In our last post, we talked about forgiveness and why it’s so important to make it a regular part of your relationship, both with your partner and with the other important people in your life.
But we know that forgiveness is easier said than done.
For a lot of us, what gets in the way of forgiveness are the assumptions and misconceptions we have about what forgiveness actually looks like and how to go about practicing it. We understandably can’t reconcile ourselves to our misinformed, misunderstood version of “forgiveness,” and that makes doing the thing that sounds nice, in theory, very hard in reality.
It’s helpful to start with what forgiveness IS.
Forgiveness is the ability to let go and free yourself from the burden of holding onto bitterness.
It’s like the rope in a game of tug of war: It takes two people for the war to continue. If you lay down your side and let go, what happens to the other person? They fall away. The battle is over.
Forgiveness looks like replacing expectations and harsh boundaries with hope and grace. It means accepting that we all make mistakes and that there is room to change and grow.
When you and your partner have the kind of relationship where you’re working to repair big and small offenses, asking for or giving forgiveness is an essential piece of that work. And often, that practice of forgiveness becomes second-nature, especially if you’re turning toward your partner and committing to being better day after day.
Forgiveness is NOT:
- An excuse for the other person to keep hurting you
- Ignoring something or moving on like it never happened
- Saying or accepting, “I’m SORRY” without sincerity
- The end of the repair
And while we may have been taught to “forgive and forget,” quite frankly, that’s bogus. And unrealistic. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting the ways in which you’ve been wronged — or making excuses for the one who hurt you.
Greater Good Magazine, from Berkeley University, says this about the matter: “Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.
“Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger.”
You don’t even have to air your grievances with the person who has harmed you if doing so feels unsafe for any reason. If that’s the case, don’t let that stop you from letting go. You don’t have to allow the roots of hatred and bitterness to grow and destroy your life.
Even if it feels impossible to forgive, remember, forgiveness can be a gift you give yourself. It can be as much for you as it is for the other person. And often, it’s solely for your own freedom because forgiveness is essential to your health and wellbeing.
Whenever and however you can, let go, and move forward.
My husband, Eric, and I recently had a “lightbulb moment” when I got to practice a bit of forgiveness toward him, even though I felt like I’d been given the short shrift.
For what seems like months, I’ve had a terrible time sleeping on our mattress; it makes my back hurt terribly! I explained this to Eric, but he was hesitant to go out and buy a new mattress right away because that’s not a small investment, and Eric is super financially responsible.
So a couple months ago, I finally decided that I’d sleep in our guest room. The mattress there is so much kinder to my back! And it made a huge difference in my quality of sleep. But all the while, I felt bummed because really, I’d rather be in bed with Eric snuggling and sharing that space with him.
Months into the ordeal, Eric finally gave in and admitted that maybe buying a new mattress was the right move. I was so frustrated! Yes, I was glad that mattress shopping was on the horizon, but I was frustrated, darn it! It felt so unjust! If we were going to just end up buying a new mattress after all, why did we have to sleep apart for months on end? Why did it have to wait this long?!?!
I could have sat with my bitterness and frustration about the matter, judging Eric for what I saw as his mistake. But I didn’t. I let him know how I felt, forgave him, and moved on.
It might seem like a little thing to offer forgiveness for, but believe me, the small acts of forgiveness and grace add up! And your partner will reciprocate them when you unavoidably mess up (you’re both human, after all).
There’s no one perfect, tidy map to forgiveness. It can be messy and challenging and a lot of work (at least at first). But getting in the habit of forgiving one another will help you and your partner develop a closeness and a trust that can’t be beat.
Give it a try. It’s so much better than the alternative!