Does Love Mean Never Having to Say You’re Sorry?

Dear Anthony,

I have gotten very serious recently with a man I met on Ave Maria Singles. My only reservation so far is that I have never heard him say he is sorry for anything. I seem to be the only one who has to be sorry for things. If I try to tell him about things I think he should be sorry about, he gets defensive and upset and says I’m ungrateful. I’m starting to feel like I’m no good for him, and guilty for feeling a little bitter inside because he won’t ever say he’s sorry. What should I do?

Perhaps your boyfriend has subscribed to the erroneous adage, “love means never having to say you’re sorry” coined by Erich Segal in the best selling book of the 1960’s, “Love Story.”

Of all the many terms and phrases used to define what love means, this is one of the worst, yet adapted by an entire culture. This line is voted #13 in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie quotes.

I would wager that you can’t find a single person who really believes that if they are hurt by someone they love, no apology is necessary. Yet, this line is was popularized, and repeated twice in the very overly schmaltzy (and truly unwatchable) film version.

Is this another myth related to unconditional love? You can treat someone however you like and heartfelt apologies are unnecessary, because people are supposed to love you for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health?

How absurd! What a myth it is that you can find love with a person who will never hurt you. Those who require that better refrain from relationships with human beings and stay single, or enter religious life to focus on their relationship with Jesus Christ.

This sentiment was not brand new in the 60’s. In the 1949 film She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, John Wayne’s character says “Never apologize and never explain, it’s a sign of weakness.”

Another absurdity. So if you say you’re sorry and try to explain yourself, you’re a weak person, as if you are giving the other person some kind of power over you. Sorry, John Wayne, this is the wrong message, especially to men.

The truth is, it takes strength and love to apologize. Admitting our mistakes does not mean that we will no longer commit the same mistakes. In fact, never admitting mistakes means they will likely be repeated. Many people make the same mistakes over and over again. Saying sorry for the same mistakes fosters an inner consciousness that makes us more aware of those mistakes and strengthens our resolve to avoid them until we eventually no longer commit them. Much like going to confession for the same sins over and over again. We don’t avoid confessing the same sin because we are prone to commit them again. By confessing and through God’s grace, we are working at lessening the degree and frequency. It is the same attitude necessary to apologizing to those we love.

I think John Lennon is much closer to the truth on this matter when he said “Love means having to say you’re sorry every fifteen minutes.” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but seems closer to the truth. In my view, the adage that makes the most sense is “love means accepting when someone says they’re sorry.” Or better yet, “love means never holding back from apologizing.”

This is because it seems to me that the apology has become more complicated than it should be. People try to read too much into an apology. Was it sincere? Is the person really sorry, or just saying the word? Does the person truly realize what they’ve done? Is there going to more than just the apology?

An apology should not be a quick way off the hook. Too many say they’re sorry only because he or she was caught. But many others are sorry for doing things the person did not realize would hurt the other. We should not be too quick to pass judgment on someone’s apology.

The risk here is that the apology itself gets overlooked when there should be a general gladness that, at the very least, the person is apologizing. I think this is where your inner discontent about your boyfriend never apologizing stems from. To not apologize implies that your feelings have gone unnoticed or are of no concern. To not apologize because you assume the other knows you’re sorry has the same negative affect. We have to find a way to get the words out. It matters because words are powerful. They represent what’s in our heart.

In fact, the inability to say “I’m sorry” with sincerity and a sense of sorrow for something done is dangerous to a relationship, especially marital love. This inability to apologize, like you are experiencing, could be a red flag about things to come should you move forward into marriage with a person who will not say “I’m sorry.” It’s no minor thing that he won’t say he’s sorry. As far as you can tell, he does not believe he does anything wrong in your relationship. That’s pretty scary.

Saying sorry is so simple, yet so difficult. Why? The answer is pride and selfishness. Two things that should never exist when love is true and real. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes – no one is perfect. Admitting this is a real challenge for most.

There is always a risk in being a person vulnerable enough to say you’re sorry. Some people are never satisfied and enjoy being miserable. They are the same people for whom an apology is not enough.

Some people say  “I’m sorry” to pacify the situation, even when the person is not sorry. These people are peace seekers and just want to see things move forward. These individuals understand the power of “I’m sorry” to defuse an otherwise tense and unstable situation.

Some people just cannot say “I’m sorry” out of fear of coming across like the weaker party in the relationship. These are the same people that have to make the other person feel bad regularly, so that he or she can hold the power in the relationship.

It sounds to me like you might be with someone like that. I highly recommend you explore this more closely. There are few things worse than being in a marriage with someone who cannot say he is sorry. It implies much more than just the absence of the words.

If couples never apologize to each other (and I mean both are able and willing to apologize when necessary), resentment builds and the relationship or marriage likely will end. Rare is the couple who bases their relationship on a mutual understanding that apologies are unnecessary. The majority of us get hurt very easily by the person we love. The more we love them, the harder we feel the hurt. An “I’m sorry” is just as necessary for all couples as “I love you.”

Anthony Buono is the author of Would You Date You? and founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice.  Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com

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