We were three couples out for dinner at a great new restaurant. While waiting for menus, Tom, a rabid movie buff, began reciting famous lines from films and asking us to guess their origins. Except for one Woody Allen flick, we missed them all.
"Okay, here's an easy one," he offered. "'Love means never having to say you're sorry.'"
"Love Story!" we practically shouted. It was almost too easy. Anyone who'd drawn breath in the early 70s couldn't possibly have missed Ali MacGraw's infamous deathbed words to Ryan O'Neal.
"I never did understand that," Caroline remarked, unfolding her napkin. "When you love somebody, you never do anything to make them unhappy, so you never have to apologize?"
Suzanne shook her head. "No way. It means you don't need an apology if you mess up because you have an understanding that goes beyond words." She flashed a grin at her husband and added, "It only works in movies though."
"You can say that again!" Tom agreed.
The men laughed conspiratorially, and the movie trivia game abruptly ended. We'd just stumbled across fertile, but untilled, conversational ground.
Between the six of us we've logged 78 collective years of marriage (Did I mention that we were very young in the 70s?) and not a one of us has made it through without plenty of apologies. Long experience has taught us that a sincere apology, well and simply stated, clears the air when somebody fails to love, honor and pick up the dry cleaning.
Ingrid Lawrenz, a therapist with New Life Resources in Waukesha, Wisconsin, agrees. "Taking responsibility is a sign of maturity," she says. "It's immature to get defensive or tell the other person they did something worse [than what you did]. Responsible acknowledgment staves off bitterness and sets the stage for change."1