In the hit movie, Love Story, produced in 1970 when I was 18 years old, the only memorable line was,“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” At the time I thought it was romantic yet unrealistic; but now, after 37 years of marriage, I think it just might be true.
You do many hurtful things in a relationship that you need and should say you’re sorry for, but forgiveness isn’t what matters. Remorse and compassion matter.
Here’s an example:
In my marriage I’ve had to examine my passive-aggressive behavior about making my husband wait for me. I’m not late for appointments I’ve made with others, but I’m not punctual if I’ve made a date with my husband. How could I be so narcissistic? Until I could feel remorse, which is more than regret, I made no changes because sorry was just too easy to say and not mean.
Here’s the thesaurus.com definition of remorse: “Regret carries no explicit admission that one is responsible for an incident, while remorse implies a sense of guilty responsibility and a greater feeling of personal pain and anguish.” I couldn’t admit what I had been doing for decades until I felt the responsibility of remorse, which is so much more than a superficial apology.
To deal with my guilt, I needed to cultivate compassion. Here’s dictionary.com’s definition of compassion: “Feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” I was the one who inflicted the pain because of my lack of punctuality. After feeling remorse for my actions, self-compassion was essential. Then I could feel compassion for my husband, whom I repeatedly disrespected by making him wait around for me while I finished up all the “important” things I had to do.
You don’t save your relationship by uttering hollow apologetic sorries. Every couple, bar none, participates in unacceptable behavior that needs lasting change. The two-pronged path of remorse and compassion are how to get back on track to loving your partner.
Identify one repeated behavior in your relationship that needs the healing of remorse and compassion for which a simple “I’m sorry” would not suffice.