“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Erich Segal wrote those words in his romance novel “Love Story” in 1970 – it became immortalized in the movie based on that novel – and people have been using it as an excuse ever since. It’s a lovely, idealistic idea – and one that spares you of responsibility and the embarrassment of having to take ownership of your own behaviour – so I can see the obvious appeal, but if you plan on having relationships last, then you had best throw this idea out.
If you truly love someone, their feelings must mean more to you than your pride – because that is what we’re talking about really, isn’t it? Apologizing is difficult, especially if you aren’t used to doing it, and the discomfort becomes exponential according to how much the relationship means to you. In other words, the more you should apologize, the harder it will be to do. So you must always ask yourself what matters more to you: the relationship, or your personal comfort? (The good news is, that the more often you do it, the easier it gets – just as is the case with anything.) Hiding behind these poetic words will always leave you and your relationships vulnerable to breaches in trust, erosion of intimacy, and potential disintegration. Worse still, you won’t have learned anything, so you will be doomed to repeat the same pattern in your next relationship – and every relationship thereafter – until you finally give in and embrace this lesson.
As always, you can only control your own actions and your own growth, and so you can only ever control how you contribute to any and all of your relationships. This means that you may well have to deal with a partner who is slow to learn this lesson, and that will cause some frustration. You can only ever lead by example, and be the partner that you need to be – in order to create the relationship that you desire. You cannot change your partner – which means that you cannot make them ready to be more vulnerable, more trusting and/or less proud – but you can inspire these changes through consistency, patience, and clear communication about what you need, when an apology is needed. This does not mean that you take the opportunity to blame them for what they did, or take advantage of the situation to “punish” your partner emotionally by attacking them verbally (or otherwise) with an outpouring of intense emotion. You must do your level best to be calm, mature and reasonable. (I’m not saying that will be easy, but again it gets easier with repetition.)
As much as this famous quote as been embraced and perpetuated, I wholeheartedly disagree. Love means saying you’re sorry – often. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and none of us will ever achieve perfection… and none of us has to. That’s why we invented apologies, to repair damage done inside of a relationship that we do not consider to be disposable. (Whether or not you choose to apologize to people who are part of a relationship that you do consider to be disposable, is up to you – and as a matter of integrity as much as a matter of personal taste.) So if you plan on having relationships that last – not simply in a matter of years, but in a matter of quality (a relationship that grows, deepens and becomes enriched over time) – then you had best begin a new relationship with apologies.
Apologies are your friend – they are there for you when you stick your foot in it, when you hurt the ones you love, when you drop the ball, when you fail, and when you demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are hopelessly flawed – just like everybody else. It takes strength, maturity and courage to own your mistakes, and go out of your way to make something right, instead of nursing your wounded ego. People learn a lot about you based on you handle situations that call for some form of reparation. So who are you – a fragile, overgrown emotional adolescent, or an emotionally stable and emotionally responsible adult? You can only be one or the other, so choose wisely.
Sometimes we need to go back to old wounds and repair something that we didn’t take care of in the past. Sometimes we lose relationships and regret having lost them, and we know that an apology is what is needed and missing. If this is the case, and you hope to reconnect with someone that you have lost along the way, the first thing you must do is forgive yourself and accept responsibility for your part in the circumstances that lead to the demise of that relationship. An apology is not a guarantee for getting that relationship back; some things cannot be repaired after too much time has passed. And while that is a disheartening thought, use it instead as motivation – to make your apologies as soon as possible inside of all your current relationships, so that you can avoid making this mistake again.
Please note: An apology is more than the words, “I’m sorry.” An apology is not completed until the other person feels better. Do not give up on an apology until you can see quite clearly that the other person has, on some level, been healed by the apology. And do not rely on gifts to do your apologizing for you. A trinket, bouquet of flowers, or any item you can purchase will never mean as much – or do as much – as a heartfelt, genuine, honest apology. Intimacy and trust are built and broken on the backs of apologies. While you have no way of avoiding hurting the ones you care about, you have all the power in the world to use any pain caused to another, as an opportunity to increase your understanding of each other, and your understanding of each others’ emotional needs. Getting hurt and hurting each other, is how we learn about each other – it is a necessary and unavoidable process of education. The pain itself only matters if we leave it be. Lucky for all of us, we invented the apology to make sure that we never have to.