I don't remember the details of what hurtful thing I'd said or done, but I must have lost my temper with one of my [then] middle-school-aged children before school. I definitely remember how wretched I felt and how, finally, I wrote a note of apology, drove to the school, and asked the teacher to put it in my child's lunchbox. When I walked into the classroom, three or four teachers were having a conference while their students were in the gym. When I handed my child's teacher the note and told her what it was for, she seemed surprised. Later, she told me none of the teachers in that group had ever seen a parent apologizing to a child before.
That's too bad, because it would teach our children how important it is to say “I'm sorry,” even when you're the authority figure.
Saying “I'm sorry” is hard, and everyone knows it
When your words or actions have hurt someone else, saying “I'm sorry” is hard, regardless of the circumstances. It's especially tough if you have some legitimate grievances too. You may even think the other person should be the one to apologize. But lives have been bruised and broken for just this unproductive rationalization.
If it were easy, it wouldn't mean as much.
Saying “I'm sorry” can feel like you're ripping your heart and soul open and leaving yourself exposed to pain and hurt from the other person. There's no way to get around this, and there's no way to guarantee that their response will be a satisfactory one. If you find this hard, you're not alone.
Do it anyway.
Start with a few simple words: I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
The chance of it making a life-changing difference to both the other party and to you is far greater than the risk of a hurtful outcome. It's unlikely you can hurt much more than you do already.
Making things right is far more important than being right. It is a mindset girded by love, and love must, in all things, be our shield and our guide.
8 reasons it's so hard to say, “I'm sorry”
These excuses—singly or in lethal combinations—have been stumbling blocks for me in the past when I needed to apologize to someone:
- Fear of rejection: They'll lose respect for me. I hate feeling vulnerable and weak.
- Embarrassment and shame. I can't stand to get emotional, and the idea of breaking down when I apologize is so embarrassing.
- It won't make a difference: They don't like me anyway; why should I bother when my apology won't make any difference at all.
- It shouldn't be necessary: They should know I'm sorry. I've moved on and they should too.
- A sense of unworthiness: I don't deserve to be forgiven; what I did was unforgivable.
- A sense of self-righteousness: I'm too angry and hurt myself to say “I'm sorry.” They should be the one to apologize.
- Fear of losing: Saying “I'm sorry” makes me the loser and makes them the winner. That throws the dynamics of our relationship way off.
- Denial: If I don't say anything, it will go away. If I don't admit I'm wrong, I don't have to take responsibility.
If you boil these down, they can all be summed up into two words: Fear and Pride. But scripture is clear about both of these emotions.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2
If you're struggling with any of these, I'd be glad to speak to you about it. Just email me or call (Contact Page). Certainly, you can post your question to our Facebook page and get feedback from me and other readers.
“Love means never having to say you're sorry.”
Baloney!. At best this is a dumb idea…at worst, a cruel lie.
This line came from a novel by Erich Segal called Love Story. The phrase was spoken twice in the film starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. The first time was when O'Neal's character, Oliver, apologized to MacGraw's character, Jennifer, for getting very angry. It was also spoken as the last line of the film by Oliver after his father says, “I'm sorry,” when he learned of Jennifer's death.
To teach starry-eyed youngsters that love means you never have to say you're sorry is nothing but a misguided hoax and romantic drivel. Anyone who's been married very long knows this is about the dumbest statement they've ever heard. Love means you DO have to say you're sorry when you've hurt someone.
Over and over.
Forever and ever.
How do I start?
The bold and direct approach is to ask for private time to address the other person. If they won't let you do that, or you just can't bring yourself to do that, a simple note of apology is a good way to start.
You don't have to grovel. You don't have to beg. Resist the temptation to make too many excuses. Listen to God's Spirit inside you and ask for the right words…the simpler the better.
I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
Can you wait too long to say “I'm sorry”?
Oh, you betcha…
Sometimes you've waited so long, the other person has hardened themselves and will be more likely to resist accepting your apology. It's still better for you to plant the seed than not, but you can avoid harder feelings by saying “I'm sorry” sooner.
Ask anyone who's lost a loved one with whom they were estranged. They would give anything to have them back long enough to make amends. “At this stage of my life, I still regret the times I should have apologized to friends and family but didn’t. I thought there would be plenty of time. It’s too late now.” (Conchita C. Razon)
And, of course, you could be the one to die before you've apologized. Do you really want to leave behind those unresolved emotions and risk the other person remembering you with hard feelings?
And don't deceive yourself…when two people are at odds with each other, there's always collateral damage. Almost invariably, someone else is in the middle…someone who loves both parties and is miserable because their loved ones can't resolve their differences.
So please don't wait — for your sake and for the sake of the other person. Waiting will only make it harder. And whatever happens, you'll at least know you did what you needed to do.
Just pick up the phone or pick up your pen and repeat after me:
I'm sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
If this topic interests you, you might also like these earlier Heartspoken posts:
“I'm Sorry: Two Vital Words In A Health Relationship” by Annette Petrick
“8 Ways To Get Past Feeling Misunderstood” by Elizabeth H. Cottrell
“Forgiveness” by Mimi Meredith
“Do Christians Have to Forgive AND Forget?” by Elizabeth H. Cottrell