The Power of Forgiveness
All relationships face their difficulties. At some point or another, a spouse or partner is going to betray your trust. It is how you deal with acts of betrayal that matter the most.
Being able to forgive a partner for his or her transgressions is the key to a successful relationship.
How does forgiveness work?
Forgiveness is tough. It involves letting go of negative feelings about a partner’s misdeeds, not seeking revenge or holding a grudge, and viewing a partner in a positive light (see Waldron & Kelley).
Not being able to forgive a spouse or partner creates distance, leads to feelings of anger and isolation, and it can have a negative impact on your health (see Lawler-Row).
How exactly do you forgive a partner when they have done you wrong?
The first step in the process of forgiveness involves expressing your anger and having it acknowledged. It is important to express how you are feeling. If you don’t express your true feelings, they are likely to resurface, making forgiveness difficult to do.
Expressing your feelings, however, does not involve attacking a partner. Even though your partner has betrayed your trust, it is important to focus on how you feel and not what your partner has done. Explain how hurt, angry, and disappointed you are, but do not bring up how disrespectful or inconsiderate your partner has been. By focusing on your feelings, rather than assigning blame, your partner is more likely to hear you out (see talking about problems).
Expressing your feelings is only one part of the equation. Expressing emotions is most useful when your partner acknowledges your pain. Your partner needs to validate your feelings and take ownership for what went wrong. For forgiveness to happen, your partner needs agree with your point of view and offer an apology. It helps to hear, “I hurt you. I was wrong. I am sorry.”
This is not the time for your partner to be make excuses or offer explanations. Offering excuses will only minimize your pain and comes across as being insincere. If a partner starts to offer excuses, ask her to stop. Tell him that you need to feel understood before you can move on. Be direct about what you need. If you ask your partner, “How could you do this to me?” – ideally, you should hear him say, “I am sorry. I put my needs ahead of what was best for our relationship. It was a stupid thing to do.”
Contextualize the Problem
After your feelings have been acknowledged, it is time to make sense of what happened. Now is the time to ask questions and hear your partner’s side of the story. Explanations can and should be offered, but only when you are ready to hear them.
Hearing a partner’s side of the story needs to play out on your timetable. You were the one that was harmed; you need to regain control over the situation. Do not give that power away until you are ready—until you can truly hear what your partner has to say.
Forgiveness happens when you can see the situation from your partner’s point of view and reflect on the incident in light of the entire context of your relationship. Forgiveness works when you see that your partner is a good person at heart—a person who just happened to make a hurtful mistake. If you personalize the problem, that is, you view your partner in a negative light, rather than viewing their actions negatively, forgiveness will be hard to come by.
It helps to keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Caring, loving people do very hurtful things. The more you can view what happened as an isolated incident, the easier it will be for you to forgive.
If your partner is repeatedly betraying your trust, however, forgiveness may not be an appropriate response. Relationships are supposed to add value to your life (see healthy relationships). If your partner is consistently putting his or her own needs ahead of your own, it might be time to reevaluate what you are doing (see is my relationship worth saving).
The basics of forgiveness? Your feelings need to be acknowledged, your partner must accept responsibility, and you need view what happened in overall scheme of things.
Genuine forgiveness keeps relationships healthy and strong.
- problems with forgiveness – an attachment perspective
- rebuilding trust – steps for rebuilding trust in a romantic relationship
- surviving infidelity – advice for dealing with discovery of an affair
Truth About Deception – back to our home page.