Forgiveness is not an option to sustain a healthy relationship. Research has consistently shown that those who experience forgiveness in their romantic relationships achieve a greater sense of closeness and satisfaction than those who hold on to past offences.
First let me state what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not trust. Trust is earned through actions that consistently demonstrate integrity. We can forgive an individual for what they have done but we do not necessarily need to trust them.
- Forgiveness is not a feeling. If we wait until we feel like forgiving someone we probably will not … and if we do that forgiveness will be shallow and easily taken back.
- Forgiveness is not circumstantial. Forgiveness cannot be tied to any other action or attitude on the part of the one forgiven – if it is then it can (and probably will be) withdrawn with the next offence.
- Forgiveness is not primarily for the forgiven. When we forgive it is a great kindness we are giving to the one forgiven but it is an even greater kindness we are giving to ourselves. There are several reasons for this but primarily it is because we take ourselves out of the place of judge, jury and executioner and leave that to a greater and more knowledgeable court. As a Christian I find great comfort in the fact that my meager understanding of human affairs and hearts is not what determines the final outcome of anyone. I let the One who “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart” be responsible for the rewards and punishments. And even if you don’t believe in a personal God who will judge humanity most people believe in the law of sowing and reaping also known as, “what goes around, comes around”. Or as one old salt told me “the world will kick you in the A#@ much harder than I will”. I also recognize that my opinion is very often clouded by my personal perspective which is usually based upon my needs and desires. So most offences are about me not getting treated the way I think I should be treated and are inherently selfish. Even if I could on some rare occasion be totally in the right why not just forgive it all and be done with the crap that harboring resentment produces?
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is a key component to being reconciled with another but when it is given it does not automatically produce reconciliation. Reconciliation requires several steps which include repentance, atonement and reconnection and is not unilateral because a true and humble awareness of the offence must be achieved and trust restored.
- Forgiveness is not easy. It can often be the hardest thing you will ever do and something that you will need to work at because it doesn’t come naturally. It is not an emotion it is a decision.
So here is a definition of forgiveness:
In an ongoing relationship there will be many times when we are inadvertently offended by our partner and we exercise unilateral forgiveness without our spouse even recognizing it. It is the sign of a healthy relationship to let go of small offences without letting them become the seeds of bitterness that blossom into full blown resentment. However, to maintain an intimate relationship, we must be willing and able to talk about our hurts to one another. Out of these conversations arise the intimate insights that make good relationships great. The willingness to forgive is at the core of these conversations for if we are unwilling to forgive then what is our ultimate objective?
Here are the benefits of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness opens the door to restoring relationships. Like I said forgiveness does not automatically restore relationships but without it restoration is impossible.
- Forgiveness reduces anxiety and harmful ruminations. Who really suffers when we hold resentment in our hearts? That’s right we do!
- Forgiveness promotes genuine humility. When we forgive we naturally reflect on how many times we too were forgiven and that is humbling.
- Forgiveness removes ammunition from the next relational conflict. It is common for old relational wounds to surface during the heat of an argument. This is truly like throwing gasoline on a fire. When we forgive we take away this flammable material and it is much easier to focus on the problem at hand.
- Forgiveness most closely aligns ourselves with the heart of God. If you want to have a rich, powerful, deeply satisfying relationship with God then get good at forgiveness because that is God’s primary message to us.
I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if we can ever be of assistance. We are here for you!