"Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit."
- Peter Ustinov
As you might imagine, being able to forgive someone is one of the most essential skills in a long-term happy marriage because, let’s face it, we’re all human, we all married someone human, and all humans make mistakes. Some of these mistakes are minor and some can be life-altering. But in order to move forward and feel safe and happy in marriage, all of these mistakes must be forgiven.
He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.
"There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love."
- Bryant H. McGill
So let’s first define Forgiveness. It is often defined as letting go of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference of opinion or mistake. In other words, it’s about letting go of the feelings that were hurt when we thought the other person “messed up.” I also believe that forgiveness entails no longer seeking or demanding punishment or restitution for that perceived offense. In other words, forgiveness has two parts - letting go and moving forward.
(Note: Let me take a moment to say that when I talk about a perceived offense I am talking about those times in which we mistakenly hurt our partners feelings. I am not talking about when one partner deliberately hurts another, either verbally or physically as that is never acceptable and outside the scope of this discussion).
So, why does forgiveness matter? Well, Bernard Meltzer said:
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.”
"Said another way, the past can’t be changed. It has already happened and there’s nothing either of us can do about it. What we’re left with, then, is a choice about how we intend to go on. Yes, I said a choice. Forgiveness is in our control. It’s ours to give or withhold and we can choose whether we want to be stuck living in the past, holding onto our pain, or living for today and the future, and letting go. We can only let go if we forgive."
"Forgiveness means letting go of the past."
- Gerald Jampolsky
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."
- Lewis Smedes
When we refuse to forgive, we keep the past alive in our thoughts. These thoughts can be so vivid that we feel as if the pain is re-occurring over and over in the present moment. But in the end, who does that really hurt? By repeatedly focusing on the pain from a past experience, you continue to relive it and often times expand upon it. Not only do you allow the pain from the past to continue to damage the relationship, you choose to let it repeatedly damage you. To illustrate that, Maya Angelou said:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” To withhold forgiveness damages not only the relationship, but also yourself and, therefore, your future.
Some further quotes to contemplate….
"How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
"Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself."
- Suzanne Somers
"Forgiveness is a funny thing. It warms the heart and cools the sting."
- William Arthur Ward
Any thoughts about forgiveness? Any comments you would like to share with us? Share them below.
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com