So there’s a pretty
stupid famous moment from the 1970 film Love Story where the lead actress says “love means never having to say your sorry.” I don’t recommend implementing this philosophy in your marriage. As anyone who has been married long knows, love not only means saying sorry, it means saying sorry repeatedly, sometimes multiple times a day. A marriage without “sorrys” is a marriage drifting apart. What’s tricky though is that we don’t just have to say sorry, we have to communicate it in a way our spouse receives it.
We talk a lot here at Thriving Marriages about love languages, which is the concept that we give and receive love through five common ways: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, or quality time. What occurred to me this past weekend though is that these love languages apply to the art of the apology. In other words, do you know how to apologize to your spouse in the way that makes them feel most loved?
My wife Christina is hyper-attuned to words of affirmation. There have been several times where she just needs to hear me say “I’m sorry” or “I get what you’re saying” or “I didn’t listen very well” even when I barely mean them. Just hearing me say something kind from whatever true part of me I can dredge up in the middle of conflict goes a long well toward resolving our conflict. This makes zero sense to me, because I am hyper-avoidant of any words that don’t feel 100% sincere. My tendency is to never say something to Christina until I am sure I absolutely, totally feel the truth of them, but I’ve had to learn over time to get over that neuroses and just say what I know is right, because she needs to hear those words.
Likewise, Christina is so quick to say “I’m sorry for ____” when we have conflict, which is such a great quality about her! Unfortunately she married a guy who is the embodiment of “talk is cheap.” While I intellectually know someone saying “I’m sorry” is nice, and I try to take that in to account, the words don’t go deep into my heart. I don’t feel close and connected to Christina after a fight until there is some sort of physical touch, a back or foot rub, scratching my back for awhile, whatever. There’s just something about her touch that lowers my guard and makes me feel loved.
This obviously doesn’t mean I can pout in a corner until Christina loves me the way I want. Marriage is a dance where the partners trade off leading and following, but someone does have to lead after a fight. To love your spouse like Jesus is to temporarily put aside the right to feel loved like you want, and love them first. However, there is nothing noble in burying your need to feel loved in return. Many of us were never taught by the families we grew up in that our emotional worlds mattered, and so we never learned how to express them. There’s nothing noble – and a million things that are harmful – about carrying that belief into your marriage.
So think through some of these questions:
What makes you feel reconnected?
If your husband buys you flowers as an apology does your heart melt, or offended he thinks that makes things better?
Does your wife making you your favorite meal remind you how much you love her, or make you retreat further inside yourself?
Is makeup sex a thing that works for you both, or does it feel almost like a violation of something beautiful?
After a fight do you want to sit on the couch and have a meaningful conversation, or do you need some space?
Does your spouse complimenting you close to a fight feel connecting, or fake and manipulative?
What’s key here is there isn’t a good or bad to any of these. You can recognize that your spouse is trying to connect, and also let them know “I think what I need right now is _____.” And of course the same is true for them: how does your spouse need to feel connected, and how can you stretch yourself to provide that for them?
So here’s your challenge today: share this post with your spouse and then have a conversation about it tonight. Again, learning how to make up after a fight is a dance, and you’ll step on each other’s toes some, but over time you’ll find your marriage’s intimacy has grown as you’ve learned to apologize well.