You've probably heard the famous line from the film Love Story, in which Ali MacGraw (as she lays on her death bed) tells Ryan O'Neal that “love means never having to say you're sorry…” The line immediately became a cinema classic and at any given time, somewhere in the world, there is probably a lovestruck partner uttering those very words to the partner who is profusely apologizing to them. While we're not here to knock famous movie quotes, we do have to wonder: If people really believe that “love means never having to say you're sorry,” why do we find ourselves apologizing to our partners so much?
I'd like you to take a moment and think about your relationship. If you're not currently in one, think about your last relationship. Try to remember all of the times you said, “I'm sorry.” Can you even remember them all? Sure, there are probably some major moments that you'll never forget. Maybe you said something really awful one time that made your partner cry. Surely you'd recall apologizing for this. However, can you recall all the other little instances in which you apologized to your partner? Odds are you've apologized hundreds, maybe thousands of times (depending on how long your relationship has been…) and odds are, most of these apologies weren't even necessary.
So if most of these apologies weren't necessary and the acts that provoked them were so trivial that we don't even remember them, should we even have apologized at all? Does this render the words “I'm sorry” meaningless? And, most importantly, why do we feel compelled to apologize so often to the one person who should be most understanding of our mistakes?
First, we do believe that constantly apologizing will eventually make real apologies meaningless. When you apologize for any and every little thing, it will make any significant apologies less meaningful. Your partner will not know when you're truly sorry for something or when you're just uttering the words as a reflex.
Now, why exactly are we constantly apologizing to our partners? Is it in fact a reflex to say you're sorry whenever your partner is just the slightest bit upset over something? It is likely that you love your partner, (at least we hope so) and when they are upset about something, you want to offer some sort of comfort. So in times when you're unsure of what to say, you say “I'm sorry.” Here's why this is a problem: You're not really sorry. You should only say you are sorry to your partner if you truly feel that you have caused them their upset and you truly regret whatever you did to cause them to feel that way. Did you do something, either intentionally or unintentionally that hurt your partner? If so, you should be apologizing. If you did not do anything to hurt your partner and they just happen to be upset, you don't need to apologize to them.
We feel that apologies should be reserved for the times that you have caused real emotional or physical upset to your partner. Maybe you said something very mean in the middle of a heated argument and you can see that they are upset about it. Maybe you accidentally elbowed them in the face and hurt them very badly. These are totally appropriate times to apologize. With that said, you should not apologize just because you think you have to. You should apologize only when you truly feel sorry. This will show your partner that you really care about their feelings and odds are, if they'll already know that you feel regretful because “love means never having to say you're sorry.”