Every couple will be faced with the challenge of forgiveness. Many times, forgiveness will be required for small conflicts, such as forgetting to start the dishwasher or booking the wrong flight. Other times, partners will be asked to forgive larger betrayals, such as verbal abuse or an affair. Whether for big or small hurts, forgiveness is essential for healthy relationship repair and sustainability.
Forgiveness does not just benefit the relationship but the forgiver as well. Holding on to blame, anger, or resentment causes psychological and physical harm. It can prevent a person from moving forward and leave him or her feeling stuck in a vicious circle of pain and desperation. To forgive is a choice to let go of anger, embrace vulnerability, and undergo a process towards growth.
It is not always easy to forgive, especially for betrayals that trigger personal underlying sensitivities, and there are many obstacles that can get in the way. Take a look at some of the more common obstacles to forgiveness and how you can start working through them for the benefit of your health and your relationship.
- Misunderstanding forgiveness
Many people acquire mental blocks to forgiveness because they wish to protect themselves and misunderstand the meaning and goal of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, minimizing your experience, or that what your partner did is okay. It is not a singular event, whereby saying “I forgive you” is all it takes.
Forgiveness is a process, an ongoing activity that requires a person to expose his or her underlying vulnerabilities and seek to heal them. It is separate from the act of reconciliation, which requires mutual effort from your partner. At its core, forgiveness is a choice to let go of anger in an effort to move forward. Sometimes, it requires openness to rebuild trust and to allow your partner the opportunity to make amends.
- Lack of an apology or request for forgiveness
It can be very difficult to let go of anger towards someone who has not apologized. There may be disagreements in your relationship where your partner sincerely feels that he or she did not do anything wrong and refuses to apologize, and it is still your choice to forgive him or her. This is because you and your partner have different perspectives, and it is okay not seeing eye-to-eye all of the time. You must still choose to forgive him or her and determine what you need from your partner in order to reconcile.
- Not feeling ready
There are many reasons a person may not feel ready to forgive, such as a fear that it will allow the transgression to happen again, that there has not been enough time to punish one’s partner for committing this type of betrayal, or one of the obstacles previously mentioned. However, choosing to forgive does not mean you need to open yourself to further pain from your partner. You are allowed to set reasonable boundaries around what is or is not okay in your relationship, and opening yourself to forgiveness is the first step in this process.
If you wait until you feel ready to offer forgiveness, it may be too late. Your partner may feel unfairly punished or neglected in his or her efforts to apologize. Instead, try to understand the obstacles to forgiveness that are preventing you from feeling ready, and communicate with your partner about your attempts to move forward.
Forgiveness is not always easy or straightforward, but it is a necessary component to repair in your relationship. Part of your commitment to the relationship is a commitment to working through inevitable conflict. You and your partner are human, and mistakes will happen. If you find yourself easily falling into patterns of anger or resentment following perceived hurts or betrayals in your relationship, start increasing your awareness of your obstacles to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a choice that can only be made by you, the hurt partner, and you and your relationship will benefit greatly from your efforts to learn from the past and actively create a healthier future.
Written by: Meghan Emerson, MSMFT