A Conversation with Jennifer Thomas

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Jennifer co-authored The Five Languages of Apology with Gary Chapman.

Jennifer, what are the Five Languages of Apology?

The first is expressing regret. This is what we hear when someone says, I’m sorry. This is letting a person know you caused them pain and that the action has caused you pain as well.

The second Language of Apology is accepting responsibility. That is saying I am wrong. Here you’re admitting your faults. You’re saying mea culpa, which I like to say is Latin for My Bad. We see this in the bible, numerous models where people said I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; that’s what the Prodigal Son said in Luke 15.  We’re told to confess our sins. We don’t see the word apology in the bible per se, but we’re often told to confess and repent.

The third is making restitution, which is asking what can I do to make it right? The person who’s primary language of apology is making restitution will say, talk is cheap. You can tell me you’re sorry, you can tell me you’re wrong. I want to know what you’re going to do to fix things so I’ll be back in as good as shape as I was before you came along and messed things up.

There are several parts to making restitution. We often think of financial restitution. If you throw a baseball through the neighbor’s window and you’re expected to pay for that, a financial component. Restitution may be more complex. It may be that I’ve hurt your reputation by speaking poorly of you to a group of people. So in that case, restitution would be going back to that same group of people and making amends by telling them I was off-base and I’ve retracted my statement. Also, if you’re in a love relationship, it’s important to know that the offense may leave a person with the question how could you have done such a thing if you really loved me? So, restitution in this case would be showing the person that you genuinely love them. And it’s important to do that in a way that will speak of love to the person. Sometimes people ask how do the Apology Languages fit together with Gary Chapman’s Love Languages — it’s right here at the third Language of Apology.

The fourth Language of Apology is genuinely repenting. That’s telling the person I’ll try not doing that again. None of us are perfect, so we can’t promise that we’ll never do it again, but we’re letting them know that in so far as it’s up to us, we’re going to try to change our ways. And so, there’s a problem-solving step involved in this. We say I realize  I’m getting off track here and this is what I will change so it won’t happen again. Here again, we’re told to repent in the Bible. In Matthew 4, Jesus said Repent for the kingdom of heaven is coming. And in Acts 2, Peter says Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of sins.  So, repentance is tied to forgiveness and this Language of Apology particularly speaks to repentance in the sense of turning from the way you’ve come, taking a different path, and letting the person know what will be different so you won’t do it again.

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The final Language of Apology — number five — is requesting forgiveness. It’s simply asking will you please forgive me? But there’s nothing simple with being faced with that question. When we ask someone to forgive us, we’re asking them to set aside their right to justice and we’re asking them to give us mercy instead. It’s important we be patient and that we don’t demand forgiveness immediately. Maybe they need to take some time to see if we really do change our behavior.

This fifth Language of Apology — requesting forgiveness — I think more than the others, is dependent upon our upbringing and the scripts we learned as children. If a child hurts another on the playground, the teacher will say tell Suzie you were sorry. And for some of us, the teacher went on to say and after you apologize, ask her to forgive you. But others of us weren’t taught to include that last part in our apology. So I, even having written this book, could offer someone an apology and because I wasn’t raised with that being a strong part of my script, I might give you a sincere statement of my regret and I might accept responsibility, but I could easily forget to request forgiveness from you. But if you were raised that that really conveys sincerity, you won’t feel I’ve given you my very best apology; you may feel I’m holding out on you.

So that’s why we wrote this book — to help people understand the potential for miscommunication when we miss some of these Languages of Apology.

What are some of the benefits of asking for an apology?
We believe everyone will offend someone some of the time; we’re not perfect yet. When you create that offense, there is a barrier in the relationship; there’s something standing between you and me. Many of us go through life with these barriers and we go on and try to form other relationships, maybe to make up for those lost ones. Or we continue to relate to that person, but we never remove those obstacles between us. So the benefit of apologizing is that you can dismantle those barriers.

And it’s also a moral imperative. We’re called to confess our sins to one another, and then to understand that is also a process we go through with God, that we confess our sins to God and that we are forgiven in that process as well. Ultimately, those are the most important apologies — the spiritual ones.

Does forgiving mean forgetting?
Forgive and Forget — That is such a Hallmark phrase. Studies have shown we tend to remember physiologically; we tend to remember people who have hurt us.  A study conducted by Dr. Worthington at Virginia Commonwealth University showed that my respiration and heart rate will speed up when I’m in the same room with someone who has hurt me. Even if you’ve already gone through the process of releasing me; your body will still remember that we had a very uncomfortable time together. So it’s a process. I believe the apology is an important step in creating that healing and in removing those obstacles in our relationships

Copyright © 2007 Growthtrac.

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About Jim Mueller

bio-jim-muellerJim is the founder, with wife, Sheri, of Growthtrac Ministries as well as Program Director of GrowthtracRadio and the architect behind growthtrac.com. Jim holds a B.S. in business management and is a facilitator for PREPARE/ENRICH, the most widely used customized couple assessment tool. He has authored numerous articles, interviewed leading relationship authors and Christian artists, and has contributed to Dr. Les Parrott’s book, The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring. Jim has worked for more than 15 years to help premarital couples and married couples build and maintain healthy relationships.

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