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While watching the recent Netflix blockbuster “Malcolm and Marie” I stumbled upon a rather interesting concept. During the first few minutes of the movie, it appears as though Malcolm, who was feeling quite giddy and excited about the release of his new movie, was so caught up in his euphoria that he was completely oblivious to the passive aggressive remarks and body language being dispalyed by his girlfriend, Marie… He was busy waltzing across the living room like a blissful fool, while she was silently seething.

Soon, a slow agonizing argument started to escalate over what seemingly started out as a continuous rant from Marie about how Malcolm did not “appreciate the mac and cheese she had made him and everything else that she did for him around the house. Malcolm not buying any of it, insisted on finding out what the argument was really about and that is when a rather interesting exchange of words ensued…

Malcolm: So what is this really about?

Marie: Your speech Malcolm…

Malcolm: What? You’re outside of your mind! Oh give me a break! I swear when I said you find the most minor fucking details to make things ugly I meant it!

Marie: You forgot to thank me Malcolm! That’s not a minor fucking detail that’s a big one!

Malcolm: But I thanked you a million times before, you know that am thankful, you know that am appreciative! And you know that I made a mistake so why turn it into something more?

Marie: Because. It IS more.

Malcolm: What?

Marie: It’s our entire fucking relationship in a nutshell.

Malcolm: Oh you can’t be serious!

Marie: Am dead serious.

Malcolm! You are psychotic!

Marie: You are hyperbolic!

Malcolm! Am not! It’s psychotic to think that forgetting to thank you is symbolic of anything other than me legitimately forgetting to fucking thank you!!

Marie: Malcolm, you thanked a hundred and twelve fucking people tonight okay! You thanked your mother, your gaffer, your agents, your third grade teacher and the usher who worked at the theatre when you were twelve years old and sold whatever the fuck!

Malcolm! I didn’t thank no damn usher!

Marie: You know what I mean…

Malcolm: You don’t have to be sarcastic and petty and obnoxious about this shit, alright Marie, okay, am sorry I forgot to thank you! I am G.E.N.U.I.N.E.L.Y sorry which is why I apologized a thousand fucking times during the movie! I mean, I felt so guilty; I couldn’t even concentrate on the movie!

Marie! Huh! Well that’s a shame you had to say it 7000 times!

Malcolm! What? But every time I leaned over and said I was sorry YOU said it was FINE! YOU squeezed my hand and said it was FINE! You said I love you, don’t worry, it’s FINE!

Marie: Well Malcolm, I changed my mind…

That right there… Isn’t mac and cheese so delicious? Just kidding. Well, excuse the French in the previous dialogue, but something about that dialogue really captivated me. It made me think about what I like to call the “Apology Languages”. Many people have heard of the “Five Languages of Love” from renowned psychologists such as Gary Chapman, but no one ever really talks about the apology languages.

World-renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel points out that every relationship of whatever kind whether platonic, intimate, family relationship or whatever is bound to encounter conflict. Psychologist Elizabeth Dorrance says that the strength of any relationship depends on the couple’s ability to resolve conflict. Therefore, it would only make sense for couples, friends and family members alike to learn their own as well as each other’s apology languages, since no conflict can ever be truly resolved without a genuine apology.

The first time I heard of apology languages was from the famous sexologist Shannon Boodram in her book “The Game of Desire”. She mentions four apology languages and asks individuals to figure out which category they fall under and whether they require more than one. The four main apology languages include words of affirmation, acts of restitution, demonstration of regret and the mixed apology dialect.


· Acts of affirmation

A person whose apology language consists of acts of affirmation requires the other to acknowledge what they’ve done and the hurt they have caused in a genuine and sincere manner. Esther Perel reiterates that in a conflict, one should never attempt to hold the measurement stick of what is worthy of being upset about and what is not. Doing so is a sure way for the conflict to escalate. Never try to convince the other person that they are “blowing things out of proportion” as in that way, you completely disregard and fail to acknowledge the hurt you may have caused and cancel any opportunity for understanding why they are hurt. In the dialogue between Malcolm and Marie when he says “ you know that I made a mistake so why turn it into something more” he has dictated the measurement stick of what is deemed worthy of being considered “more” and this makes his partner even MORE angry.

· Acts of restitution

Acts of restitution consist of actions that one can do to demonstrate how sorry they are by trying to correct the situation. Some people cannot truly find it in them to forgive until the other person has done certain acts of restitution. These acts may differ according to each person. Examples of acts of restitution may include the apologizer replacing an item they lost or destroyed or paying for the inconvenience.

· Demonstration of regret

This involves showing the other person just how truly sorry one is by accepting responsibility and showing remorse but also incorporating changed behavior. When it comes to “demonstrating” regret saying the word sorryis not enough, one must also through their actions gradually with time that they are making a genuine effort to actually change. Saying sorry without any change in behavior is simply manipulation. Drawing back to the Malcolm and Marie dialogue, Malcolm may have been sorry, but his words and defensive tone demonstrated otherwise, which made his apologies sound ingenious.

· Mixed apology dialect

Other times, depending on the situation a mixture of apology languages is required to right the wrong that was done, depending on the situation. In the Malcolm and Marie situation maybe what was needed was a combination of words of affirmation, demonstration of regret and maybe an act of restitution in the future where Malcolm could have thanked Marie and given her credit publicly? I don’t know, this is just my speculation. But, yes, sometimes, a beautiful combo of all the three apology languages is what is actually required.

A word to the one receiving or expecting an apology

Recognizing what actually counts, as a genuine apology to us is highly important. But what is even more important, is communicating this realization to others. Failure to do so results in passive aggression and bottling up of resentment. It is also important to express one’s misgivings about a situation the moment the wrong actually occurs instead of pretending to be “fine” while miraculously expecting the other person to read your mind. Ignoring and failing to truly express one’s needs results in others shoving these needs under the rug, or even worse, flipping the script on you when you try to raise the issues again later. Unlike Marie, do NOT say you’re fine about a situation unless you truly are fine with the situation. And lastly, always remember it is the two of you against the situation and not the two of you against each other. Genuine repentance and reconciliation cannot survive where ego resides.

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Hilda Tizeba
Written by

Hilda Tizeba

I am a lecturer and the CEO and Founder of a mental health organisation called Guided Path. I strive to eliminate stigma through education, advocacy and utilising the law to bring forth meaningful policy and legal reform in the mental health sector in Tanzania.

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