After seven years of marriage and two children, John and Sarah are struggling to juggle their work-related, social and familial commitments. Their schedules don’t align, they barely see one another, and they no longer communicate effectively. They have fallen into a rut, no longer actively try to meet one another’s needs, and take each another for granted. The inevitable happens …. John is swept away by a female colleague who temporarily satisfies his unmet need for attention. Whilst short lived, John’s conscience gets the better of him and he discloses the infidelity to Sarah who is understandably devastated. Will Sarah ever forgive John? Will she ever be able to trust him again? The couple agree to see a marriage counsellor in an effort to save their very fragile marriage.

Similar to the Love Languages, a framework developed by Gary Chapman to explain the way in which people give and receive love, each one of us also has a preferred Apology Language. This means that we all have an unconscious preference as to how we like to express or receive an apology.

The 5 Apology Languages include:

  • Expressing regret: “I am sorry for ……………….”
  • Accepting responsibility: “I was wrong”.
  • Make restitution: “What can I do to make things right?”
  • Planned change: “I will take steps to prevent this from happening again”
  • Request forgiveness: “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me”

It is important to bear in mind that, as with the Love Languages, it is highly likely that each partner will have a different Apology Language. In other words, each partner will have a different idea as to what a sincere apology looks and sounds like. Speaking different Apology Languages results in the partners misunderstanding one another’s communication. The aggrieved person is thus left feeling like the apology has not been made sincerely.

The solution to this “mis-communication” is to:

  1. Find out what your primary Apology Language is.
  2. Find out what your partner’s Apology Language is.
  3. Just like spoken languages, we can learn to speak our partner’s Apology Language.
  4. You will need to apologise to your partner in the way that he/she would like to receive it, instead of the way in which it is easiest or natural for you to apologise.
  5. When communicating an apology to your partner, you need to be able to speak all 5 languages, however, the primary Apology Language should be your focus.

John and Sarah follow the advice given by the marriage counsellor and both do the online quiz at When they compare their results, it becomes very clear as to why John’s numerous attempts at apologising by saying “I am so sorry for hurting you” seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and Sarah remains furious with him. Sarah simply does not view his apology as sincere. What Sarah needs is for John to come up with a plan to prevent such an infidelity from ever happening again.

Sarah’s Apology Language John’s Apology Language
Planned Change  32%

Accept Responsibility  28%

Make Restitution  20%

Request Forgiveness  12%

Expressing Regret  8%

Expressing Regret  28%

Request  Forgiveness  24%

Accept Responsibility  16%

Planned Change  16%

Make Restitution  16%

John now understands what is required of him in order to win his wife’s heart back. Whilst incorporating each of the 5 Apology Languages into his communication to Sarah, he focusses on “planned change”, which is her primary Apology Language. John compiles a plan of action, presents it to Sarah, incorporates additional suggestions that she makes, and they agree on the steps which need to be put in place in order to affair-proof their marriage. John will need to be the custodian of this plan, ensure that it is implemented consistently, and regularly communicate this to Sarah so that she continues to view his efforts as sincere and is able to feel safe in their marriage again. Sarah’s anger subsides, she starts to heal, feels more comfortable in their relationship, and is able to open her heart to John once again.

When we receive an apology, our minds will judge whether the apology is sincere. In situations when we feel that the apology is sincere, it is much easier to forgive the other party. Forgiveness also opens the door through which trust can be reborn.

Some useful resources:

Apology Languages

Gary Chapman – The 5 Languages of Apology

The Author: Liesl de la Harpe (Humanitas Intern)

Here is a little bit more about her: 

Hi there! My name is Liesl. I have an Honours degree in Psychology and am currently a specialist wellness counselling intern with Humanitas.

I am passionate about equipping people with the tools necessary to navigate the series of challenges which are encountered throughout life … and would welcome the opportunity to provide you with a safe space within which you can explore your current challenge/s with a view to better understanding your emotions, considering your options and journeying towards a happier and emotionally healthier you.