This is a big topic. It may be at the core of why many divorces do not proceed well. The ability to forgive can be quite complex, depending on the events and issues under consideration. However, forgiveness may be one of the most important and perhaps most powerful experiences you may have when going through what can be a very difficult and painful event.
Some things to consider when thinking about what it might mean to forgive your ex-spouse:
- Healthy boundaries: When we forgive, we are learning to have healthy boundaries so that we do not say or imply that what was done was OK. Holding a grudge is not the best way to make sure you are not hurt by someone again. Being clear about what you are and are not willing to do going forward is a stronger stance.
- Ongoing experience: Forgiveness is an ongoing experience. It doesn’t happen once and then be done. It happens over time, allowing us to acknowledge our feelings and put them in perspective. Feelings such as anger and resentment take time to heal. Forgiveness is part of the healing process and important to our own health and helping to decrease stress in our lives.
- Realistic view: When we can recognize other people for who they are and give up on the hope of changing them, this often has the impact of changing our response to them, our expectation of them, and our need to forgive them for being who they are. Having a realistic view of another person may help to minimize the things they need to be forgiven for if the expectation that they be someone other than who they are is not there.
- Afraid history will repeat itself: We are sometimes frightened that if we forgive someone we will have to go back to being in the relationship in the same way we were before. It is important to remember we need not choose to be a victim nor allow ourselves to participate in something that is intolerable or abusive in order to forgive the actions of another.
- Feeling powerless: We are sometimes fearful that we will feel powerless if we forgive a person who is asking for our forgiveness. We may feel powerful when we refuse to offer it to them. Forgiveness is not about power. It is about creating an internal sense of peace.
- Continual forgiveness: We need to stay aware of choices we make that may put us in the position where we feel a continual need to forgive. This relates to being clearer about your boundaries of what you are willing to tolerate or expose yourself to.
- Cycle of arguing and forgiving: During a divorce, disagreements and problems may arise that result in arguments and feelings of anger and resentment. We may feel an ongoing cycle of hurt, anger, argument, and forgiveness. It helps to be aware of the ways we engage that are about our expectations and disappointments that lead to anger and then a need for forgiveness.
- It isn’t fair: One of the reasons we find it difficult to forgive is because we feel it isn’t fair that the person who has hurt us will not be punished or forced to make amends. Forgiving is not the same as thinking others should not be accountable for their actions. It is about coming to terms with what happened, allowing ourselves to find a calmer place in our hearts in understanding what happened, and letting it become part of our history rather than continually intrude in our lives.
- Getting even: Getting even is a short-term experience. Moving on, forgiving, and living the life we want free of anger and stress is its own reward.
- Avoid an uncomfortable situation: We can guard against forgiving someone so that an uncomfortable situation can be averted rather than because we truly feel we are ready to let go of our judgment of them. When forgiveness is given for a reason other than feeling ready to forgive, resentment will often emerge instead.
- Not the same as forgetting: Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. We may have an experience which reminds us of what happened. This doesn’t mean we no longer forgive that person. It is often helpful to have these reminders as a way of remembering why we needed to forgive in the first place.
- Forgiving yourself: It is as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive another. We can act in ways we regret, sometimes realizing it right after we do something. We are as capable as anyone else of transgressions and to hopefully learn from them. Sometimes, our unwillingness to forgive ourselves results in placing our anger with ourselves on someone else.
- Private experience: Forgiveness can be a private experience with ourselves and does not need to be pronounced to the person you are forgiving. Many people have no information about the amount or nature of the ways in which they have been forgiven.
- For your own benefit: When we forgive, it is an act for ourselves, for our own benefit, not the person we are forgiving. It is about our relationship with the self, our attitude about others, and our beliefs about what should be rather than what is.