Love Means Having To Say You Are Sorry

Posted On: Tuesday, October 22, 2013


In the movie "Love Story," a dying Jennifer Cavillieri (Ali MacGraw) professes to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal), "Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry."

For years, this romantic cliché circled the globe and became a lover's mantra -- if we truly know each other, then there is no reason to apologize.

Well, I suppose in a perfect world where ego doesn't exist, this would be true. And I suppose that if we were all truly psychic and were able to look beneath overt behaviors to their real motivation and meaning, we wouldn't need to say "I'm sorry."

But from my perspective, if you say the words, "I'm sorry," and truly mean it, you are validating your partner's feelings and in most cases you will be repaid 100-fold.

One of the biggest mistakes we make as couples is assuming our partners automatically know what we think, feel and need, when sometimes we don't even know ourselves. Saying "I'm sorry" is a validation that your partner is hurt, disappointed, or needing of understanding.

So why is it so difficult for some to say "I'm sorry?" There are several reasons. When a loved one feels injured, sad, disappointed or frustrated his or her attempts to explain these feelings become blindsided by emotional reactivity.

Think about being on the other end of a loud and heated discussion. Your first instinct is to run and hide or to fight back. Neither one of these responses is very likely to resolve anything.

When you are feeling sad, disappointed, or angry, it is really important to find ways to self-regulate so that you can communicate your feelings without shutting the other person down.

Second, sometimes it's difficult to hear our partners concerns as anything but judgement and criticism, which evokes feelings of guilt and blame. It's important to learn how to set aside guilt and blame, so that you can listen and hear. In healthy relationships, partners are able to focus on each other's needs when appropriate, rather than making it about them.

Being able to do this opens sepace for both to have a different kind of a conversation about the issue. Experts say that couples who are engaged in stable, healthy relationships enjoy the following elements: ability to be flexible, feeling appreciated and understood, mutual respect and support, having more positive thoughts and interactions than negative ones, trust, and good communication.

Like forgiveness, saying, "I'm sorry" is a gift we give to ourselves as well as our partner. It is not about winning or losing and it's not about being right or wrong. It's about allowing oneself to feel vulnerable enough to acknowledge your contribution to the situation and at the same time say, "I value our relationship more than I need to be right or wrong."

When couples can communicate this message to each other, both feel accepted and loved. Problems then become more manageable and easier to resolve.

Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.