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When Sorry Isn't Enough
MAKING THINGS RIGHT WITH THOSE YOU LOVE
By GARY CHAPMAN, Jennifer Thomas, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse
Northfield PublishingCopyright © 2013 Gary Chapman Jennifer Thomas
All rights reserved.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for apologies. But because the world is imperfect, we cannot survive without them. My academic background is the field of anthropology, the study of human culture. One of the clear conclusions of the anthropologist is that all people have a sense of morality: Some things are right, and some things are wrong. People are incurably moral. In psychology, it is often called the conscience. In theology, it may be referred to as the "sense of ought" or the imprint of the divine.
It is true that the standard by which the conscience condemns or affirms is influenced by the culture. For example, in Eskimo (or Inuit) culture, if one is on a trek and runs out of food, it is perfectly permissible to enter the igloo of a stranger and eat whatever is available. In most other Western cultures, to enter an unoccupied house would be considered "breaking and entering," an offense punishable as a crime. Although the standard of right will differ from culture to culture and sometimes within cultures, all people have a sense of right and wrong.
When one's sense of right is violated, that person will experience anger. He or she will feel wronged and resentful at the person who has violated their trust. The wrongful act stands as a barrier between the two people, and the relationship is fractured. They cannot, even if they desired, live as though the wrong had not been committed. Jack, whose brother swindled him years ago, says, "Things have never been the same between us." Whatever the offense, something inside the offended calls for justice. It is these human realities that serve as the basis of all judicial systems.
A CRY FOR RECONCILIATION
While justice may bring some sense of satisfaction to the offended person, justice does not typically restore relationships. If an employee who is found stealing from the company is caught, tried, and fined or imprisoned, everyone says, "Justice has been served." But the company is not likely to restore the employee to the original place of leadership. On the other hand, if an employee steals from the company but quickly takes responsibility for the error, reports that misdeed to the supervisor, expresses sincere regret, offers to pay for all inequities, and pleads for mercy, there is the possibility that the employee will be allowed to continue with the company.
Humankind has an amazing capacity to forgive. I remember a number of years ago visiting the town of Coventry, England. I stood in the shell of a cathedral that had been bombed by the Nazis in the Second World War. I listened as the guide told the story of the new cathedral that rose beside the ruins. Some years after the war, a group of Germans had come and helped build the new cathedral as an act of contrition for the damages their fellow countrymen had inflicted. Everyone had agreed to allow the ruins to remain in the shadow of the new cathedral. Both structures were symbolic: the one of man's inhumanity to man, the other of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Something within us cries out for reconciliation when wrongdoing has fractured a relationship. The desire for reconciliation is often more potent than the desire for justice. The more intimate the relationship, the deeper the desire for reconciliation. When a husband treats his wife unfairly, in her hurt and anger she is pulled between a longing for justice and a desire for mercy. On the one hand, she wants him to pay for his wrongdoing; on the other hand, she wishes for reconciliation. It is his sincere apology that makes genuine reconciliation possible. If there is no apology, then her sense of morality pushes her to demand justice. Many times through the years, I have observed divorce proceedings and watched the judge seek to determine what was just. I have often wondered if sincere apologies would have changed the sad outcome.
I have looked into the eyes of teenage rage and wondered how different life would be if an abusive father had apologized. Without apologies, anger builds and pushes us to demand justice. When, as we see it, justice is not forthcoming, we often take matters into our own hands and seek revenge on those who have wronged us. Anger escalates and can end in violence. The man who walks into the office of his former employer and shoots his supervisor and three of his coworkers burns with a sense of injustice—to the point where only murderous revenge will right the wrong. Things might have been different had he had the courage to lovingly confront—and others had the courage to say, "I was wrong."
CAN YOU FORGIVE WITHOUT AN APOLOGY?
Genuine forgiveness and reconciliation are two-person transactions that are enabled by apologies. Some, particularly within the Christian worldview, have taught forgiveness without an apology. They often quote the words of Jesus, "If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Thus, they say to the wife whose husband has been unfaithful and continues in his adulterous affair, "You must forgive him, or God will not forgive you." Such an interpretation of Jesus' teachings fails to reckon with the rest of the scriptural teachings on forgiveness. The Christian is instructed to forgive others in the same manner that God forgives us. How does God forgive us? The Scriptures say that if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins. Nothing in the Old or New Testaments indicates that God forgives the sins of people who do not confess and repent of their sins.
When a pastor encourages a wife to forgive her erring husband while he still continues in his wrongdoing, the minister is requiring of the wife something that God Himself does not do. Jesus' teaching is that we are to be always willing to forgive, as God is always willing to forgive, those who repent. Some will object to this idea, indicating that Jesus forgave those who were killing Him. But that is not what the Scriptures say. Rather, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Jesus expressed His heart of compassion and His desire to see His murderers forgiven. That should be our desire and our prayer. But their forgiveness came later when they acknowledged that they had indeed killed the Son of God.
Forgiveness without an apology is often encouraged for the benefit of the forgiver rather than the benefit of the offender. Such forgiveness does not lead to reconciliation. When there is no apology, the Christian is encouraged to release the person to God for justice and to release one's anger to God through forbearance.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian who was martyred by the Nazis in a concentration camp in 1945, argued against the "preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance." He referred to such forgiveness as "cheap grace ... which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner."
Genuine forgiveness removes the barrier that was created by the offense and opens the door to restoring trust over time. If the relationship was warm and intimate before the offense, it can become loving again. If the relationship was simply one of casual acquaintance, it may grow to a deeper level through the dynamic process of forgiveness. If the offense was created by an unknown person such as a rapist or a murderer, there was no relationship to be restored. If they have apologized and you have forgiven, each of you is free to go on living your lives, although the criminal will still face the judicial system created by the culture to deal with deviant behavior.
THE FIVE-GALLON CONTAINER
When we apologize, we accept responsibility for our behavior, seeking to make amends with the person who was offended. Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. Then we can continue to build the relationship. Without apology, the offense sits as a barrier, and the quality of the relationship is diminished. Good relationships are always marked by a willingness to apologize, forgive, and reconcile.
Sincere apologies also assuage a guilty conscience. Picture your conscience as a five-gallon container strapped to your back. Whenever you wrong another, it's like pouring a gallon of liquid into your conscience. Three or four wrongs and your conscience is getting full—and you are getting heavy. A full conscience leaves one with a sense of guilt and shame. The only way to effectively empty the conscience is to apologize to God and the person you offended. When this is done, you can look God in the face, you can look yourself in the mirror, and you can look the other person in their eyes; not because you are perfect but because you have been willing to take responsibility for your failure.
We may or may not have learned the art of apologizing when we were children. In healthy families, parents teach their children to apologize. However, many children grow up in dysfunctional families where hurt, anger, and bitterness are a way of life and no one ever apologizes.
WHAT REAL LOVE LOOKS LIKE
The good news is that the art of apology can be learned. What we have discovered in our research is that there are five fundamental aspects of an apology. We call them the five languages of apology. Each of them is important. But for a particular individual, one or two of the languages may communicate more effectively than the others. The key to good relationships is learning the apology language of the other person and being willing to speak it. When you speak their primary language, you make it easier for them to genuinely forgive you. When you fail to speak their language, it makes forgiveness more difficult because they are not sure if you are genuinely apologizing.
Understanding and applying the five languages of an apology will greatly enhance all of your relationships.
In the next five chapters, we will explain the five languages. And in chapter 7, we will show you how to discover both your own and another person's primary apology language and how this can make your efforts at apologizing most productive.
Love often means saying you're sorry—over and over again. Real love will be marked by apologies by the offender and forgiveness by the offended. This is the path to restored, loving relationships. It all begins by learning to speak the right language of apology when you offend someone.
Those of us who experienced bullying when we were growing up—or watched our kids being victimized—know that the scars can cut deep and last long. But some elementary-school students in Louisiana are learning an important lesson. At a recent antibullying assembly at a school in Lafayette, Kyannah Mathis, only seven, admitted that she had sometimes been a bully toward some of her classmates. She said she had been feeling sad since the death of her grandmother and thought she might have taken out some of that sadness on others. With the encouragement of facilitator Asher Lyons, Kyannah called two of her friends up and apologized to them, then asked for their forgiveness and asked what she could do to make it right. The girls shook hands and agreed to be friends.
"I feel much better because I don't feel mad anymore," Kyannah said after the program. As for her friends, eight-year-old Nevaonna Alfred said she was thankful for Kyannah's help and said that when she was bullied, "I feel like I just want to be mad myself." She added, "I just want us to be friends."
Years ago I (Gary) was watching Oliver North, the famous military officer and author, discuss Jane Fonda on a talk show. He was talking about the "acts of treason" that he alleged Jane Fonda had perpetrated during the Vietnam War. Host Alan Colmes said, "But she apologized," to which North replied, "No, she did not apologize."
"She said that she was sorry," Colmes responded.
"That's not an apology," said North, adding, "She didn't say 'Will you forgive me?' 'I'm sorry' is not an apology."
In addition to their political differences, Oliver North and Alan Colmes clearly do not agree on what constitutes an apology. Perhaps they could learn a lesson from Kyannah and Nevaonna.
WHERE IT BEGINS
In 2013, Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he had cheated by doping, lied about it, and sued innocent people as part of his cover-up. Time will tell if his confession will help salvage his legacy.
Is "I'm sorry" enough?
Maybe not always, as we shall see. But it does form the basis of our first language of apology: expressing regret. Expressing regret is the emotional aspect of an apology. It is expressing to the offended person your own sense of guilt, shame, and pain that your behavior has hurt him deeply. It is interesting that when Robert Fulghum wrote his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he included as one of the things he learned: "Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody." Expressing regret is fundamental to good relationships.
Apology is birthed in the womb of regret. We regret the pain we have caused, the disappointment, the inconvenience, the betrayal of trust. Regret focuses on what you did or failed to do and how it affected the other person. The offended one is experiencing painful emotions, and they want you to feel some of their pain. They want some evidence that you realize how deeply you have hurt them. For some people, this is the one thing they listen for in an apology. Without the expression of regret, they do not sense that the apology is adequate or sincere.
SAYING THE MAGIC WORDS
A simple "I'm sorry" can go a long way toward restoring goodwill. The absence of the words "I'm sorry" stands out to some like a very sore thumb. Quite often offenders will not realize that they have left out some "magic words," but you can be assured that the listener is scanning the silence for those missing words.
Let me (Jennifer) share a personal story. Last spring I was part of a group of women who received end-of-the-year prizes for each having led a small group. I selected my prize from a sales consultant's catalog and was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my thank-you gift. The summer came and went with no delivery of my product. I began to wonder, Where is my order? When the end of the year came with no package, I concluded that my order was not likely to come. I actually decided at that time that it was not worth pursuing the issue with anyone. I reasoned that I had enjoyed leading the group and put the item out of my mind with the refrain, "Easy come, easy go."
Imagine my surprise when I received a telephone message from the consultant the next spring. She said that she had been cleaning out boxes and found my order! She closed the phone message by saying simply that she wanted to arrange to get the item to me. For my part, I was pleasantly surprised to be in the position to receive that which I had let go. However, something was nagging at me. I replayed her message and confirmed my suspicion: She had failed to say, "I am sorry for my mistake," or to express any sort of regret. I would have quickly embraced such an apology.
As it was, I pondered the issue in my mind long enough to write it down and to wonder how often I might do the same thing. Do I correct problems, yet not assume responsibility or express regret? The magic words "I'm sorry" would have made a world of difference to me.
"I WANT HIM TO UNDERSTAND HOW HE HURT ME"
Many people can identify with Jennifer's experience. Karen lives in Duluth, Minnesota. She has been married to her husband, Jim, for twenty-seven years. When I asked her, "What do you look for in an apology when Jim has wronged you?" her immediate response was, "Most of all I want him to understand how he hurt me and why. I want him to see things from my perspective. I expect to hear him say, 'I apologize. I am really sorry.'
"It helps if he gives an explanation of how his actions have hurt me. That way, I know he understands. If it's something really bad, I expect abject misery and want him to really be sad about the pain he caused me."
I asked, "When you say 'really bad,' what kind of things do you have in mind?"
"Like the time he took a girl at the office out to lunch without telling me. I heard it from a friend, and I was really hurt. I think if he had tried to justify it, I would have never gotten over it. You see, my husband is not the kind of man who takes other women out to lunch. I knew he had to have a little fascination for her or he would not have done it. He admitted that I was right and told me how sorry he was. He said that he knew that I would never go out with another man and that if I did, he would be deeply hurt. He said that he regretted what he had done and wished he had never done it. I knew he was sincere when I saw tears come to his eyes." For Karen, the heart of an apology is a sincere expression of regret.
WHAT DOES YOUR BODY SAY?
It is important that our body language agree with the words we are saying if we expect the offended person to sense our sincerity. Karen mentioned Jim's tears as evidence of his sincerity. Listen to the words of another wife who said, "I know when my husband sincerely feels sorry for something he's done, because he becomes very quiet and his physical mannerisms become introverted. He apologizes with a soft voice and a bowed head. This shows me that he feels really bad. Then I know it's genuine."
Robert and Katie have been married for seven years. When I asked him, "How do you know that Katie is sincere when she apologizes?" his answer was, "Eye contact. If she looks me in the eye and says 'I'm sorry,' I know she's sincere. If she says 'I'm sorry' while passing through the room, I know she's hiding something. A hug and a kiss after the apology also let me know that she's sincere."
Robert is illustrating the reality that sometimes our body language speaks louder than our spoken language. This is especially true when the two contradict each other. For example, one wife said, "When he screams at me, 'I said I'm sorry!' but his eyes are glaring and his hands are shaking, it's like he's trying to make me forgive him. It seems to me he is more concerned about moving on and forgetting it than truly apologizing. It's like my hurt doesn't matter—let's just get on with life."
Excerpted from When Sorry Isn't Enough by GARY CHAPMAN. Copyright © 2013 by Gary Chapman Jennifer Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Northfield Publishing.
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