Love means having to say you’re sorry

You cannot have a rewarding relationship if you continue to hold on to things that happened in the past.

Couple 311 (photo credit: (Illustrative photo: Anda Chu/Contra Costa Times/M)
Couple 311
(photo credit: (Illustrative photo: Anda Chu/Contra Costa Times/M)
Our relationships are strengthened or weakened by hundreds of small actions and communications we share with each other.
When we are paying attention and offer help, empathy or thanks for something, it strengthens our relationships.
Insults, neglect and ignoring, whether intentional or not, create a breach in relationships.
As an example, when your spouse, your child or your friend expects you to be there for him and you either ignore, neglect or forget them, that creates a breach in the relationship.
This can then lead to resentment by the offended party, who then becomes less caring and trustful, which may start downward cycle which may lead to a most unwanted long-term negative effect on the relationship.
An important method of repairing that relationship is apology. You can help reconnect and heal a wound with an authentic apology. Marital therapists report that authentic apology is a very important feature of a healthy marriage.
Psychologists have reported that there are differences in how males and females see and experience apologies. A woman apologizes to maintain a relationship and feels good about her efforts, yet when a man apologizes, he ends up feeling a sense of loss. Women appreciate the benefit of reconnecting with someone whose feelings have been hurt, whereas men view the apology as a loss of face.
For a man, it is admitting he did something wrong, which is an affront to his ego. Men are more conscious of their status and how their position of power is perceived. Whereas a woman can feel enriched by the strengthening of the relationship after her apology, a man can often be left with the feeling of being diminished after he apologizes.
Apologizing is important in all relationships, whether in parenting or business or other areas of our lives. People are sometimes reluctant to apologize for the same reason men hesitate to apologize. A parent or a boss may be concerned with a loss of status. Yet not apologizing when it is warranted gives the impression that your status is more important to you than your relationship is with the other person. As parent or executive you also put yourself in the position of losing credibility by not apologizing. Often, you need to apologize because you have violated a principle or standard that you expected the other person to uphold. By not apologizing for your violation, you are coming across as hypocritical and holding to a double standard. The message you convey is: It is okay for me to violate it but not you.
The result is that you end up losing both credibility and respect.
So how should you apologize? The first step in apologizing is to acknowledge the wrongful act you did and say sorry. You need to begin by using the first person singular and saying, “I was wrong and I am sorry.” Second is to acknowledge that you have hurt the other person’s feelings. Say, “I was wrong and I am sorry that I have hurt your feelings.” You have to connect what you did to the hurt feelings of the other person.
Next step is to express your remorse and regret in an authentic manner and state your intention not to repeat what you did and to make an effort to act differently. And lastly, to offer to make amends by saying, “What can I do to make it up to you?” If you are the offended party, it is as important for you to forgive as it is for the offender to apologize. A healthy, loving relationship is not possible without forgiveness. You cannot have a loving and rewarding relationship if you continue to hold (begrudgingly) on to things that happened in the past. Without forgiving, it means you are holding on to feelings of resentment and blame, which is very unhealthy for a good relationship.
Letting go of resentment and bitterness is a particularly difficult challenge for people after a divorce. They easily fall into blaming their ex-spouse for all their perceived hurt and misery.
This interferes with their ability to take charge of their life and move forward. I once had a client who was stuck in such a place and I eventually got him to see things differently by getting him to agree that it was of his own volition that he chose to marry his former spouse in the first place. Therefore he had to take responsibility for his role in both the marriage and its breakup. To withhold forgiveness is to remain feeling like a victim.
Psychologists have long emphasized the health benefits of letting go of grudges and bitterness even without the second party apology. Such health benefits include less stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic pain and lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.
There are even those who advocate initiating forgiveness. You can offer it as a gift to the person who has hurt you, especially in the case of a close, loving relationship. Strengthening your relationships comes from being able to forgive.
Dr. Mann is a clinical psychologist and certified life coach who helps teenagers, adults and executives achieve positive goals.