In 1970, a beautiful movie, called “Love Story”, starring Ryan O’Neil and Ali McGraw, was released. A most memorable line in the film was the phrase, “love means you never have to say I’m sorry.” It became a popular mantra among idealistic young lovers.
In my view the phrase is greatly misleading. I have been married 47 years to a most remarkable and beautiful wife, and I have had to say “I’m sorry” quite often for the health of our marriage. A genuine apology is a powerful balm for healing wounds and an essential element for preserving a living relationship.
None of us is perfect. Everyone acts selfishly and unlovingly at certain times. If we are unwilling to own our wrongdoing, confess and apologize, we leave the partner in a quandary of brokenness and confusion. That situation alienates and tarnishes our affection. Apostle James admonishes “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for each other so that you may be healed” James 5:16.
Because apologizing is uncomfortable, we may be inclined to render a superficial apology. Some examples might be:
“I’m sorry if you feel hurt.”
“I’m sorry but you should not have done..”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t really mean it…”
“I’m sorry – it’s not that big of deal…”
You probably have your own unique phrasing of words that partially express grief, but fall short of honest confession. Such apologies fail to genuinely express the sorrows for causing pain in someone.
The dictionary defines apology as “a regretful acknowledgement of an offense or failure”. This requires an honest acceptance that I have wronged someone. I committed an action that violated the law of love. “I was wrong when I did ______.” It also involves empathy for the pain and confusion the other person feels. “I’m sorry for hurting you. I should not have done_____.”
Have you considered apologizing to your child? Upon honest reflection, you may feel some conviction in hindsight. Could your estranged relationship be repaired by a genuine apology from you? When parents sincerely say, “I’m sorry” for specific wrong actions they committed with their children, a bridge of reconciliation is built. Parents can model for children how to apologize, which provides youth with a powerful interpersonal skill, and restores harmony.
A genuine apology is best expressed in person. The apologizer needs to face the offended one and stay present to feel the emotions. Reconciliation has to be initiated by the offender, who sincerely confesses and apologizes. Praying together after confessionary words can bring further healing and reunification.