There is a popular saying from the Erich Segal novel Love Story (and 1970 movie by the same name); one of the main characters, Jennifer, says to her lover, Oliver, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
It’s true that in a mindful relationship you shouldn’t have to apologize for who you are and what you feel. Each partner should have a compassionate acceptance of the other, even when he or she makes mistakes.
But love also means taking full responsibility for your actions and the impact they have on the one you love. As much as we accept our beloved and are willing to forgive and forget many things, there are times when an apology must be offered before healing can begin.
Studies reinforce that love does indeed mean having to say you’re sorry. Apologizing and asking for forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to relationship satisfaction. Being able to move on from hurtful, negative events will ultimately lead to a stronger connection.
Couples who learn to offer sincere apologies to each other can expunge the toxic hurt and shame that prevents them from having emotional intimacy. However, apologizing is an advanced relationship skill, one that calls for attentive commitment.
It requires doing something most of us find extremely difficult?getting past the ego self. Many people simply can’t apologize, or they do so flippantly or with resistance. The fear of admitting weakness or imperfection is too
The mental process leading to an apology is complex and involves pushing past many internal barriers. We have to honestly examine ourselves and our behavior, the motivation behind the behavior, and the feelings of our partner whom we’ve injured or offended.
We also need to project into the future to consider the long-term consequences of our actions, a thought process that can be quite uncomfortable.
Simply acknowledging we’ve messed up is the place most people get stuck. The minute we acknowledge this, we’re in a vulnerable position. We aren’t the strong, flawless, competent person we want to project to our spouse or partner. As soon as we admit to ourselves we’ve done something wrong, we feel diminished and lose some amount of self-esteem.
This self-esteem can be restored through apology, but our knee-jerk reaction is believing we are stronger by refusing to admit our mistake. We defend our actions, point fingers, or deflect the impact our behavior has had. We tell ourselves our words or actions were justified or necessary.
We can really dig in if our partner reacts with anger or extreme emotion. Things begin to escalate, and now you have another buffer of emotional intensity keeping you from self-honesty. But have you noticed how blaming others never makes you feel better?
In fact, the only true way to get past certain conflicts is by fully admitting your mistake and apologizing sincerely. Only then can you move forward with peace and confidence to restore your integrity and repair the relationship.
How to Develop This Habit
Be honest with yourself?are you prideful and resistant when it comes to owning your mistakes and saying, “I’m sorry,” right away?
If you have a hard time apologizing (or you don’t apologize in a timely way), this is an important habit to prioritize. Don’t allow a backlog of hurt feelings and resentments to erode your partner’s love and respect for you.
Do you have something tugging at your heart right now that requires an apology? If so, a good way to practice this habit is by making a sincere and complete apology to your partner right away, using the skills outlined here.
On an ongoing basis, you’ll need to remain vigilant about any tendencies to be defensive or resistant when it comes to apologizing. Use a visual reminder to help you keep this habit top of mind, though your partner will likely let you know when you’ve done something that requires an apology. Your goal is to offer it before he or she has to ask for one.
Remember?acknowledging your mistakes, apologizing, asking forgiveness, and correcting behavior aren’t signs of weakness. They are signs of emotional maturity.
Pay attention to your feelings.
We often know we’ve said or done something wrong the minute it happens. We feel that queasy, oops-I-messed-up feeling inside. Most of us want to push that feeling aside, but the sooner you address a mistake the better.
When you ignore the feeling, you’re only delaying the inevitable?and you make yourself look insensitive. If you feel you’ve done something wrong, then you probably have, even if your partner hasn’t called you out on it. Be honest with yourself about why you’re experiencing the feeling and what you did wrong.
It can help to step outside of your own ego and pretend you are the recipient of the words or behavior that prompted your discomfort. Would you want an apology from yourself?
Pay attention to your partner’s reactions.
Sometimes the first cue that you’ve hurt the one you love comes from your partner. He or she may tell you directly with calm or angry words, or your partner might show you passively by withdrawing or behaving differently toward you.
Sometimes when your partner is wounded, he or she may have a harder time expressing intense emotions. There’s often resentment involved, and the longer you’re detached from your partner’s pain, the worse it gets.
If you suspect you’ve hurt your beloved, and you notice a difference in behavior, or if he or she tells you directly, then pay attention. Even if you believe in the moment that you aren’t in the wrong, acknowledge your partner’s pain. Take your partner’s hands, look him or her in the eye, and say, “I see that I’ve hurt you, and I didn’t mean to do that.”
Try to step into his or her shoes and practice empathy. Just listening and acknowledging in a calm and receptive way can defuse a painful, emotionally charged situation.
Reflect on your actions and investigate them further.
When you are calm and not feeling defensive or angry, reflect honestly on your actions and how they hurt your partner. You’ll likely come up with many reasons why you behaved as you did, and perhaps you have some legitimate rationalizations. But if there is any part of your behavior that was wrong, you must accept responsibility.
If you aren’t sure, or your feelings are getting in the way of self-honesty, find someone you trust who can give you some balanced feedback on the situation.
There are some situations when you are clearly and completely in the wrong, and other times it’s not so black and white. But if some aspect of your behavior was wrong, an apology for your part is still in order.
Be sure to act quickly.
As soon as you know you need to apologize, do it quickly. Allow emotions to calm down, and take the time for reflection if necessary. But after that, it’s time to take a deep breath and make amends.
Any offense seems worse over time. It can grow out of proportion and cause deeper hurt as your partner has more time to ponder it and live with the pain.
The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be for you to step forward and accept responsibility for your actions. Make apologizing your priority once you know it needs to happen.