In any relationship, disappointments and misunderstandings are the best catalysts we have for growth. They act as mirrors to show us where we can improve. Saying “I’m sorry” is a common ingredient in working through these challenges…but how often do we stop there and excuse ourselves from the rest of the work?
When you say “I’m sorry”, what do you really mean?
For most people, “I’m sorry” means “I know I’m not perfect, I made a mistake, and I hope you will forgive me. I will try to do better next time.” This is a perfectly reasonable request the first time you make that mistake.
If you do find a way to grow beyond a habit or behavior that causes discomfort for someone else, and genuinely keep it from happening again, then your word is gold. Your partner knows that when you say “I’m sorry” you mean it enough to change something. You have earned the forgiveness you asked for, and have built a foundation of trust with your commitment to the relationship.
The more official definition of “I’m sorry” is “I regret what I did.” When you change your behavior, you have backed up your expression of regret and have demonstrated that your words are sincere. On the other hand, if you offer your “I’m sorry” with a looser intent to “try”, you end up making that same “mistake” three or four times in a row and your “I’m sorry” starts to lose its value.
If you keep doing the thing you’re sorry for, are you really regretting it each time?
What does “I’m sorry” mean if nothing changes?
If you have been in relationship with someone who expects to keep causing the same disruptions and receive everlasting forgiveness from you with a simple “I’m sorry”, you know it can be frustrating. Eventually you may change your own behavior by no longer being in relationship with them. But wouldn’t it save a lot more time if they just said “I realize this is upsetting for you, but I don’t plan to change anything so you’ll just have to accept me as I am.”
As rough as that sounds, the truth is always better than a misleading apology. Sometimes you are genuinely not sorry, and that would be the time to find other words to express yourself.
So far this has been a one-sided perspective, but in a real relationship there will often be “fault”, or opportunity to change, on both sides. I am only suggesting that both sides consider their words more carefully. If you can see how your behavior caused pain for someone else, and you are legitimately sorry, then back it up and change something. If not, find something more honest to say.
When you let your “I’m sorry” mean something, you become brave enough to face your own shortcomings. It is only then that you have the opportunity to improve.
Time to transcend! This blog series is intended to challenge you by reaching beyond the status quo. If you are feeling resistance, consider that your ego is coming forward and presenting you with an opportunity to grow. This is where the magic happens!