The Art of the Apology


In long-term romantic relationships, apologies can feel as useless as small talk. Where, in the beginning, apologies can be more heartfelt, presented with a fear of loss and assurance of change, long-term couples can begin to abuse apologies as a way of getting through the day without long battles. In this setting, apologies can become as meaningless and as automatic as "good morning".

Apologies can mean something different to every individual, yet there are some common necessities in an effective apology for anyone. Some people do not require verbal apologies, and would much rather grant forgiveness after a change has been made. Some people require both verbal apology and restitution; either way, apologies should only be given if they are truly felt and presented with the intentions of correcting the folly or improving the behavior. You should never apologize for causing emotions; instead, you should apologize for the actual action. Apologies are meaningless if they aren't genuine and followed by corrective action.

According to Gary Chapman, there are 5 apology languages people commonly use. The languages are as follows: expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely expressing a desire to change, and asking forgiveness. You can find his book here. The concept of "apology languages", however, would be better served as components of the perfect apology. Missing any of these elements can be detrimental to progress. With respect to Mr. Chapman, I would recommend we employ all of the elements to form an effective apology and move beyond an issue.

  1. Accept Responsibility- The very first place to start in your apology is by accepting responsibility. It may seem like expressing regret is the first action, but assuring your partner, that you understand you are wrong, is far more important. Once your partner knows you are on their side, they will be more willing to listen further.

  2. Express Regret- Now is the appropriate time for a little groveling. Don't whine about being sorry, actually express genuine regret. If you don't feel regret, then you aren't ready to apologize because you haven't accepted responsibility.

  3. Express Your Desire to Change- Letting your partner know that you desire to change is better than begrudgingly accepting the responsibility to do better. If your partner knows your apology does not come with resentment, they will be more willing to trust you when you say you will change.

  4. Make Restitution- Now is the time to actually make things right. Do not agree to make things right, or apologize, if you aren't ready. If you don't feel like the change required is possible within you, be responsible enough to inform them and allow them to make a decision on what they can handle. Don't become someone they cannot trust.

  5. Ask Forgiveness- The apology process is not over, now that you have expressed your apologies, understand that they are not obligated to accept. Asking forgiveness will let your partner know that your apology did not rely on their forgiveness to be presented. Even if they do not accept, your apology should be genuinely granted.

Your apology should encompass each component of the apology languages presented above. Admitting fault, correcting your behavior and respecting your partner are the only ways to be truly forgiven for your misstep. If a shallow apology is accepted, chances are, you will find yourselves in the very same predicament further down the line.

For further inquiries:

Check out Eboni Harris, Licensed Relationship Therapist, at

Phone: (832) 384- 4445