You Will Learn to Forgive
Forgiveness is an essential survival skill in any relationship. No matter how mature and responsible two people become, they will do dumb or hurtful things at times. Forgiveness can occur in an instant. But more often it is a process that takes place over time.
Usually there are several elements or stages in the forgiveness process:
Figuring out what happened.
Investigating what you feel.
Expressing what you feel to your partner.
Listening to your partner.
Expressing other feelings.
Forgiving each other.
Beware of premature forgiveness. Many people cannot stand the discomfort of anger or resentment, so they say “I forgive you” before they have even found out what happened or fully explored their feelings about it. To get to true and lasting forgiveness, you need to be willing to go through all the stages until you feel a change of heart within yourself.What Happened?
The first step in any forgiveness process is to identify what your partner did that resulted in anger or hurt feelings on your part. You need to think clearly here, because people are often hurt by something they imagine or by their interpretation of their partner's actions.
Ask yourself, “What really happened? What did my partner actually do or say?” Then ask, “What happened after that? What was my reaction? What did I actually feel? What did I say or do about those feelings?”What Do You Feel?
After identifying what you felt after it happened, notice what you feel right now. Are you still upset? Are you feeling pain or hurt feelings? Notice the actual feelings and bodily sensations and do not be confused by your labels and judgments. “I feel betrayed” is actually not a feeling. It is an interpretation about the other's actions — you think someone has betrayed you.
If you are thinking, “I do feel betrayed,” see if you can pinpoint the exact feelings that you associate with betrayal. Getting upset can trigger old feelings — feelings that happened long ago but were never fully admitted or expressed and so were never released. So now, when a similar feeling occurs, you may mistake it for that same old wound. You overreact in the present to an experience that appears similar to some unresolved hurt in your past.Expressing What You Feel
For most people, this step is the hardest of all. You may fear that your partner will be defensive or maybe that you'll create a mess. But if you take that risk now, you won't have to carry the burden of your unexpressed hurt and anger all by yourself. And you probably will get over it once you talk about it with your partner. Remember — the purpose of expressing your feelings is to get over them, to get to forgiveness.Listening to Your Partner
After your partner has heard you out, listen to him express his own feelings and perceptions. Ask clarifying questions to help your partner be more specific, but don't put him on the witness stand. Questions that begin with “Isn't it true that you …” are forbidden.
As you listen to your partner, it's a good idea to use active listening. Repeating what your partner has just said keeps you grounded and present and prevents you from reacting impulsively. It also helps your partner feel that you are present and open, thus increasing the likelihood of resolution.Expressing More Feelings
Now check in and see if you need to express anything more. Sometimes simply stating your resentments clearly, specifically, and directly leads to a sense of forgiveness: “I'm over it now…. I can forgive you…. I just needed to express myself and be heard.”
Other times, you may still feel almost as upset as you did when you began, so you will need to repeat yourself. Simply restate what you said before; if you become aware of some new feelings, express them as well. After each expression, check in with yourself to see if you feel clear yet. Do you have a sense of resolution or closure?
Keep expressing yourself, even if you think it sounds repetitive, until you feel complete. Sometimes, the process of expressing strong anger will result in a surfacing of fear or pain. Sometimes anger will surface after you express hurt or painful feelings. Do not be alarmed if you discover something hidden underneath your initial feelings.
Sometimes, to get to a feeling of completion, you may need to repeat these steps together a few more times. If a present hurt is similar to one that you suffered in the past, the wound may not heal all at once. Be patient. Accept that emotional wounds, just like physical ones, can take time to heal.
The human psyche is like an onion with many layers. Once you express yourself fully about a particular incident, feelings about another event might come into your awareness. Sometimes, you will be reminded by the current situation of something that happened to you long ago, maybe when you were a child. If this happens, then be sure to tell your partner that old buried feelings are now coming up. This allows your partner to be a compassionate listener. Then ask your partner to bear with you, and just keep expressing yourself.Forgiving Your Partner
Once you feel complete in your expression, you are probably ready to forgive. It helps if you can truly realize that your triggers were set off by your partner's actions. Your partner is not to blame for that. Your partner is responsible for her actions, but no one is to blame for what you experienced.
You need to remember that blame is not real. It is a defensive reaction that people use to feel more in control about something that happened. It is more mature to admit that you do not have control over things done by another person. The blaming habit supports an unrealistic view of reality — a view that says, “If I hurt, it's someone else's fault.” Pain happens. The best way to deal with life's painful moments is to feel the pain, talk about it, forgive, and continue living.