Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
Love Means You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry

By By Richard Eyre

Note: This column appears every two weeks, with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time. Click here to read the full introductory column Click here to go to the Clichs archives

This clich came from (or at least was popularized) by the movie Love Story. Then it was made into a song and really worked itself into our consciousness.

What does it mean, anyway? It seems to me that the more in love you are the more intense your love and emotions are, the more you may need to say you’re sorry. And what’s so bad about saying you’re sorry? I like the other lovers’ clich that says, “The best part of fighting is that it’s so much fun to make up.”

The ideal marriage is not some antiseptic alliance in which people understand and empathize so perfectly and become so identical to each other that they never disagree, never get angry, never have to apologize. A conflict-free, apology-free marriage, if you’ll forgive a comparison almost as trite as some of the clichs, would be as boring (and eventually as dead) as endless sunny weather and never a wind or a raindrop or a storm.


There was a marvelous ninety-two-year-old gentleman who used to go to church where we do. One Sunday, in a classroom setting, someone asked him how he had lived so long – the secret of his longevity. He thought for a moment and then started telling us an incident from early in his marriage. Because he was hard of hearing, we thought he had missed the question, but he went on:

“Way back seventy years ago when my wife and I got married,” he said, “we pledged to each other that we would never fight or argue within the walls of our home.” He paused with a twinkle in his eye before continuing. “That’s why we’ve lived so long – we’ve spent so much time in the out of doors.”

Not long after that I happened to sit next to a marriage counselor on a plane. He’d been in practice for more than thirty years. I asked him if he’d run into any conflict-free marriages. “Sure,” he said, “lots of them. They all fit into one of three categories: marriage where one spouse is dead; marriages where one spouse is completely dominant and the other is a total doormat; and marriages of convenience where the two parties have so little to do with each other that they never conflict.”


The marital challenge lies not in forever ending conflict but in learning to resolve difference in ways that build and benefit rather than hut and harm.

And it’s not the end of the world if your children see you disagree – so long as you also let them see you resolve and work things out. Kids who grow up without ever seeing a conflict between their parents will have unrealistic expectations of their own marriages.

Interestingly, the four things we most need to communicate about as marriage partners are also the four areas where conflict or argument most often occurs: child-rearing, money, sex, and goals or aspirations. In all four areas communication, even with a lot of bumpy disagreement and resolution, is far better than non-communication.


There are two very basic “communication adjustments” that are particularly useful in disagreements in any of the four areas.

1. Start sentences with “I feel” instead of with “You are.” It’s harder to hurt and easier to understand when you start with “I feel.”

2. Paraphrase and repeat what the other person said before making your point. When we argue we’re too often just thinking of what we’re going to say next – and we don’t listen. If you have to repeat the other person’s point before you make your next point, you’ll listen and understand more and short-circuit many arguments.


At least as important as how we say the negative things is that we don’t forget to say the positive things. A good way to do both is to have a short “partnership meeting” once a week. Try a “feelings expression” where each of you takes a few minutes to tell each other how you feel. about each other, about the children, about the past week. In that few minutes the negative feelings or times you’ve felt hurt or offended can also come out – in a way that has a good chance of being understood and of not being bitter or hurtful.

This weekly “clearing of the air” is more practical than a couple of other old clichs – “Never let the sun set on a disagreement,” or “Never go to bed angry” – both of which can keep people up all night.

So again the new maxim is a reversal of the old clich:


I hope you agree, and I hope you enjoy thinking about it. Next column will look at the idea that “He who dies with the most toys wins.”


2006 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.