Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just wanted someone to say they’re sorry? You were over what had happened and ready to move forward – but you just needed to hear those two little words.
But life doesn’t always work the way we’d like. The one who hurts you may not see it the way you do and may not offer an apology. As Elton John puts it “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” So in the absence of an apology, how do you forgive and move on? Do you abandon the relationship? If so when? Do you maintain the relationship? If so how? When someone does apologize, how do you forgive? And should you?
Before you can answers these questions you have to stop blaming the person who hurt you. Being stuck in the argument of who is right and who is wrong will not heal the wound of betrayal.
I am reminded of a couple I counseled. I’ll call them Brittany and Ron. They had been married for seven years when Ron had an affair. Brittany was devastated but decided to stay in the relationship. However she decided not to forgive Ron. She felt wronged and was committed to punishing him for his offense every opportunity she had. Ron, on the other hand, never apologized for hurting her and just kept defending himself by saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Finally Brittany began to realize how much effort she was putting into trying to hurt Ron as much as he had hurt her. Their relationship was becoming nearly intolerable. She was becoming unhappier by the day. Brittany began to realize that by trying to hurt Ron, she was punishing herself; she was taking the poison and waiting for him to die.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice. It is a willingness to give back to the person who has hurt you what you gave before the hurt occurred. That could be friendship, affection, the benefit of the doubt, a hug, a kiss, kind words, or whatever it is you have withdrawn to protect yourself.
Forgiveness is a practice and a process, not an outcome. It doesn’t mean “putting the past behind you and moving on”. It means that you commit to working on improving your relationship by engaging in behaviors that will heal the wounds that hurt and betrayal have caused.
Brittany came to realize what she needed to do. Instead of waiting for Ron to apologize, or for her feelings to change, she began to engage in actions that were forgiving. She decided to start by giving him back a smile when she greeted him. Eventually she began to sit next to him on the couch when they watched TV. Later she added a goodnight kiss before bed. She didn’t always feel like doing these actions, but she saw them as medicine that could heal the relationship. Once he was no longer under constant attack, Ron stopped defending himself and admitted to Brittany that he knew his actions had caused great harm to her and had damaged their relationship. He began making amends for his behavior to try and repair the damage he had caused through his infidelity.
Not all acts of forgiveness result in reconciliation. Sometimes relationships end in spite of our willingness to forgive. But when we regard forgiveness as an action, not a feeling, the power is in our hands to give back what was there before the damage was done. We don’t have to wait for an apology or for our feelings to change.
Forgiveness applies to the big stuff, such as betrayal and infidelity, and the little stuff like a hurtful comment, a forgotten birthday, or a public embarrassment. Here’s the question about forgiveness: Will you choose it? And then, will you do it? The willingness to forgive can create something very powerful. It can renew depth, intimacy, and new possibility in all your relationships. It is the perfect gift during this season of giving.
The Gift of Forgiving
- Make a list of people you would like to forgive or create a new relationship with. Put yourself first.
- Identify what it is you think you or the other person has done wrong.
- Allow yourself to feel the regret, remorse, and sorrow that follow.
- Going forward, make a sincere promise to avoid being hurtful to yourself or the person who has hurt you.
- If you, or the other person make a mistake and do it again, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start the process of forgiving all over again.
Make forgiveness a habit of your heart. Holding a grudge is way overrated.