Learning To Say “Sorry” In A Way That Will Actually Be Heard

My friends, today I am sharing one of the most important lessons that I am continuing to learn when it comes to having a healthy and long-lasting relationship.

I am talking about the different ways to apologize, and how I am working to ensure that my “I’m sorry,” is said in a way that my partner can truly hear.

I’ve written about the 5 Love Languages before, which is a concept I’m a huge believer in. I also believe that we, as humans, can speak different languages in the way that we apologize.

What does this mean? Well, simply put, it means that if you (like I’ve historically found myself doing) are apologizing in a language your partner does not speak, they may not be hearing you in the way you’d hope.

Confused? Let me give an example …

Let’s say your partner is a person of very few words. They aren’t much of a talker, and their communication style is more about taking action. But perhaps you, are more on the chatty side, and you’ve done something that warrants an apology. In this situation, your first instinct may be to offer an apology in the way you know best: Talking about it! This hypothetical version of you is likely to explain exactly why you did what you did, express the regret you feel, apologize elaborately, and perhaps drone on a little longer than necessary. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that your partner stopped truly hearing what you had to say early-on in your apology, and has been awaiting their style of communication to come through. This means they might be expecting you to take action in whatever way speaks most clearly to them. Perhaps they are awaiting an act of service (like shoveling the snow in your driveway, or doing your dishes), or may they’re awaiting corrective action to actually change the outcome of whatever it is that’s been done. Either way, if your communication styles are not aligned, even if you feel like you’ve apologized, if they haven’t truly heard it and felt it, forgiveness and moving forward is still a long ways off.

I first realized Mac and I had different ‘I’m Sorry Styles’ when I noticed we both insisted we were ‘always the first to apologize.’ This was perplexing to me, because just as convinced as I was that I held that title, he felt the same. After some serious reflection, I realized it was because we truly do apologize in different ways.

This lesson can be a tricky one to learn, because the truth is that when we are either apologizing, or feel we’ve been wronged, is also when we are likely to feel the most vulnerable and sensitive. We probably don’t want to change our approach to mending a broken fence, in the face of frustration, hurt, or anger. But I have learned that an honest conversation at a calmer time with your partner provides a great opportunity.

That opportunity is to ask the important question: “How would you prefer to be apologized to?”

This is a question most of us have never actually been asked, and I’d encourage you to take time to truly reflect on it before answering. For me, I realized that as much as I am a wordy person and appreciate the initial “I’m sorry,” I truly feel the depth of the apology when that is followed by a simple act of service. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but when Mac takes action to help me out with something in some small way, it makes me feel that he is not just sorry in his words, but he is also willing to go above-and-beyond to make my life easier. This means so much to me, and suddenly, I feel the weight of frustration lifted off my shoulders.

I’ve also learned that sometimes, my apologies to Mac appear to be rushed, and when that happens, he does not hear them in the way I would intend. I’ve learned that it is imperative for me to slow down and choose my words intentionally and meaningfully. Mac needs to know he’s been heard and that I truly do understand where he is coming from. I’ve learned that when I apologize to him, it’s important for me to echo back to him the way he is feeling and why, to show that I appreciate his feelings on whatever the issue may be.

My friends, I am not sharing this to suggest to you that we’ve figured out the secret key to a perfect relationship … Believe me, we haven’t! But I will openly share that as we’ve come to realize that we speak different ‘apology languages,’ ensuring we speak one another’s has a made a world of a difference in our road to forgiveness after the silly and small arguments that inevitably do occur.

It is inevitable in a relationship that we won’t always see eye-to-eye. But resolving those incidents through a healthy communication approach is so much more productive than apologizing into a void of misunderstanding.

I’ll end this post with a suggestion. If you find yourself in a moment where it feels like your partner is not apologizing, or maybe they aren’t hearing yours – have the conversation and reflect on it yourself. Speaking the same apology language is a simple step forward that can impact significant change. It’s not always easy in our moments of frustration to approach apologizing in the way that suits our partner best, but by having had this conversation in advance, we have the knowledge needed to help us avoid defaulting to our old and unproductive habits.

Love is grand! Apologizing productively (rather than just profusely) is one step closer to keeping it that way.

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