s whiskers, he purrs.
  3. Instill the concept that there are always rules in life. The most important rule is the Golden Rule – treat others the way you would like for them to treat you. But there are other rules; many rules, and most them are designed to help us have a good life.
  4. Dole out consistent consequences when the rules are broken.  Obedience is learned by suffering the consequences of disobedience.  It develops in the child a sense of morality: some things are right and some things are wrong. When I do right, there are good results. When I do wrong, there are negative results. It is this sense of morality that helps the child understand the need for an apology.
    children's day
  5. Teach kids that apologies are necessary in order to maintain good relationships. When I hurt other people by my words or my behavior, I have established a barrier between myself and that person. If I don’t learn to apologize, the barrier will remain and my relationship with that person will be fractured.
  6. Model apologies by sharing stories about how you’ve made amends to others and by apologizing to them as needed.
  7. Coach your children on all five of these languages of apology. You can read more about these in the book I co-authored with Gary Chapman, When Sorry Isn’t Enough:”

Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.”

Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”

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

Genuinely Repenting: “I want to change.”

Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

English: Israel, Gan-Samuel - Children in the ...

Your Turn:

What would you include in a book on apologies?


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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.

Chez une fleuriste de Clermont-Ferrand : comme...


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...


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.


Your Turn:

Do you want to hear more or better apologies?

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