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Forgiveness: A Critical Part of Relationships

Asking for and accepting forgiveness is critical in any relationship.

Key points

  • Without love, there can be no forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness isn't forgetting the hurt or excusing the offender but letting go of resentment.
  • Assertive approaches to communication can facilitate constructive dialogue and resolution.
  • Practical tips include asking open-ended questions, actively listening, and appreciating a partner's efforts.

Asking for forgiveness is the responsibility of every sinner, and accepting it the obligation of each victim. —Elie Wiesel, cited by S. Dean (2006)

Forgiveness is a term we often use without considering its ramifications for our relationships. If we didn’t forgive in our lives, our relationships with our parents, relatives, and significant others would likely have faltered or even collapsed. Yet, it is difficult to forgive someone who has harmed you or a loved one. It’s also difficult to move beyond a traumatic event if some degree of forgiveness has not been issued. As Elie Wiesel (1928-2016) reminds us, giving and receiving forgiveness is critical for any healthy relationship. Let's examine three facets of forgiveness in relationships: forgiveness is grounded in love, the value of assertive communication, and practical ways to improve dialogue.

Source: Felix Koutchinski / Unsplash
The road to forgiveness can be lonely and so worthwhile.
Source: Felix Koutchinski / Unsplash

Forgiveness Is Grounded in Love

Forgiveness is a process in which partners choose to heal their spiritual and psychological wounds. It can have deep implications for relationships at the spiritual level:

"Forgiveness is a process of purposeful action in which one ceases to feel resentment against another who is perceived by the 'victim' as having wronged them with injury that penetrated their soul." (Beverley, 2004/2008)

In other words, people forgive others because they are vested in relationships with them. They understand the importance of forgiving and then moving on with life without perseveration on the past. Beverley (2004/2008) goes on to mention that forgiveness does not involve forgetting injury, releasing offenders from accountability, or self-sacrifice.

Assertive Communication

In any relationship, partners must learn how to convey their deepest feelings and concerns in a respectful way that provides both voices with a safe space. That is no easy task. Assertive communication is an approach to relational dialogue that can empower couples to talk while respecting each other’s perspective—a critical element when seeking forgiveness.

Assertive communication entails balancing openness to other views with the courage to express deeply held beliefs, feelings, or desires. Abramowitz (2021), a researcher of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), sets assertive approaches apart from others (e.g., passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive) because they are constructive for relationships.

Assertiveness is the most supportive way to communicate with your loved one because it involves expressing that you genuinely understand his distress, but also that you intend to guide him toward better managing OCD-related anxiety. You make it clear that you are confident in his ability to manage distress without going on the attack or demanding that he change his behavior. This reduces conflict (in the long-run), validates your loved ones’ struggles, and improves his (and your own) self-esteem.

Put another way, partners who respect each other while expressing their concerns can often move forward in their relationships by resolving tough issues at their sources.

Practical Ways to Improve Your Relationship

My wife and I have discovered, through many ups and downs, that focusing on the quality of our dialogue is an essential part of developing our relationship. Over the years, we have used journaling, behavior tracking, and learning audits to examine our personal blind spots, prejudices, and harmful thought habits that impede constructive communication (Culkin & Culkin, 2021). Quality dialogue in relationships entails partners communicating deeply held beliefs, feelings, and concerns to one another.

A way to incorporate quality dialogue in conversations is by asking your partner insightful questions with a compassionate heart and receptive ears. Some comments or questions to consider:

  • Today, I learned something about you/us I haven’t known.
  • Help me understand why you’re angry. What is your perspective?
  • I noticed you’re not looking at me when you talk. How can I help with your concerns?
  • I saw you cleaned the closet this morning and put my jackets in an easy-to-reach place. Thank you. I appreciate you. How can I reciprocate?


We examined the value of forgiveness in relationships in terms of love, assertive communication, and practical ways to improve dialogue.

How are you cultivating a sense of forgiveness and gratefulness in your relationships?


Abramowitz, J. (2021). The Family Guide to Getting Over OCD. The Guilford Press.

Beverley, J. (2004/2008). Creating Loving Relationships: Living a Life of Authenticity. Aurora Canyon.

Culkin, D., & Culkin, M. (2021). OCD and Marriage: Pathways to Reshaping Your Lives Together. Specialty Press, Inc.

Dean, S. (2006, May 24). Wiesel Stresses Forgiveness. Deseret Morning News.

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