Did the movie Love Story get it right when it advised us that true love means never having to say, “I’m sorry?” I don’t think so, for one simply reason – we are all human. And humans are not perfect. All of us end up hurting the persons we love most. Having a good marriage does not demand perfection, but it does require us to apologize when we fail.
When I say, “I’m sorry” I’m expressing regret that my words or behavior have brought pain to you. When is the last time you said, “I’m sorry,” to your husband or wife? If it’s been a while, then you probably owe them an apology. Love means always being willing to say, “I’m sorry.”
There’s more to an apology than saying “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps you have said, “I’m sorry,” but your spouse is finding it hard to forgive you. So you feel frustrated and are saying to yourself, “I apologized what else can I do?” If you really want to break down the barriers, ask your spouse this question: “What can I do to make this up to you? I know I hurt you and I feel badly about it, but I want to make it right. I feel like I want to do something to show you that I love you.”
This is far more powerful than simply saying “I’m sorry.” Here you are trying to make restitution. You are trying to demonstrate that you really care about your relationship. After all, what your spouse wants to know is “are you sincere in your apology?”
Why are you sorry?
When you apologize to your spouse, what do you say? For many the answer is: “I’m sorry.” But do you tell them what you are sorry for? An apology has more impact when it’s specific. “I’m sorry that I got home late. I know that you worked hard to be ready on time, and I show up 15 minutes late. I feel badly that I’ve made you wait. I hope you will forgive me and we can still have a good evening.” This kind of apology communicates that you are aware that your behavior inconvenienced your spouse and that you feel badly about it.
Here’s one that you should never use. “I’m sorry that you got hurt.” That shifts the blame to your spouse. It says, “If you weren’t so sensitive, everything would be all right.” Far better to say, “I’m sorry that my behavior hurt you.”
Wait…. who’s to blame?
“I’m sorry, but if you had not provoked me, I would not have lost my temper.” That is not an apology. It is blaming your spouse for your poor behavior. Sincere regret needs to stand alone. It should not be followed with “But…” One husband said, “Her apologies always come across as attacks on me. She says she’s sorry, but then she turns around and blames me. To me that’s not an apology.”
How about you? When you say, “I’m sorry,” do you use the word “but”? If so, then you’re not apologizing. You are blaming. You are creating resentment inside your spouse. They have a hard time forgiving you because in their mind you are not apologizing. In the future, try eliminating the “buts”.
Taking responsibility for your behavior
Sometimes we hurt people and don’t realize it. It certainly was not intentional. Good marriages are fostered by expressing regret even when we didn’t intend to hurt them. If you bump someone getting off an elevator, you probably say, “I’m sorry.” Why would you not do this with your spouse? You may not realize that your behavior has upset your spouse, but when it becomes apparent, then you can say, “I’m sorry that my behavior caused you so much pain. I didn’t intend to hurt you, but I know I did. I feel badly about it, and I hope you will forgive me.”
Sincere apologies make it easier for your husband or wife to forgive you. You don’t have to be perfect to have a good marriage. But you must deal with your failures. “I’m sorry” is a key ingredient to a loving marriage.
(adapted from Dr. Gary Chapman)