Forgiveness in lost love reunions, according to my years of researching reunited couples, occurs across many years and 3 generations: the self and the lost love couple then and now, their parents, and their children. And there are common accompanying emotions of regret, blame, and anger.

Even before making contact with a lost love, it is optimal if the person can forgive himself or herself. Adults berate themselves over the path not taken. They regret not staying with lost love, and mercilessly, obsessively go over their faults and "crimes" in the relationship. If only! What if? But they were just teens, I tell them. An adult cannot blame the teenager he or she was for acting age-appropriately.

Sometimes the blame is as minimal as locking keys in the car - "so stupid!" Other times it is as serious as guilt over an abortion.

The need to heal themselves often drives the need for the reconnections. This alone cannot work: the forgiveness must come from within. If someone approaches a lost love as if he or she is still that wounded, stupid teenager, then he or she will feel humiliated during the reconnection. The lost love can be reassuring, but for forgiveness to be processed, it has to come from the self.

The initial breakup during the teens and early twenties is rarely mutual. Someone's heart gets broken. During these years, when the teenagers and emerging adults are forming their identities -- and the very definition of what loves means -- losing their sweethearts is losing a part of themselves.

Often it is the girl who does the breaking up (because of her family and because she is more mature at that age), but when the teenage boy initiates the breakup, it is all too often at an important juncture, like right before the wedding. He may use a new girl to make the breakup happen; otherwise, he would have to have a conversation about it, and she would be upset and try to get him to stay... that's not fun (he lacks communication skills). He makes a clean break by betraying her.

So when they reunite, one owes an apology and the other wants to hear one. She must forgive any cheating (as one example). He must forgive not being told why she left him: it is not uncommon for the dumpee to not know why the person left, especially if her father demanded it (so uncool!).

Finding out why the person left you years ago, during the reunion, is often very healing. 
Forgiveness is the only way the reunited couples can move forward with their reunions. And most of the time it is easily granted; in fact, most of the people contacted by their lost loves never held a grudge to begin with, or forgave them years ago. Blame and anger fade away.

BUT, trust does not necessarily follow: Will the lost love do the same hurtful things again? Without restored trust, the reunion cannot proceed, and this is more difficult than the forgiveness.

Reunited adults who, as teenagers, were broken apart by their parents, are often very bitter. Forgiveness of parents is often NOT granted, especially if the spouse who was eventually chosen on the rebound, was a bad pick to please the parents. And if the women in the reunions are too old to have children with their lost loves, they are often furious at their parents for meddling years ago.

Sometimes their elder parents finally recognize the damage they have caused; they must forgive themselves, and hope that their adult children and the lost loves can forgive the bad parental advice and pressure they exerted years ago.

Within the last 5 years, many of the reunions are extramarital affairs. Some people leave the marriages to be with their lost loves, but most do not. Women are more likely to leave their marriages than the men. The marriages that remain together will never be the same, although some people have reported that with couples' counseling, they learned to be more honest with each other and their marriages were strengthened.

Adolescent thinking returns, with denial. The lost loves in affairs think they will never be caught. They get caught. Especially when the spouse learns of the betrayal, there is tremendous animosity. The couple may stay together, but the spouse may always believe he or she was not first choice.

Another problem is that some people actually feel guilty, at first, about having sex with their spouses - they feel like they are cheating on their lost loves! And the sex might have been "better" with the lost love, due to the fact that the reunion was a secret, forbidden affair (exciting) with no real world responsibilities other than mutual enjoyment. Differences in sexual satisfaction should not be interpreted as any failure on the part of the spouse... or indeed, any magic powers in the lost love reunion.

For the betrayed partner, regaining that sexual intimacy can be done, but it's not easy and often doesn't work: it's one thing to think you forgave the wayward spouse and quite another to relax and trust him/her in such a vulnerable way again. Before the marriage can go forward, the spouse must forgive and trust again. This is terribly hard, and it is understandable that some people will never be able to reach this level of forgiveness. 

The person who had the affair must forgive her/himself for hurting the spouse. Sometimes they also feel guilt that their lost love's marriage ended because of the affair, or they have to forgive the lost love for NOT leaving that marriage. If they do leave their marriages, they feel even more guilt, for destroying the family.

The children have a hard time accepting the breakup of their families, even adult children, who may fear that the lost love is taking advantage of their elder parent or fear the loss of their future inheritance to the lost love. And when their parents say, "This is the person I should have married," and put photos of themselves as teenagers all over the house, the children wonder, "So was I a mistake?"

Adults who reunite and leave marriages feel a lot of guilt about the children, especially since it may takes years before the children will speak to them again. The ex-spouse feels the pain of their children, too, and what the reunion has done to them. Or, the lost loves may push the children away (rare, but it happens). Parents who watch their children get crushed by lost love reunions, by being shut out, rarely forgive.

Lost loves who cheat are usually people who have never cheated before and would never have cheated with anyone other than this lost love -- not much of a consolation for the damaged family! And it is often against their religious values, so they have to forgive stepping outside of their own morality

Lost love reunions are complex. They deal with the past: their teen years and their parents' role in the initial romance. And they deal with the present. They deal with their own feelings, their feelings for each other, and the emotions concerning the families they may have created in the lost loves' absence. And if the reunion fails, the loss is compounded by regret, self-blame, and anger.

Whether people are married or single, reunions should never be entered into lightly.

And one last note about guilt: it exists to tell people something. Unless someone learns that whatever behaviors he/she feels guilty about are violating their own personal beliefs of what's right and what's wrong, and then stops those behaviors, the guilt isn't helping anyone (or maybe it's an excuse to make the behaviors seem acceptable).

copyright 2011 Nancy Kalish, Ph.D.
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