I Love You - Do I Still Have To Say Sorry?

Pauline   |   September 5, 2019 

Do you have a favourite quote on love? As a teenager who had absolutely no idea about love, my favourite quote was - ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’, from the book Love Story by Erich Segal. I thought Oliver and Jenny’s relationship defined love and to me, there was no greater love story than theirs! It didn’t matter how many times I read it, I would still end up sobbing helplessly by the end of the book. ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ was to me the most beautiful and romantic quote ever. I don’t know why I found it so profound back then, but I definitely did!

It’s been about 18 years since I first read that book and I have now been married for seven years.  And though I’m still far from an expert on love, I definitely disagree with my erstwhile favourite quote on love. Because today, I believe, love means being willing to say you’re sorry - again and again and again, and being ready to forgive - again and again and again!

Today, movies, books, and sitcoms influence our ideas of love and marriage; it’s so easy to love when everything is new and exciting. But when the conflicts and disagreements begin and emotions are all over the place, we ask ourselves if this really is love. The temptation to walk away from relationships is so real because somewhere along the way, we’ve given in to the idea that if it is truly love, then I shouldn’t have to keep apologising or forgiving over and over again. It should be easy and smooth-sailing and full of romance. He should understand me and my needs – it shouldn’t be difficult! And at times, we may begin to wonder if our true soulmate is elsewhere and we’ve made a mistake.

In our marriage, like most other marriages, we’ve had a lot of disagreements.  I can be pretty bull-headed and though I may be a doormat to others in my life, I’m extremely opinionated with my husband. We are also very different. For example - food is really important to me and I NEED to eat at least three times a day. I can dream about food for hours! On the other hand, my husband was used to eating just once or twice a day and it didn’t matter to him what he ate – unthinkable to me! I also do not like sleeping in late, even on weekends and holidays. I get upset that half my day is over before I even wake up. He, however, loves to sleep in and relax on holidays. And this list of our differences can go on and on. We not only have arguments about such unimportant issues but also about parenting styles, unmet expectations, weaknesses, and misunderstandings due to gaps in communication and so on. And sometimes, our conflicts arise out of misdirected anger or frustration.

Some marriages have bigger issues that have deep roots and heavy consequences. These may need a lot more work and possibly help from others around.  But when we approach even small disagreements and misunderstandings with an unforgiving spirit or with a reluctance to repent and apologise, we could end up with big problems in marriage.  Love soon seems to grow dimmer and harder as our hearts become hardened and selfish.

I’ve often thought about what has helped me most in this area. We’ve had mentors who’ve helped us in our walk with God, parenting and marriage. We’re grateful for those who constantly pray for us. Often the Lord has convicted us, through His Word and in our times of prayer together, to love each other deeply and forgive. But I also recall two particular lessons when I think of this issue – the first from Elisabeth Elliot’s book Let me be a Woman and the second from a sermon I heard in the first few months of my marriage.

Let me be a Woman is a book written by Elisabeth Elliot to her daughter on understanding what it means to be a woman. She wrote it a few weeks before her daughter’s wedding and along with the meaning of being a woman created by God and glorying in it, she wrote about marriage, relationships, and single-hood. In the book, Elisabeth tells her daughter Val that she must remember that she is marrying a sinner. She writes, ‘You forget it for a while and then when something happens that ought to remind you, you find yourself wondering what’s the matter, how this could happen, when did things go wrong? They went wrong back in the Garden of Eden.’ She goes on to write later in the chapter, ‘The consciousness that we are alike in our need of redemption is a liberating one. For there will be times when you find yourself accusing, criticising, resenting…… But you will find yourself disarmed utterly and your accusing spirit transformed into loving forgiveness the moment you remember that you did, in fact, marry only a sinner, and so did he. It’s grace you both need.” (emphasis mine)

What an amazing reminder and how completely humbling! We are so ready to resent and accuse our spouses, but in our own weaknesses, we desperately want to be shown grace! We want our spouses to apologise and change their ways, while we struggle to whisper a sorry when we've hurt them. This is something I often need to remind myself - that my husband needs grace and forgiveness, just as I do, and is a work in progress, just as I am. As weak as he is, I am weaker still. And as much as I want him to forgive me when I have hurt him, I must forgive him too. And we can forgive, for we have been forgiven! We’re both sinners saved by grace, forgiven and made clean by the blood of the Lamb! So as we grow in our relationship with God and with each other, we can grow in our ability to love, seek forgiveness, and forgive, looking to God together for grace in our weaknesses.

I learned the second lesson about six months after I got married. Our church was studying the book of Proverbs and this particular sermon was on marriage and faithfulness. The pastor was talking about how marital intimacy must include spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy and that our highest level of intimacy, in all of these areas, must be with our spouse or else we are cheating on them in those areas. I couldn’t believe my ears. How could one be emotionally unfaithful to their spouse?

And as I began to think of this, I realised this was a possibility in my life. Before marriage I had close guy friends, and though they were just friends, I realise how emotionally dependent I became on a couple of them and how that affected me. And at one point, I had to back away from a friend because of how unhealthy our friendship had become. As I thought of marriage, I realised that such friendships would be disaster. I needed to be careful because though I could never imagine being physically unfaithful to my husband, it would be possible for me to drift away and feel more ‘emotionally connected’ to another person. My husband had attended an interview for an organisation that he was really excited to join. There was a catch – he had to travel a lot. It meant a lot of time away from each other. After listening to this sermon, I realised that situations like these would make me very prone to seek the emotional connection reserved for my husband, with someone else. And before long, I might end up thinking –why can’t my husband be more like this person?

So from then on, we began to take active measures to avoid deep emotional connections with others which could threaten our marriage. It also meant saying no to the job and waiting on the Lord for the right opening. I also consciously reminded myself not to compare my spouse to another man and asked the Lord to help me nip it in the bud if stray thoughts entered my mind about other men.

What does forgiveness and saying sorry in marriage have to do with emotional intimacy with your spouse? Emotional intimacy cannot exist when forgiveness is rare and when pride takes over, when we stubbornly refuse to be the one apologising AGAIN. It’s hard to be open and vulnerable, it’s hard to pray with your spouse when you’re angry with them, it’s hard to set parenting goals together and serve together when you’re harbouring resentment and anger. And when these feelings are left unchecked and conflicts are left to brew, it’s easy to connect with someone else who doesn’t make you feel that way.

It is impossible to truly love someone and not forgive them. And true forgiveness is difficult without love.Truly loving one’s spouse means kissing your ego goodbye, and finding a way to work things out with them. For love is not proud, it is not self seeking and it keeps no record of wrong (1 Cor 13:4-6).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34-35


Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

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Pauline lives with her husband and two adorable daughters and is a physiotherapist by profession. She loves dancing and being silly with her daughters when she is not stuffing her mouth with food. She loves music, board games and exploring street markets with her family.

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