The Power of Sorry

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Remember that saccharine line from the famous 1970 movie “Love Story?”  

It sounded icky to us then, and it sounds icky to us now, but since, like us, many of you also came of age under the spell of that cloying mantra, we’d like to set the record straight once and for all: it’s a big fat lie that has nothing whatsoever to do with love. 

“Sorry” can be a mighty tool in saving your marriage, but in order to take full advantage of its power, we must make certain distinctions.

There are two types of sorry.  

There is “saying” sorry.  That’s like saying, “I hear you.”  We call that “doing” sorry.  It’s superficial and phony, and everyone knows it.  It doesn’t enhance your relationship, and as a matter of fact, it can potentially unleash a whole host of other demons that are better left undisturbed.

While it’s true that if your child grabs another kid’s toy, we would recommend that you train him to “say sorry,” make no mistake about its authenticity.  Without also teaching that child about remorse—about “feeling” sorry—you can expect, over the years, that he will learn to use “sorry” as a tactic, a “get out of jail for free card” good for future transgressions.  

More about feeling sorry. 

Even though popular psychology may disagree with us, we believe that guilt and shame can be good and healthy emotions. Both guilt and shame are reminders that we are not the sole occupiers of the Universe, that we must always take into consideration the needs of others, and both can—and should—lead to authentic repentance: owning up to what we did, feeling regret, fixing it, and moving on. 

For our part, we’ve felt a twinge of shame at something as mundane as giving up on a Sunday crossword puzzle.  And what would be wrong with that?  What would be so terrible if our shame compelled us to take a second look at what’s challenging us, and then rise up larger and more powerful than our circumstances?

Feeling sorry is a noble and productive thing, a response that can “bring us down in order to bring us up.”  The ancient masters of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) call this “a descent for the purpose of ascent.”

“Being” sorry. 

So, getting back to “sorry,” the second type is “feeling” sorry, or better said, “being” sorry.  This can happen only as a result of acknowledging our responsibility in the matter of our relationships and opening ourselves up to the other person’s pain as though it were our own.

Rather than saying sorry as a ploy to shut the other person up; rather than saying sorry to avoid feeling (those dirty words) guilt and shame at what we’ve done, let’s say sorry, because we genuinely FEEL sorry.  And let’s feel sorry in a way that advances the situation and doesn’t leave us wallowing in our self-serving soap opera.  

Can you imagine the power in that?  Can you imagine the effect it could have on your relationships?

That’s the power of sorry.

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