The Surprising Secret to Apology and Forgiveness

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It was the best omelet I’d ever tasted.

My wife made it for me on a Sunday afternoon, a perfect combination of egg, cheese, tomato, and spinach. I know that sounds like a relatively insignificant moment in the grand scheme of things, but here’s the thing: we’d been in a fight for most of the weekend. We hadn’t said much of anything to each other in a day. I’d apologized for my part in it, and I was demanding an apology from her. She’s not a huge fan of men telling her what she has to do. We were in a stand-off.

Then, the omelet.

I grabbed some hot sauce, grumbled some gratitude at her, and sat down to eat my lunch. I raised the first forkful of egg to my mouth and paused mid-air. I looked down at it, and I remembered the conversation I’d had several times with several clients over the last several days. In each case, the client was in conflict with a loved one, and in each case the client was overlooking something important about their loved one. To each client I’d said the following words:

Apologies can be spoken in many languages.

By now, most of us have encountered Gary Chapman’s five love languages in one way or another. He articulated the five ways that love can be given and received, and they include words of affirmation, acts of service, physical affection, quality time, and material gifts. We each prefer one language over another. So, when someone expresses their love in a language we don’t tend to speak, we miss the message. And vice versa.

I’d told my clients that apology is an expression of love, too, and we often overlook it when it’s not expressed in our favorite language. I’m a words guy. I value words of affirmation. I offer my apologies in words. “I’m sorry” matters to me. However, with my forkful of eggs paused in mid-air, my own words came back to me: apologies can be spoken in many languages.

Apologies can be spoken in omelet.

In True Companions, I make many suggestions, and this is one of them: let them surprise you. It’s a simple practice, but it’s not an easy one. We companions get into well-worn ruts of expectations and accusations, beliefs about each other and grievances against each other. Our conversations and our conflict become habitual, even scripted. We know what comes next. Or at least, we think we do. One of the ways we protect ourselves in relationships is to feel certain about what others are going to do and why they’re going to do it. However, that kind of certainty separates.

Curiosity connects.

What if you sat down with your companions today, and you practiced some curiosity about how they put closure to conflict? Ask them about the language in which they like to speak apology. Let them surprise you. Share your language in return. Then, take the conversation to the next level by talking about forgiveness—the act of letting someone know an apology has been received and accepted. Sometimes that might be as simple as saying, “I forgive you.”

Sometimes, it might be as simple as enjoying your omelet with a grateful heart.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.