Love and Forgiveness: The Power and Potential Pitfalls of An Apology

“Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.” ~Tryon Edwards

Couples make mistakes. It’s inevitable that you and your partner will upset, frustrate, and hurt one another from time to time—to expect otherwise is unrealistic and a setup for major disappointment. But the inevitability of your relationship mistakes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold each other responsible, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always be given a free pass when you mess up. Ultimately, too many free passes sends the wrong message that you can act any way you please without any consequences.

The fact is, we all need to be responsible for our words and actions—responsible for how we treat each other…but even with your efforts to be a responsible, loving partner, you will make mistakes.

(Note that the relationship mistakes I’m referring to as inevitable do not include abusive or neglectful behavior, or betrayals such as infidelity. The focus here is on the mis-communications, incompatibilities and disagreements that often arise in long-term relationships. These events can have a profound impact on the quality of one’s marriage/relationship).

Relationship Help: Forgiveness in Marriage & Romantic Relationships

A key ingredient in the forgiveness process: A sincere apology

Without the ability to forgive your spouse/partner (and vice versa), the mistakes you both make will accumulate and fester, and can have lasting, detrimental effects on your marriage/relationship.

But forgiveness doesn’t occur in a vacuum, especially when you have to live with the very person you must forgive! 

In order for the forgiveness process to be meaningful, the person apologizing for his/her transgression must realize that when you apologize, when you say “I’m sorry” and really mean it, you are implying the following:

I will work to change my behavior…I may not be perfect, but I will be mindful of how I hurt you and adjust my actions accordingly.

By its very nature, an apology implies that a future change will occur.

Here’s the thing to remember: an apology without a change in behavior at some point becomes meaningless, and the potential fallout is that over time your words and promises will be seen as hollow and you will be perceived as insincere and hypocritical. When our words stop mattering to our loved ones, when our words cannot be counted on, a betrayal of trust has occurred and the very foundation of the relationship is seriously compromised.

So be mindful when you apologize, mindful of the responsibility that comes with your “I’m sorry.”

Your words have significant power to influence and impact your partner but this power exists only when followed by behaviors and actions that support the underlying meaning of what you are vocalizing.

Forgiveness Workbook/Resource

For more information on how to make forgiveness a regular part of your relationship, check out my comprehensive Forgiveness Workbook.

Here’s to the gifts of true forgiveness!

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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