There is a lot of confusion about forgiveness, so let me start by defining the term. “Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group that has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” – Original source unknown
Unfortunately, most people are walking around with all of their resentments stowed away in a figurative backpack that they carry everywhere they go. It weighs so much that they’re like a turtle with a shell that’s ten times too big. Eventually they end up stuck on their back with arms and legs helplessly flailing around. Once completely incapacitated and suffering to a point that is no longer manageable, they are forced to do something about it, but by this time they’re already mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. They feel helpless and hopeless. Others are more like pressure cookers. They continuously stew in old hurts and resentments from the past until an explosion occurs. After the eruption they may feel better for a while, but their relief never lasts. The cycle starts over and before long the pressure builds up again, just waiting for another opportunity to explode. But here’s the thing… in time, these “unforgivens” take on a life of their own and lead to blame, criticism, defensiveness and full blown communication and relationship breakdowns.
Forgiveness does NOT mean you need to stay in a relationship that is abusive or that's simply not working for you. The truth is, you’re not forgiving the other person because they deserve forgiveness, you are doing it because you deserve peace.
That said, if this is a relationship you want to continue, then these 7 steps will help you release the negative emotions you are carrying towards your partner so you can start a fresh new chapter:
Step 1: Make a solid decision to forgive
At some point in your relationship, you’ve likely told your partner that you forgave them and meant it, but then your resentment returned and the feeling of forgiveness went away. This is normal. But, if you want to achieve lasting forgiveness, you must make a solid decision to forgive, and that decision cannot fluctuate.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say your spouse cheated on you in the past. This created a breach of trust and deep resentment. They said they were sorry, asked for forgiveness, and genuinely regret hurting you. You agree to grant another chance, and in a moment of reconnection, you decide to forgive. Things are going well at first, but then doubts start creeping in. Every time your spouse goes out, you question their whereabouts. You feel insecure and constantly need reassurance. Whenever something goes wrong, you bring up the affair. In other words, you have allowed your decision to forgive to fluctuate.
Once you've made the decision to forgive, make a list in your journal of all of the reasons you are choosing to forgive your partner. Once you’ve made a complete list, write the top three reasons on a post-it note and put it in a place that you will see often throughout your daily life.
Step 2: Get clarity
It may be easy enough to say, “I forgive you,” but from there to actually forgiving someone who has hurt you is a whole other matter. So, start by getting crystal clear about what you want to forgive them for. At the top of a sheet of paper, write all of the things your partner has done to hurt you - be specific and thorough. If you've been in this relationship for a very long time, it may be helpful to review your relationship in shorter increments. For example, think about your first year together, starting with when you first met and write about any experiences with your partner that hurt you or caused you to feel resentment, then continue this review in 3 years increments. Your notes do not have have to be fancy. It can be in point form.
Here is a question to help you:
If you had a magic wand, what experiences would you delete from your history with your partner?
Please note that these exercises are for your eyes only and not to be shown or discussed with your partner... doing so can cause much more harm than good. However, keep your notes as you will need them later.
Step 3: Assess Your Damages
Taking the list of hurts and resentments you wrote in step 2, take each event/experience separately and ask yourself if you are ready and willing to let it go? You may not know how to let it go just yet but just ask yourself whether you WANT to free yourself from the hurt, resentment, and other painful emotions associated to these past experiences with your partner. If your answer is NO, that's okay... but for every separate thing that you're not ready or willing to forgive, answer the following questions in your journal:
1. What are your reasons for holding on to this negative event or experience?
2. What are the potential benefits of NOT forgiving your partner for this?" In other words, what are you getting out of holding on to this?
3. What potential benefits might come to your relationship if you decide to release these negative thoughts, emotions, and memories?
4. What you afraid might happen if you release these resentments?
5. What would you say to your partner about this hurtful experience (each one separately) if there was no consequence at all to you or to the relationship? Close your eyes and imagine yourself saying whatever you'd say to your partner.
Once you're done, write in as much detail as possible about the thoughts and feelings that came up for you.
Step 4: Examine Your Contributions
It is quite possible that you never did anything as bad as what was done to you, but you’ve likely hurt your partner at some points during your relationship. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of, and while it’s not healthy to focus on our mistakes, it is important to reflect on our negative contributions to the relationship. It is good to remind ourselves that we are not perfect either and that there are times we’ve wanted and needed forgiveness. So, take the time to make a list the things you have said or done to hurt your partner.
Step 5: Get A Higher Perspective
As much as your partner may have hurt you in the past, if you truly want to reconnect with them, you will need to stay focussed on the positive aspects of this person that you've chosen as your partner and the benefits of this relationship. To do so, divide a sheet of paper into two columns... in one column, write what you like and love about your partner and in the other column, write about the benefits and growth that have come from your past experiences with them so far.
Step 6: Release Resentment
The guided meditation below will help you let go of whatever you are genuinely ready to release (listen with headphones in a quiet space - 20 minutes).
Step 7: Forgive Each Other
After you've listened to the meditation, re-read your notes from Step 2 and highlight all of the things on your list that you are letting go of. Then sit facing your partner, holding hands, looking into each other's eyes and say: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. Imagine all of the resentments and hurts floating out of your body.
Once you're done, dispose of your notes and commit to a fresh start together. If any old resentments come up, re-commit to your decision to forgive!