Most of us love having the missionaries over for dinner. We imagine their families praying for them, and hoping they’ll be well-fed. Some of us remember our own kids’ missions, and how grateful we were when they had a hearty meal. It’s wonderful to bask in the spirit they bring into our homes, and an honor to feed these hardworking servants of the Lord.

And, on occasion, you get to give them some advice. Often it mirrors what their parents have taught them (but you always need a non-parent to echo wise counsel), and last time we fed our local elders, a topic came up that gave me an opportunity to impart some wisdom I hope they’ll remember.

One of our elders had offended a new convert, and was planning to apologize to her. I told him it was the smartest move he could make, then I told both of them how important it is to learn this skill. The willingness to say “I’m sorry” can often have more power than anything else you can do. And, looking down the road, it’s vital for happiness in marriage.

Saying “I’m sorry” (and meaning it, of course) can build an almost instantaneous bridge. It tells the other person you truly regret the hurt you caused, wouldn’t do it again, and that your intention is to save the relationship, to make amends, to heal and to hope.

While many see it as weakness– a sign of giving in– it’s actually the polar opposite. Anyone can be egotistical, stubborn, and too proud to apologize. But it takes a larger heart, a bigger soul, to humble oneself and ask for forgiveness.

Saying you’re sorry is not an admission of guilt when innocent. Often people resist apologizing because they don’t want to be unfairly blamed. But a heartfelt expression of love, and regret that feelings have been hurt, is not the same as admitting wrongdoing you didn’t do. It says, “I see that you’re hurt. I see that I’ve caused it. I want you to know I’m sorry about that. I want to make this better.”

As parents, we all make mistakes. All of us. And we model proper contrition and appropriate behavior when we ask forgiveness of our children. It tells them that they, too, can be imperfect and can be forgiven as well. And it admits that we’re human, and that we cherish their respect.

As workers and bosses, we build morale by honestly admitting our errors, by making amends, and by clearing the air with an admission of our mistake. It’s healing and healthy to know you work with people who take responsibility for their actions, who are consistently accountable.

Obviously, no one enjoys a relationship with someone inconsiderate, who marches carelessly through life offering one apology after another as a matter of habit. These ring disingenuous, and lack the courage and sincerity of the confessions I’m talking about.

Also in a separate category are the ridiculous apologies that begin, “I’m sorry that you…” A true apology doesn’t cast blame on others or squeeze in excuses. It sweeps the field and says, “This is on me. I’m sorry.”

When someone we care about has hurt us, it goes a long way toward mending that sense of betrayal if the person can humbly acknowledge our feelings, and express real sorrow for their actions. Most of us feel a tingle of warmth in our hearts, and a desire to accept what we know was a difficult admission. We all want to get our relationships on sure footing again. We are wise to listen to their explanations, just as we would want to be able to explain our intentions if someone we loved felt betrayed by us as well.

It then becomes important that we not withhold our forgiveness, any more than we would hope the Savior would withhold it from us. We are foolish—and often committing the greater sin—when we choose instead to build resentment. Too many (couples, usually) decide they will drag out the forgiveness, force the person to suffer adequately for their sins, and torment them over the years, to “get even” or “show them who’s boss.”

Only our Heavenly Father should be meting out punishments; our directive is to forgive and leave the so-called “payment” up to God. Only he knows a person’s heart, their capabilities, and the extenuating circumstances. Thus, only He can accurately judge.

But humbling ourselves and saying we’re sorry is vital. It’s actually something we are to practice constantly, to enact the Savior’s atonement in our lives. Saying we’re sorry is something we should do every week as we partake of the Sacrament. It’s part of the process every one of us needs, in order to be free, to heal, to become exalted. And then, that weekly admission of our sins, that honest expression of sorrow, becomes another blessing in our lives: It helps us practice, so that we can apologize more quickly to one another, as well.

Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.