“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Do you remember that line? It’s from the seventies film Love Story. It is a catchy thought. But, it is a toxic one, too. The truth is, for a couple in love, “sorry,” has to be part of your vocabulary.
Because people who love each other hurt each other.
In the early months or years of a relationship, it may be possible to remain emotionally tuned in, attentive, and responsive to your partner most of the time. There might not be much occasion, then, to say, “sorry!”
Eventually though, the preoccupations of life take over: kids, careers, and mortgages. Preoccupation, stress, and anxiety follow. Under these new circumstances you may not notice your partner’s loneliness, or you may unintentionally minimize your partner’s hurt feelings. You may forget to listen closely and carefully.
Then your partner will feel slighted, unimportant, and inadequate. Hopefully he or she will be brave enough to tell, and gentle enough so that you will listen. And, hopefully you will be wise enough to heed your partner.
At times such as these, it may be time to say, “I’m sorry.”
Even then, your apology won’t have much traction if:
- it’s the “let’s-get-this-over-with-quick” apology, as in “I’m sorry, now what else did you want to talk about?”
- it’s a “not-really-my-fault” apology: “I’m sorry, but I did it because you . . .”
- it’s a “you’re-making-me” apology: “Well I suppose you won’t be happy till I say sorry.”
- it’s the “do-we-have-to-do-this-again” apology: “I already told you a million times, I’m sorry”
You get the picture.
Instead of falling into one of these traps, take a deep breath. Slow down. Really look at your partner. Ask your partner to describe the hurt you caused. Listen carefully. Own (don’t explain away) your actions. When your partner sees that his or her pain pains you, then say “sorry.” Sincerely. Authentically. Simply.
Now you can explain your side of the story. And, because you listened, your partner will listen.
When a couple inevitably experiences the big hurts that are part of any relationship, over time, knowing how to say “sorry,” often and deeply is the only path back to each other. Such apologies are hard work. Very hard work. Sometimes the healing can take a long time.
But stay at it. The quiet, gentler water beyond the whirlpool of hurt is worth it.
And, of course, if you feel like you are drowning, call a couple’s therapist!