For most of us, when it comes to our romantic relationships non-forgiveness is the default. Meaning, we don’t try to “not” forgive …it just happens naturally. Non-forgiveness is a wall in our mind that creates distance between us and them. It’s our mind saying, “no, you were wrong to do that!” And that’s where we stay…stuck. That person is wrong and will always be wrong.
Our non-forgiveness is provoked when we feel betrayed by our partner or they commit a grievous act. Non-forgiveness is usually accompanied by strong emotions of pain, self-loathing, regret, sadness, anger, and sometimes shame. These emotions then provoke a replaying of the incident over and over in our mind, fantasies about how we can punish them or get even, or wishing it never happened. These thoughts then intensify the emotions that created them and sometimes spawn different ones. It becomes a never-ending cycle that requires no commitment or action. It will simply naturally continue to occur for the rest of our lives.
It’s our natural default because our brain thinks that non-forgiveness will create safety. The wall should keep us from feeling vulnerable or being hurt again. However, this is not at all the case. We feel perpetually hurt and the wall makes no difference to future pain and disappointment. It will however keep us from feeling satisfied, in-love, connected, and content with our partner.
If you’re going to stay in the relationship, you need to consider forgiveness. If you leave, you can work on acceptance without forgiveness, but staying means you’re trying to make the relationship work. To make the relationship work you must forgive. It will take significant conscious effort and it’s not something you do just one time. You may have to do it multiple times with the same incident, because you’re going against the grain of what your mind naturally does.
Right now you're probably thinking "Hell No," because to you forgiveness means a pardon or excuse the act. You might think that if you forgive, or forgive too easily, that you're somehow condoning the act and your partner will think he/she can do it again. Forgiveness doesn't mean any of these things and it certainly doesn't mean "forgetting." Forgiveness means to stop the cycle.
Definition of Forgiveness:
- to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong)
- to stop blaming (someone)
- to stop feeling anger about (something)
- to stop requiring payment of (what is owed)
Also, forgiveness doesn't mean allowing yourself to be more vulnerable. You can can never be more vulnerable than you are...just like you can never be more invulnerable. The act of forgiveness is a show of strength. It's a choice. It's a choice to give. When you choose forgiveness you choose to step past the idea of what is right and wrong. You also don't wait until you feel like forgiving to forgive, because you could wait forever to feel this way. You must choose forgiveness in your action. It's what you do/say and how you do/say that is forgiveness.
By Delicia Mclean, Ph.D., MHA