Finding Forgiveness for Your Spouse
The ability to forgive your spouse is a critical step for moving forward.
Posted Nov 18, 2019
How important is forgiveness?
Research shows that the ability to forgive your spouse is an essential component of a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Of course, you don't have to be in an intimate relationship to know that forgiveness can be a challenging gift to give, although being hurt by someone you love deeply can be exceptionally distressing.
Even so, forgiveness truly is a gift—and just because it can be challenging doesn't mean it's not worth the effort. Without forgiveness, couples face an increased risk of relationship-threatening problems such as distrust, resentment, and sexual distance.
Research also indicates that holding grudges and being unable or unwilling to forgive can lead to negative health consequences including increased stress. And as far as gifts go, forgiveness is genuinely one that is as beneficial to the one giving it as the one receiving it.
Understand that the most important step to moving toward forgiveness is doing it for yourself first. The reality may be that your spouse won't acknowledge or feel that they have done anything wrong. They may also be feeling hurt and pain, thus justifying their actions or behaviors.
Are you struggling to find forgiveness for your spouse? Here are three tips to help you.
1. Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings
In the face of betrayal, disappointment, or broken promises, it's completely normal to feel deep hurt and strong emotions. Guess what? You're allowed to feel this way.
An important first step in healing and letting your emotions run their course (instead of letting them run you) is simply acknowledging them. Instead of trying to repress strong emotions, know that it is safe to notice what you're feeling. If you're having a hard time describing how you feel, try to pay attention to where you feel it in your body: A pit in your stomach? A knot in your chest? A fuzzy feeling in your head?
This helps in a few ways. First, being aware of your feelings makes it easier to express yourself and respond more effectively, which helps you avoid creating more hurt and turmoil. Allowing your feelings to exist is also a healthy way to understand and validate your needs, even if your partner is unable or unwilling to. Lastly, it helps you recognize grudges or emotions you haven't fully processed so you can deal with them in an appropriate way, such as by journaling, talking to a close friend, or speaking with a mental health professional.
2. Accept Responsibility
Conflict within a relationship is rarely one-sided, and a huge part of forgiveness is a willingness to acknowledge your role in it. This doesn't mean you're responsible for your partner's actions. But it does mean you're responsible for how you respond to a situation. It also means you're responsible for being curious about your own actions and identifying how you may have contributed to an issue.
Offering forgiveness for your role in a conflict validates both your feelings and engenders trust and resiliency. It sets a positive example for your spouse and can promote feelings of openness and gratitude—things that love and conflict resolution depend on.
Consider the suboptimal alternative of doubling down on the need to feel "right" or wanting to make your partner feel "wrong." This is an ego-driven need that often leads to prolonged conflict, resentment, and relationship breakdowns. It's simply unnecessary and unhelpful. Ever heard the notion, "Hurt people hurt people?" Don't engage in similar hurt behavior or betrayals just to get back at your partner. Any potential your relationship has to heal and rebuild trust is almost impossible from this vantage point.
Of course, forgiving your partner doesn't mean forgetting what he or she did that deeply hurt you. So, take responsibility for your future well-being by setting clear boundaries with your partner, learning how to manage triggers, and taking care of your own physical and mental health so you're better equipped to handle future flashbacks that may arise.
3. Find Forgiveness from Within
Believe it or not, most mental health professionals agree that forgiveness is just as beneficial, if not more so, for the person giving it as for the person receiving it.
Forgiveness is essential if you want to let go and move on, and it really has more to do with your own well-being than your partner's. This is especially important in situations when your partner simply doesn't feel sorry. For whatever reason, they may not be remorseful or may not look at the situation in the same way. But if you're depending on your spouse to feel sorry in order for you to forgive them, you're setting yourself up for disappointment and let-down.
Ultimately, you can't control how someone else feels or acts. But you can control your own emotions and reactions. So learn how to feel forgiveness from within by recognizing your efforts to put things behind you, being kind to yourself, and learning from negative experiences. Trust us: It takes a strong person to do all that.
Lastly, a humble reminder: Neither you nor your partner is a bad person . But like all humans, you're probably capable of acting badly sometimes. Holding yourself to a standard that you will never argue or let each other down is unwise. Believe that you are both doing the best you can at any given time, and try to view hurtful experiences as opportunities to expand individually and as a couple.
Forgiveness takes work. Are you finding it hard to forgive? Individual and relationship counseling help you overcome a breach of trust.