Hi I’m Dr Chris. This season of LOVE whispers to us words of relationship, reunion and reconciliation. In this context, what are you already doing that you could do a little differently to improve your relationships? Let’s talk about the way you say – or don’t say “I’m sorry.”

There was a 1970 award winning movie Love Story that left us with a losing philosophy for life. This movie launched the catchphrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” And now people all over the world have permission to withhold these life changing words.

Why have these words been so ignored or misused? Agent Leroy Gibbs (from NCIS) says they’re a sign of weakness. Pop psychology says they stir up too much vulnerability and we fear they give the other the upper hand. I’m tempted to withhold them because I don’t want to let the other off the hook. Or maybe I’m looking to shift responsibility elsewhere. It’s so much easier to say “I’m sorry” with a greeting card.

On the other hand, I’ll catch myself saying “I’m sorry!” too much to some people. It’s an unconscious habit. I blurt it out at the beginning and end of every sentence. In those relationships I wonder if what I’m really feeling is a lack of confidence or am reacting to constant criticism. Perhaps I’m really craving approval and not actually expressing an apology.

When I say “I’m sorry” well, I move the relationship from the cognitive to the emotional (the head to the heart.) And when my apology introduces the feeling aspect I usher in sympathy and better yet, compassion. To BE sorry, which is different than saying “sorry” means I actually feel the pain I’ve caused. Why does this matter? Because when we are with someone, anyone, in their hurt of any size, that’s when relationships change –and healing lasts.

The words “I’m sorry” are for those needing to hear them as much as for the one responsible to say them. It’s not enough for you to imply them or for me to imagine them. Hearing them silences the voices in our head questioning who did what and why, or, did we imagine the whole thing! And if you are in the habit of constantly apologizing, well, try to notice what you are really feeling and trying to say.

You see we heal by sharing our stories. The words “I’m sorry” are a part of our story that creates new beginnings and hopefully happier endings. The spoken apology is an opening to understanding, which doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation or resolution. Understanding helps us think about how we offend, hurt, or are just simply inconsiderate to others, and how a good apology heals.

So this season of love, don’t forget to improve your apology habit to one of intentional focus that puts your whole self into it. Because LOVE means knowing why, how, and when to say, “I’m sorry.”