“I love you. I knew it the minute I met you. I’m sorry it took so long for me to catch up. I just got stuck.” – Silver Linings Playbook
Recently, while driving home on Sheikh Zayed Road (the main highway in Dubai), I heard a radio host discuss how hard it is to say “I’m sorry” in a relationship. He referenced a recent conversation with a friend in which the woman stated that in 20 years of marriage, she had never uttered the phrase “I’m sorry.” As hard as it was for me to believe someone could go that long without apologizing, I started to think about how hard it is to say “I’m sorry” in any type of relationship.
Reflecting on arguments I have witnessed between couples, I noticed how difficult it is to apologize. Instead of using an apology to de-escalate the situation, the arguments intensify as disparaging words and yells are traded blow for blow.
So, why is it so hard to apologize?
- Pride – A lot of times our ego gets in the way. It can be hard to humble yourself and admit that you were wrong or that your actions/inaction hurt someone. Our pride makes it difficult to view the situation from our partner’s point of view.
- Who deserves it – Sometimes it’s hard to apologize because we think that our partner is more at fault and should apologize first. This sentiment can be very toxic in any relationship.
- Sign of weakness – Sometimes apologizing is viewed a sign of weakness because it can be seen as admission of guilt. However, it is just the opposite. Apologizing is a sign of strength and bravery.
If I’m being honest, although I don’t like to admit it, in the heat of the moment I have a hard time apologizing. It takes some time of reflection to see the error in my ways or how my words (even if said with the right intentions) could have been negatively received. Rocket, my husband, has always maintained what I call the “apology philosophy.” “It’s important to remember that apologizing isn’t a sign of defeat or just an admission of guilt. It’s a way to open communication and restore trust in a relationship.” He recognizes that saying sorry is not about winning or losing (who is right or wrong), it’s about how much you care about the relationship. It’s not about admitting guilt, but rather acknowledging how your actions or inactions affected the person you love.
What are the benefits to apologizing?
- Hurt becomes forgiveness – When you genuinely apologize, hurt feelings begin to dissipate enabling the offended party to see you and the situation more clearly. Their hurt feelings turn into compassion and enable them to forgive more readily.
- Builds intimacy – When one party is hurt, the ability to trust may be affected. Apologizing let’s the hurt party feel comfortable and respected because their feelings are acknowledged and validated. Saying “I’m sorry” will help you stay emotionally connected and strengthen your bond. If we consistently tell our partners that they are too sensitive or it’s not a big deal, we invalidate their emotions and increase feelings of resentment.
It’s important to remember that apologizing isn’t a sign of defeat or just an admission of guilt. It’s a way to open communication and restore trust in a relationship. So the next time you are in an argument, try to view the situation from your partner’s point of view and acknowledge their feelings.
That being said, don’t assume that saying “I’m sorry” is a get out of jail free card. You have to actually mean it and come from a place of understanding. It’s important to let your partner know that you are actively trying to understand their point of view and are sorry for causing them pain. In fact, saying “I’m sorry” and not truly meaning it, may be worse than never making the attempt. A true apology, in which you have understood the hurt your loved one feels, means you are personally motivated to make changes (even if you didn’t do anything “wrong”) to avoid causing the same pain in the future.
The apology philosophy can be used in any relationship in your life. Accepting an apology can also be difficult, but I will share more on that point in a future post. Are there any relationships in your life where you have been putting “right and wrong” ahead of the long-term health of the relationship?