Actually love means having the courage you say you are sorry.
Forgiveness, in most cases, is made possible by an apology or recognition on the part of the offending partner that they have done something to hurt the other, an expression of sorrow and a wish to make it better.
The power of apologies is that they restore trust in the other’s care and concern. Apologies are gifts.
For couples the exchange of apology and forgiveness can be a positive turning point, a growth step, and a renewed belief in the ability to overcome anything!
Variations of Forgiving and Forgetting:
When A Partner Forgives But Can’t Forget
The inability to forgive and forget can belong to one partner or get played out by both.
- No matter how many times Jack asked Karen to stop putting him down in front of friends and family, it seemed to happen – particularly when they all had a few drinks. When he would confront her on the way home, she’d blow it off “It’s all in fun – they love you.”
- Feeling silence and resentment from him the next morning, Karen would ask him why he just couldn’t “let things go.” This would usually end in more silence.
- What Karen did not understand was that for as long as she did not apologize or own the behavior that hurt or embarrassed Jack, he could not forget it because he was afraid it would happen again.
When A Partner Forgives But Won’t Forget
Sometimes a partner forgives but is acting in a way that makes forgetting impossible and forgiving questionable.
- Mike’s admitting to infidelity in a 20 year marriage to Ruth was underscored with an apology, a recognition of the pain caused by his betrayal of her, a declaration of his love and a willingness to seek help as a couple to recover their relationship.
- Hurt, betrayed, and embarrassed, Ruth accepted the apology. She loved Mike and wanted to recover as a couple together. The problem was that although Ruth forgave – she would not forget. For all intents and purposes, Mike was under “house arrest.”
- Ruth wanted to know his every move, something he accepted at first but began to resent. In addition, at times after they had a good night or a great weekend, Ruth would go from the good feeling to tears, making Mike feel that he had damaged their relationship forever.
Letting Go and Letting Time
- What Ruth’s fear prevented her from realizing was that she was controlling Mike in a way that would make it impossible to re-establish trust. She was actually pushing him away. There was no room for seeing the efforts on his part or believing in the future.
- What was difficult for Mike to realize was that although Ruth wanted to forgive and forget she was really having difficulty feeling safe enough to do this. Verifying this while explaining the impact on him and their marriage would be important. Sometimes a letter from someone in Mike’s situation to Ruth can work as a reminder for her. Sometimes an outside professional is needed to translate this in a neutral way.
Forgiveness like recovery from trauma or physical injury takes time. It involves dealing with the impact, searching for meaning, getting past shame, judgment and anger. Forgiveness involves loving someone enough to risk trusting again.
Day-to-Day Forgiving and Forgetting
The forgiving and forgetting that couples do on a day by day basis for the lapses, differences, mistakes, oversights and human errors we all make are integral to the resilience of a couple.
Often in the aftermath of cumulative stress, financial difficulties, illness or unexpected life changes, this give and take is compromised.
It becomes difficult to forgive much less forget the actions of the other.
Strategies for Giving and Receiving an Apology:
- Don’t be afraid to say you are sorry – it lets the other know your care and understand.
- Don’t overlook the non-verbal apology- sometimes actions are louder than words.
- Remember all that there is about your partner. She is much more than the woman who lost your car keys. He is more than the man who ignores you and all he promised when the baseball game is on.
- Prioritize the relationship – it is worth more than keeping a record of everything she/he does wrong.
Apology and forgiveness are not static concepts. They involve mutuality and movement. They may take time, but if partners believe in the goal of resetting love and trust–they find patience for the effort.
Listen in to Keith Wilson discuss “The Road to Reconciliation: Pitfalls and Possibilities” on Psych Up Live