For almost 40 years now, the popular “Love is…” cartoon series has been a favorite world-wide. It originated from a series of love notes that New Zealand cartoonist Kim Casali drew for her soon-to-be husband, Roberto Casali. Her most famous cartoon by far was “Love Is…being able to say you are sorry,” published on Feb. 9, 1972 and was often confused with the 1970 film Love Story because the film’s signature line is “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” The contrast in these statements offers much food for thought for those in a relationship and those hoping for a relationship.
Several years ago, a friend of mine explained to me the details of her divorce, which had just been finalized. She and her husband had been married about 28 years and had a high-schooler and two college-aged children. He had left her for another woman and began an entirely new life.
I was so sad to hear all that had gone on, but found it interesting – actually refreshing – to hear her admit that she knew her husband was not entirely to blame.
“I know there were many times I could have made things better,” she stated, “but I let my pride get in the way and the distance between us just got bigger and more silent. Many times I should have been the one to apologize for things that happened, but I decided to make him apologize instead. Now it’s too late.”
Of course, we all feel our consciences tapping us on the shoulder from time to time telling us, “You’d better go apologize.” And it’s easy to come up with reasons why you don’t need to. But after experiencing a divorce, saying “I’m sorry” can be far more difficult.
I am divorced, annulled, and remarried for 12 years now. At 48 years of age, I’m still making mistakes every day and have to say I’m sorry all the time. It stinks! I thought I would have become perfect by now, but no such luck. So in my relationship with my husband I have had to come to terms with my own vanity and stubbornness. It took a lot of looking in the mirror, but I opened my heart to humility, precisely because in the end, I want my husband to love me and know that I love him. So, when there’s an argument over something, I try to jump over that hurdle of anger or irritation as soon as I can and get right to the apology.
No doubt, pride is involved. I don’t like being wrong, and I’m embarrassed by my mistakes. But after spending time in reflection, I believe this unwillingness to utter those two humble words, “I’m sorry” is also a sort of knee-jerk reaction. It’s a defense mechanism against the bad feelings that remind me of my past relationship that ended in divorce. It’s a form of baggage that is easy to drag around and allow it to influence how I deal with others.
You may be able to relate to what I am saying, and if you have an ex-spouse that you don’t have a good relationship with but must deal with frequently, you might really understand what I’m talking about. And we know it’s not an easy thing to overcome, but it’s just about the best thing you can do for the ones you love, especially if you are in a dating relationship.
If I had to offer my own version, I would say “Love is… always being ready to say you’re sorry.”
What matters most to me when I say I’m sorry is that my husband knows I am always on his side and nothing will come between us. Despite the mistakes and differences of opinion, I’m not his enemy. He is my best friend. We are a united front.
In fact, I am more interested in approaching this situation as an opportunity to grow in our love for each other, therefore, I’m much more inclined to say, “I’m sorry. Let’s talk about it.” I always want him to remember why he married me, not wonder why he married me.
One of my favorite quotes from sacred scripture is, “And He called a child unto Himself and He set him before them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ ” (Mt. 18: 2-3).
When saying “I’m sorry” is difficult to do, remember this passage from Matthew’s gospel and let God’s grace convert your pride and pain into childlike love.
Author and speaker Lisa Duffy has 20 years of both personal and professional experience in helping others deal with their divorces. Born and raised in Southern California, Lisa suffered through the pain of being a divorced Catholic in the early 1990s. After seven years of intense struggle, spiritual growth, personal triumphs, and finally remarriage in the church and the birth of three miracle children, her one desire was to help others who were suffering find hope and healing. Lisa has worked for the church in a variety of roles, most recently bringing her divorce support program, Journey of Hope, to parishes in the US and Canada. Lisa is a frequent guest on Catholic radio shows such as Relevant Radio's "On Call With Wendy Wiese", "Catholic Answers Live," and has appeared several times on EWTN's "Women of Grace" with Johnnette Benkovic. Lisa lives in South Carolina with her family.