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Love Means Really Having to Say You're Sorry

Love Means Really Having to Say You're Sorry

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If there were an Oscar category for the movie containing the dumbest line ever, I'd vote for the 1970 hit Love Story, in which actress Ali McGraw immortalized the phrase: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

At the time, I thought this sentiment was immensely profound. In my defense, I was only ten years old at the time. Now I am in my mid-40s and know better: Love means always being ready to say you're sorry.

I wanted him to face what he had done Naturally, if you are bumbling so often in your relationships that you need to apologize on a daily basis, you may need a prescription for a couple of Dr. Phil's self-help books. But even the best among us sometimes speak or act before we think, hurt those we love, and fail to live up to our own potential—spiritual, intellectual and emotional. If we can own up to our mistakes, however, we can deepen the relationships most important to us.

Many years ago, when one of my sons was eight years old, he misbehaved badly in class and the teacher, Mr. Simon, called to tell me. I could have sat my son down and chastised him for his behavior, and grounded him for a few days. Instead, I took him to Mr. Simon's house so he could apologize in person. My son was teary with shame and acute discomfort, but he eventually managed an apology, which Mr. Simon accepted. This was painful for my son, but I wanted him to face, literally, the wrong he had done. It worked. My son never again behaved similarly toward any other teacher.

Ironically, we often find it easier to apologize to strangers than to those close to us. It's no big deal to say, "Sorry! Didn't mean to bang your shopping cart!" It's much tougher to say, "I'm sorry I haven't been listening to your problems lately," or "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." Doing so forces us to confront our own inadequacies.

Self-improvement is always a good idea, but certainly the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur provides an ideal opportunity. Judaism teaches that during these days, G‑d is more available to us than ever, waiting for us (yes, us!) to come closer to Him. G‑d cannot absolve us for wrongs that we have committed against others, which is why we are supposed to ask forgiveness directly from anyone we may have wronged. But G‑d wants to forgive us for mistakes and transgressions we have committed against Him, against Jewish values, and even against ourselves. Asking for forgiveness and guidance makes us vulnerable, but it also opens the door to a deeper relationship with the transcendent.

G‑d is more available to us than everOn Yom Kippur we seem to apologize all day long, confessing to a whole litany of sins that may strike us as remote and irrelevant. Have we really stolen, acted violently, been immoral? There are two vital points to remember about this confession: First, the word "sin" is a poor translation of the Hebrew words used to designate transgressions. Chet means that we have "missed the mark;" avon means "desire;" and pesha means "rebellion." Knowing the more accurate Hebrew immediately makes the concepts more accessible. I don't know about you but, too often, I have missed the mark, been rebellious, and indulged my desires.

We also recite the confessional in the plural, so even if we personally never, even once, stole (stealing can refer to money or time, or to misleading others), someone else in the Jewish community may have. Similarly, all the transgressions have deeper meanings: "Afflicting others" can mean speaking too harshly, thereby diminishing someone else's sense of self. "Acting violently" can mean acting in a way where the ends justify the means.

Many Jews carve out time for self-reflection during the High Holiday season, take on a new mitzvah, or try to overcome a weakness. It's best not to be overly ambitious, however. If we have an anger problem, we can start by saying, "I'll try to lose my temper one less time each day." Small consistent steps eventually lead to big changes. The acclaimed teacher, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller of Jerusalem, wrote, "As long as we deny where we stand today, we will find that we are still there tomorrow."

Mature love and mature relationships sometimes require that we say we are sorry. But investing in that personal honesty and integrity is also an investment in deeper, more enriching relationships with family, friends, and with G‑d. Oh yes, you'll have a more honest relationship with yourself, too.

Judy Gruen’s latest award-winning book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. Read more of her work on her website.
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Anonymous brooklyn, new york September 12, 2010

apologies these are the kinds of apologies i think are worthless:
i'm sorry you think i said what i said
i'm sorry you think i did what i did
i don't know why on earth you're upset-
i'm almost a perfect Jew! Reply

jim bennet tulsa, ok January 29, 2010

Judy,
I think you may be missing MY point:
"Love means never having to say you're sorry" is an extreme - of COURSE you're
going to make a mistake and then apologize.
However, the other extreme is being so careless in a relationship that you have to say "I'm sorry" on a continual basis, and NOT neccesarily for the same thing.
"Love Story's" author was saying that an
IDEAL love (albeit non-existent) means never having to say you're sorry.
Actions speak louder than words, and
being sensitive to the needs of others is
infinitely more caring than keeping apologetic words "on tap". I always thought that Segal's phrase was
provocative and imaginative, NOT dumb. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA January 20, 2010

Jim,
I never said we had to apologize for the same thing over and over. No marriage could be considered good while enduring such a need. I was referring to the fact that each of us manages to goof in original ways, even in long marriages. So when you do goof, admit it, apologize, explain what is you were thinking, (or admit you weren't thinking at all) and hopefully never repeat that particular error. Hopefully your spouse agrees to forgive and forget, and you go on together from there.

Especially to those who are loved a person must be willing to admit and apologize when (not if; WHEN) they do something wrong. Which marriages demonstrate real love between the partners? Those where the people use basic manners to each other. Please, thank you, excuse me, and sorry are important because they are so basic. The honor conveyed by showing the person you recognize that they are a person of worth carries real meaning. Being married does not erase that meaning, it increases it. Reply

jim bennet tulsa, ok January 18, 2010

love means never having This writer's missing the point. Saying "I'm sorry" on a continual basis means that you're doing the wrong thing on a continual basis. Of course you should be prepared to apologise - only the totally thoughtless NEVER apologise - but it can't be an excuse for wrecklesness in a relationship! How many times have you heard someone say "sorry" as they run into you? They're in a hurry, and they've got "sorry" as an excuse for bumping people. This is the style of thinking I'm referring to. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA September 25, 2009

Say Sorry When my mother, sister, and I saw "Love Story" on TV, I was about eleven. My mother heard the line, "Love is never having to say you're sorry." and came out with a sudden, one word comment. She rarely used such language, and with such vehemence in her voice! After only a few months of marriage I understood why she felt so very strongly. I still do, thirty years on. Reply

Vivian Dayton, OH via chabaddayton.com September 25, 2009

Apology Mutually Beneficial I enjoyed your article. I read a while ago that apology is not only good for the wrongdoer, but also for the person wronged. It is therefore healing for both parties involved. I'm curious to know what kind of impact an outpouring of contrition on a day such as Yom Kippur has on G-d. Reply

chana e cedarhurst, ny September 24, 2009

Yes, saying I am sorry A very important part of any relationship especially one that is near and dear. And that is where I think it is the most difficult because what if the "other" does not accept the apology. Well, this is where we gain trust - we make ourselves vulnerable and hope we have provided the right environment in the relationship to be accepted. If not, we need to seek out help. Thank you for this very timely reminder that when it comes to saying I am sorry to Hashem we know we will be forgiven - therein lies the trust! Reply

nicole Green Cape Town, South Africa September 23, 2009

top class, Judy, thank you for the grace of this article and the clarity. It makes saying Viduy (confession prayers of Yom Kippur) much more meaningful! I also think that forgiving oneself, before or after we have asked for forgiveness of others is part of this service, in a subliminal sort of way. Guilt about omissions or commissions eats at a lot of us and the expectations that we could have, should have etc...finds no home.Your quote from Tsipporah Heller helps a lot. May you have a meaningful year, filled with gooness! Reply