Let me take a moment to quickly clarify, because I'm sure you're already making a mental list of who shouldn't be forgiven... But he hurt me... But she lied to me... You don't understand, he cheated on me...
Forgiveness is not the same as condoning the act. Forgiveness is not about saying that what they did is okay or minimizing it in any way. Forgiveness, believe it or not is more for our own peace. It doesn't in any way let the other person "off-the-hook", unless you allow that, but more rather it helps you deal with the situation and move forward. In extreme cases, yes, you do still need to forgive but you do not have to remain a victim. Forgiveness is also NOT reconciliation, or tolerance.
"When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future." Bernard Meltzer
Everyone has been hurt by someone else's words or actions. And you, yourself have hurt others with your words or actions. These wounds if left alone can fester as you think and rethink and rethink the offensive action. Soon, these feelings can turn to anger and bitterness and then even to vengeance.
But when you forgive, maybe not right away, but those hurt, angry feelings will soften and open the door for empathy which might turn into compassion and finally peace. Sometimes it's as easy as letting it go right after it happens and you move straight to peace. But for those other digressions, keep reading.
When you choose NOT to forgive, not only can it affect you physically, but the person that you cannot seem to forgive holds the power over your emotions. So every time someone mentions his name, you are instantly angry again. You feel it all the way down to your core. You can feel your muscles tighten when someone speaks about her. You thrust so much hate in that person's direction that you can't stop to think about your own life! You're so busy hoping, wishing, maybe even planning his demise that you can't find your own happiness. Soon, they encompass most of your thoughts and your dreams. She is keeping you trapped in your past! He is stealing time away from your present and your future!
And guess what? Your anger or bitterness or resentfulness is not affecting that person one single bit. He is moving on with his life. Either forgetting the incident or maybe enjoying the fact that you can't get past it. Or maybe she isn't even aware that she's hurt you. She goes along trying to figure out why you're suddenly so angry all the time. Forgiveness takes away that control that the other person has over your life.
Lewis B. Smedes wrote in his book Forgive and Forget, "When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself." Forgiveness is important, not always easy.
For the sake of this article, I'm going to focus on the forgiveness that needs to happen between couples to keep their relationships strong and moving forward. Forgiveness is a necessity even for the bigger wrongs, but that's a whole separate article! Anytime you open yourself up to love, you open yourself up to get hurt as well. No matter how perfect and wonderful you think your partner is, there is a guarantee of differences. And to me, forgiveness is hardest when the person that hurt you or wronged you doesn't admit or acknowledge when he/she is wrong or express any remorse over hurting you. But if you want the relationship to work, forgiveness is a must. A relationship cannot survive without it. Whether you speak of the incident again or not, it's always there. Building the wall; creating the gap. Judith Orloff, MD says, "Forgiveness is the act of compassionately releasing the desire to punish someone or yourself for an offense. It's a state of grace, nothing you can force or pretend. There are no shortcuts."
- The past is the past and cannot be undone no matter how much you dwell on it.
-When we get angry and resentful toward our partner, we tend to look for flaws instead of lifting each other up. Flaws are easy to find when you're angry.
-You have chosen to love this person, even knowing that they are not perfect.
-You are committed to this relationship.
-It will allow you to live in the present.
-You choose to live in peace and love instead of hurt, blame and pain.
-There is no love without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without love.
-"Un-forgiveness halts all progress in life. Bitter people don't get better." Christy Lawson of Element Church
-Still need another reason? Because Jesus says so!! In Matthew 18:21-22, it tells us, "How many times do I forgive? Up to Seven?" Jesus said, "Not seven times. Seventy times seven."
- And for those of us Christians that have anger management issues, I have to say I am happy that "God has my back!" I don't need to get revenge because He's gonna take care of things for me. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, "It's MINE to AVENGE; I will REPAY." says the Lord. (emphasis added.) Romans 12:19
HOW TO FORGIVE:
First let me touch on that I'm attempting to deal with two different kinds of forgiveness here. The first, forgiving something specific- something that's already happened and has been left unresolved. It could be something small like, he forgot about the dinner party so he stayed at work too long making you late. To something more serious like, she cheated on you or lied to you.
-Admit the pain. Acknowledge that it hurt and/or upset you. By denying the pain or pushing it down makes it impossible to heal; allowing resentment to build.
-The Need for Justice. When we have been hurt, our first instinct is to recoil away from the pain. And while we disappear into ourselves, we long for justice. We want the other person to hurt the way we did. Feel how we felt. At the VERY least, understand why it hurts us. If that is where you are, see if your partner will discuss things with you. Openly. Honestly. Keeping in mind that things may get worse before they get better. Be understanding and try not to yell. It's a discussion to try and convey your feelings and how the wrong has hurt you. Take turns talking and don't interrupt. This is a one time offer. When you have come to the end of your discussion, (unless you've made specific plans to touch on it again... ex: This is too much for me. I need some time to think on it. Could we talk again in a few days?), you have to agree to let it go. You can't hold a grudge. You can't bring it up again. You can't use it in your next argument next month. You have to PROMISE yourself and your partner that you won't replay it, relive it, or think on it hoping it will have a different outcome.
-Your partner is only human. That's not an excuse, it's a fact. We all make mistakes. Accept what you can't change. And if the same offense continues to happen, then there are some deeper issues to discuss.
-Reaffirm your relationship. See your partner as valuable and loveable.
-Let It Go. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." Hebrews 8:12
Forgiveness is a slow process. Keep forgiving until the matter is settled in your heart. "Forgiveness allows the love to flourish and not be corroded by resentments and complaints." Frederic Luskin from Forgive for Love.
The second type of forgiveness is the forgiving of your partner's traits and habits that you know in advance are just going to irritate you for the rest of your lives together! (And keep in mind, you have some too!!) For example: forgetting to put the top on the toothpaste... every day! Or leaving the car on empty when you have to leave for work early the next day. The moment you become a couple and the rose colored glasses have shifted a bit, problems seem to emerge. No matter who you chose to be the other half of your couple, or how perfect he or she is, their will always be difficulties and discrepancies.
"It's the smaller annoyances or our negative responses to them that kills happiness between partners. The criticism can quickly build into resentment." Frederic Luskin in Forgive for Love.
- Stop the criticizing and complaining. When you spend your time and energy criticizing and complaining about your partner and how they don't measure up to your standards it builds a wall between you. It pushes away the unconditional and non-judgemental love that we are all searching for.
-Faults and All. Your main job as half of this couple is to love your partner no matter what. Faults and all. You love them as they are, not who you want them to be. And when or because you forgive doesn't mean you have to like everything about your mate, it just mean you accept him/her.
-Look for the good. Overlook the annoying. In the mornings before you get out of bed, forgive your partner for all the annoying things he's going to do today and then, don't let them bother you. When there is less anger and resentment, it makes it easier to look for all the good and wonderful things about your partner. So, while you're screwing on the toothpaste lid for the um-teenth time, forgive.
A few questions that were sent in:
Q: Is forgiving and forgetting really possible?
A: Forgiveness? Yes. Forgetting? Probably not. You have no control over the memories that randomly pop into your head or sometimes images appear in your dreams. But the trick is not to let them get a foot hold on your emotions. You need to continue to remind yourself that you have dealt with the memory and you forgave. Then let it go again. Keep forgiving until the memories no longer plague you. You can and will eventually heal, if you let yourself.
Q: What if I am the one who needs forgiveness?
A: A great question. I have come up with these few items that will hopefully help.
- Acknowledge to yourself, honestly, what you have done and who it has affected.
-Admit what you have done and apologize sincerely. Do not make excuses. Don't force the forgiveness. Just accept their response and allow them to hurt. They need to come to their own decision to forgive.
-Do what you can to correct the mistake. If no correction can be made, give your partner some space if they need it.
-Do not judge yourself too harshly. Forgive yourself and strive to be better.
Q: My partner has hurt me so badly. Even if I can forgive, I don't think I want to be with him any more.
A: Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. But forgiveness will help you to move forward. You can hold on to that anger to help you create some distance, but eventually you need to forgive, and let it go from YOUR life. And while I do not encourage the thoughts of revenge... but think of it, just this once, your best revenge is to show that the incident did not slow you down or diminish your happiness. Do not give someone else the power over your emotions. We cannot change people. We can only change the way we respond to them.
"You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well." Lewis B. Smedes