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Three Vital Reasons To Say "I'm Sorry": A Simple Way to Improve Your Marriage - Dr. Margaret Rutherford

“Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.”

Those words were emblazoned on a poster that hung in my room back in 1970, featuring Ali McGraw and Ryan O-Neal blissfully gazing into the future, the stars of the hit movie “Love Story.” My 16 year-old self couldn’t wait to get into a relationship where all was understood. You couldn’t mess up. You’d be understood, completely and fully. True love would make me immune to hurting others because my intentions would never be questioned.

Whoever came up with that must not have had very successful relationships.

Honest apologies are part and parcel of being mindful. You’re recognizing that the impact you have on the people you love isn’t always positive, even though perhaps unintentionally hurtful. Love means you say you’re sorry and you mean it.  Sincerely.

Not “I’m sorry but…“. No excuses or rationalizations. Just “I’m sorry.”

Can non-apology turn into manipulation? You bet…

You may have grown up in a family where no one apologized — for anything. It was viewed as giving up too much control, as if you’re taking a one-down position by uttering such words. If you did, learning how can be hard. No one every apologized to you.. and you got hurt. Nobody took the time or made the effort to remember that you might be confused or afraid of disappointed. 

So why should you? That defensiveness and maybe even deep sense of betrayal can can lead to feeling self-righteous for sure. If you’re partnered with someone like this, it can be pretty miserable. They’re never wrong. They never admit to misperceptions or even lies. They tell you that your own reality is off. If it goes too far, it can morph into emotional manipulation pretty easily, or what’s termed “gas lighting” that can be part of a narcissistic personality... They need to control and govern your thinking, and may work to undermine your own sense of reality.

What has to change???

You can retrain your mind to accept that an apology, and the humility that goes along with it, is not only a good thing, but something that leads to a much more solid relationship, and let’s face it, a healthier you.

You’re going to screw up. Nobody is perfect and mistakes will be made. Your transgression may be something fairly insignificant…or maybe not. Regardless, you’re going to be disappointing, and even frustrating at times.

This is part of being a human being. It’s a sign of self acceptance. If you both are relatively happy in your marriage, there are things that balance out the difficulties of sharing a life with another person. Fantastic, warm, loving things.

I asked my husband one time if he would tell me what disappoints or frustrations he had about me. He looked at me like I was expecting him to recite the Constitution, “I don’t know,” was his guarded reply, probably fearing that I would get mad at his answer. 

So I launched into telling him what I thought were the probable culprits, the things I knew were not his favorite aspects of my personality. He smiled, realizing this was going to be a safer conversation than he’d imagined. ”Well, now that you mention it…“.

Those disappointments are tolerated by both sides in a good marriage. Recognizing them to your partner is a wonderful way to keep your relationship healthy.

Three gifts of saying “I’m sorry…”

Why is apologizing one of the simple things you can do to help your relationship?

1) Saying you are sorry means that you recognize your behavior has an impact on those around you. What you say. What you don’t say. Do. Don’t do. All of that affects the people who are involved with you.

Apologizing reflects that you notice that impact, and that you care about the person you may have unintentionally hurt or disappointed. If the hurt you inflicted upon them is intentional? Then you have a problem in your relationship that is even deeper.

2) Saying you are sorry avoids the cycle of fighting about who is right.  

Unless a discussion is about something extremely factual, like what you ate for breakfast, we only have our own perceptions to guide our opinions. Your perception. Your truth. But not necessarily everybody else’s, let alone your partner’s.

If you fight about who is right all the time, the entire relationship can become adversarial – a battle zone with constant conflict. The person who ends being “wrong” feels defensive, and may fight harder next time, just so he or she can win the next battle. Both people end being lonely in their positions.

3) Saying you’re sorry builds trust.

You’re being vulnerable when you say you’re sorry. You’re admitting remorse or regret. You’re giving the person you love the message that they are more important than your own pride. And that is a powerful message to give, and to receive.

That message builds trust.

It is inevitable that I am going to be disappointing from time to time, even if it’s not for some egregious behavior. Maybe just because I’m really busy. Or I forgot to stop by the pharmacy.

Recognizing the impact that has on my partner?  It’s a wonderful gift to give.

Not a loss of status. Not a loss of power. 

A simple statement.  “I’m sorry I forgot to go by and pick up those meds. I can do it tomorrow morning if that would help“.

It’s a gift.


Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret! It’s perfect for engagements, anniversaries, weddings, or for the person you love!

You can hear more about relationships and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly posts as well as her podcasts, plus Dr. Margaret’s eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”