Who remembers the classic movie line:

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

I thought it was a stupid line when I heard it in the movie Love Story in 1970, and I continue to think it’s a stupid line. We do have to say we’re sorry. There are times we make colossal mistakes. We screw up so badly that the only way the healing can begin is to sincerely, from the depth of your heart, utter the words, “I am sorry.”

That is life and if you haven’t yet learned how to express your regrets—or when—I urge you to start practicing now. Think about people to whom you may need to offer that apology. Late regrets do count.

That said, the flip side is to not over-apologize

While being properly penitent is crucial, what isn’t is saying sorry at the wrong times. 

It’s important not to say, “I’m sorry,” unless you really are contrite about an offense you committed. This is true both in personal relationships as well as in business settings. At a recent seminar, the speaker apologized for not knowing something. That opened the door for a know-it-all member of the audience to take over the presentation. The speaker lost credibility. Not because she didn’t know something, but because she gave control of the presentation to the wiseacre by saying she was sorry.

Saying sorry too often can make you seem weak or insincere. We become a target to people who see an apology—sincere or not—as a sign of vulnerability. It can open us up to manipulation and decrease our validity in a situation. Like the speaker I mentioned.

Women are almost always more quick to say sorry when it is the wrong word choice. I’ve heard brilliant women start a problem solving idea with, “I’m sorry, but…” I’ve watched as their stunning idea gets run over because she negated it by starting with an unnecessary apology. We issue our regrets for making the men in the room look inferior when we clearly know more than our male bosses. 

Being apologetic doesn’t erase colleague’s insecurities, you can’t control that, what it does is make you look weak. Don’t do that!

Personally speaking, admitting to being wrong was a tough lesson to learn.

Our parents were big on making us own our mistakes. We learned to say sorry to each other or cousins and friends we played and fought with on our dead-end road. Our parents knew the value in feeling the words in our hearts before speaking them out loud. They taught us to witness the mending of what could have stayed broken for a long time because of our remorse.

As an adult, I am still stubborn about uttering the words. I can’t say to you that I always admit when I have erred and am always willing to take the blame. I think about the situation, I ponder what happened. After thinking hard about what occurred, then I decide if it’s time for me to apologize. The most important thing to me is being sincerely penitent for what I did. I want to make sure I mean it. I also want to differentiate between being truly sorry over something—as in being contrite—or in offering an apology because it’s best for the other person.

I may state the words, “I apologize,” for something that I’m not truly sorry about. That happens when I have a conflict between doing what is true to myself but didn’t meet someone else’s expectations. My apology in hurting your feelings is sincere, but I’m not “sorry” for doing what I felt was right or appropriate.

False apologies are no good

We may find ourselves saying sorry when we either don’t mean it or excessively. Apologizing when we don’t mean it doesn’t do anyone any good. 

Erich Segal, your characters were wrong.

I love Ryan O’Neal—probably from watching Love Story and everything he’s done since. However, that whole, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” nonsense? Too sappy to be reality. No, in love of any type, it is essential that we tell the people we care about that we are sorry when we screw up and hurt feelings. It’s how we begin to repair damage caused by a moment of bad behavior or mean words. 

I truly believe that the sincerity of an honest apology will show through and allow us the opportunity to create relationships built on trust.

Now, to whom do I currently owe an apology? Hmmm…


Read: The Importance of Learning the Art of Conversation