Forgiveness is the scent the violet leaves on the heel that crushed it.
Hurt is inevitable in any serious relationship, but no healthy relationship can be sustained without forgiveness.
Our partners may hurt us in thoughtless, annoying ways or in deeply wounding ways. They may be remorseful and open to discussion, or—God forbid—change, or they may be completely clueless, defensive, resistant, or denying. Depending on the situation, some hurts are lethal to a relationship. Some hurts, such as abuse or ongoing infidelity, simply can’t be tolerated. Other hurts are trivial and are better overlooked—and forgiven.
As you probably know too well, you can’t control your partner’s actions. You can’t wait for him or her to apologize. You can’t expect or demand change. You can only control your own response. (I can hear your teeth grinding. Read on.)
While you may not be able to forget, or you ought not to condone, you must forgive. This is for your own mental and spiritual wellbeing. This is to re-take your own power and not let yourself be drawn into a toxic cycle of rumination, recrimination, vengeance, anger, and a host of negative, soul-killing emotions.
There are also significant physical benefits of forgiveness. Studies at Johns Hopkins have shown that forgiveness can reduce the risk of heart attack, lower cholesterol levels, improve sleep, reduce pain, lower your blood pressure, and decrease levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
So, that’s the why. Here are some suggestions for how.
- Decide to forgive. Are you tired of the anger, the endless rumination, the bitterness? Are you ready to lay the burden down? You can decide to do that. It won’t be easy or quick, but it will be incredibly freeing. Forgiveness is “a gift you give yourself.”
- Let go of any expectations. Your partner may never apologize. This gift is unconditional.
- Here are some specific steps to take, but a friend had another approach that seemed to work for her. Once she had decided to forgive, she determined to say the Buddhist Metta prayer every day (or, sometimes, many times a day). This is also called the prayer of lovingkindness.
Her version went:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free from fear.
May you be full of peace.
“I must have repeated that prayer hundreds of times over many months. Every time the anger and bitterness would throttle me, every time I began that repetition of grievance, I said that prayer toward my husband,” she recalled.
What happened? Nothing. But slowly she began to let go. She began to feel more peaceful and less fearful and bitter. The process took a long time, and she had to keep a close eye on her emotions for years, but it was a tool that worked for her.
Forgiveness is fundamental to any healthy relationship. We all fall short. We are all in need of forgiveness. To forgive gracefully and unconditionally is probably as close to godliness as we will ever get.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.