Forgiveness in Relationships: How to Forgive Someone

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Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Psychology, Thought | Posted on 02-14-2018

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[Jill’s Note: If you prefer to listen rather than read, please scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version. There’s a video that relates to forgiveness as well.]

i forgive youI’ve been married for over 34 years. As with all relationships, there have been good times and bad ones. About 20 years ago, there was a long stretch of time when those bad times seemed to me to be much more prevalent than the good ones. I won’t go into the details, but the gist of it is that I blamed my husband for his decision to go to law school, because it had created a set of circumstances for our family that I was not happy with.

The whole “mess” felt out of my hands, and I didn’t know what to do about it. All I knew was that I was miserable, and couldn’t keep going on the way things were. I had so much built-up resentment over everything that had happened, it was eating me up inside.

I was at the end of my rope.

One day when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I told someone in my online parenting chat room (this was the ’90’s) of my dilemma. The whole “end of my rope” story came spewing out of me, and ended with, “I just don’t know what to do.

The person (who I now see must have been my guardian angel) at the other end of the computer simply asked, “Have you tried forgiveness?

What, do you mean?” I asked. While I had obviously heard of the word forgiveness, it was a foreign idea to me. It wasn’t something I had ever been taught by my parents or teachers, and I had no religious background, so I didn’t know much about it.

Forgiveness. Have you tried simply forgiving him?” they replied.

You can do that?” I asked incredulously. “What does it entail and how does it work?

It seems hilarious to me now. I was so naive! Yet not having a clue about forgiveness was really a blessing. I had no preconceived notions about it. No thoughts about it at all. It was a completely new concept to me.

I imagine my chat-mate had to be chuckling as they patiently explained the concept of forgiveness to me.

You just make a decision to forgive him and everything that you’re resentful of, and that’s it. After that, it’s just like starting over. Think of it almost like writing a new chapter of a book. It doesn’t mean that you’re condoning anything, it simply means that from the moment of forgiveness onward, you’re working from a clean slate.

That sounded amazing to me. I could sense the possibilities of how things could be different through this seemingly simple task of forgiveness. I didn’t see any downside either. To me, it sounded super easy. Certainly a lot easier than packing up my three kids and leaving.

Thankfully, I was just naive enough not to question it much more, other than to ask, “Do I need to tell him?

You can if you want to, but you don’t have to,” replied my guardian angel.

That was a relief. While I could easily see myself doing the actual act of forgiving, talking about it with my husband seemed way too hard for me at that time.

The bottom line was that I had nothing to lose.

And so that day, I forgave him.

I don’t recall exactly how, but there were definitely no ceremonious rituals or writing down of any grievances. I don’t even know if I said the words “I forgive you” in my head. It was simply a shift, or a change of my mind. I literally didn’t “do” anything. The metaphor of starting a new chapter of a book, really stuck with me. I could see it in my mind’s eye, all pristine, clean and white.

Just like with writing a book, I was excited to see how the blank pages would fill up.

I said nothing to my husband about it, but from that day forward, our relationship changed. I saw him in a new light, and because of that, the way I acted with him changed all by itself. My scorn, resentment and anger had completely disintegrated into nothingness.

For the first time in many years, I felt real love towards him and acted accordingly.

The miraculous nature of forgiveness was as clear as day.

As the days and weeks, months and even years and decades passed, I was amazed at the difference in our relationship. I told everyone I knew who was having difficulties in their relationships about the magical properties of forgiveness. I daresay, I was forgiveness’s greatest fan!

Since that time, I’ve talked to many others about forgiveness. I was super surprised to learn that it’s apparently something really, really, difficult for most to do. Some try and fail because they don’t actually forgive in their hearts–they just say they do. I’m pretty sure I was just naive enough to not have thought too much about it. I just did it, which is why it worked so well for me.

It was clear that I had truly forgiven.

I didn’t just say I would forgive, yet still hold onto grudges. Grudges no longer existed. I still didn’t like that we had very little money. And the phrase “law school” was (and probably always will be) a dirty word, as far as I was concerned. However, these things didn’t hold the same charge that they once did. They were what they were from that moment in time only.

Whatever had happened in the past was absolutely 100% no longer an issue–ever. There was nothing in the past that I held against him. I knew everything that had ever happened, but it didn’t matter anymore.

I saw how forgiveness is the most beautiful gift we can give someone else.

But more than that, I saw how it was…

The most amazing gift I could give myself.

Today, forgiving is second nature to me. It’s no longer a conscious doing. Because I understand that the past no longer exists, forgiveness is not even necessary. There is never anything that needs to be forgiven.

Don’t worry if that makes no sense to you. Just make your own conscious decision to forgive others, as I did 20 years ago.

The best part is that you can forgive ANYONE for ANYTHING.

Plus, it doesn’t matter if you’re still in a relationship with them, or not. Nor does it matter if they’re dead or alive.

The key to remember is that forgiveness is more for you than for them.

Have a forgiveness story? Let me know below! –Jill

P.S. Before someone says this in a comment, please know that I’m not saying anyone needs to or should stay in any relationship that they aren’t happy in. I’m just providing an alternative, that has helped me. – J

Here’s the How to Forgive video:

Prefer listening? Click the green arrow below!

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Jill is the author of Victim of Thought: Seeing Through the Illusion of Anxiety


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For the past 20 years, Jill has consulted with companies big and small, and spoken at conferences all over the world. She is currently a transformational speaker and mentor to businesses, individuals, coaches, leaders, groups and organizations. She helps them uncover their natural well-being and happiness so that they can operate from a clearer state of mind and take their lives and businesses to a higher level.


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Hi Jill, thank you for this very apt post, just returned from the first counselling session with my husband – happy valentines.
I can see the wisdom in all of this, but I struggle because of the way he treats me. If you forgive someone for always belittling you and putting you down while being charming to the outside world and they just carry on doing it, where does that leave you?
I am really stuck on this and it is getting in the way of trying not to get caught up in thought, living inside out, etc
Angela

Hi Angela,

This video I made the other day for someone in your situation may help:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMvPpL_adIo

Also, please let me know if you’d like to have a chat sometime. It would be easier to figure this stuff out that way! – Jill

Hi Angela,

I completely understand where you are coming from as I have been there myself. I am going through my divorce and nearly at the end so I can have closure.

Unfortunately these type of people do not change and they will never understand what the issue is.

Only you can make the decision as to whether your marriage is right for you. listen to your gut instinct, are you happy and in love. Be honest and be strong and do what you think is right. Their behaviours are not right and unfair and cruel.

Jill is right to forgive them so you can make peace with yourself and move on and be the person you should of always been before they dragged you down and knocked your confidence.

Everything happens for a reason for which it makes us stronger! Forgive and move on to a better place, whether you continue with your marriage or not.

Remember only you can make this decision.

Sarah

Hi Jill,
some days ago I spoke with a friend of mine about forgiveness and it felt like a good idea.
Yesterday I had the insight that when I am able to see that everything happened as it was meant to happen and that there was and never will be another way as it presents right at that moment all judgements fall away. What’s left is reality, understanding and humility.
Love from Australia, Susanne

Nice Susanne! Thanks for sharing that here.

Thanks Jill Whalen!!! Really enjoy your comments and updates everyday!

You’re welcome. Glad you enjoy them!

Hi Jill, Enjoy the article! You are so right that it is way easier to forgive than to drag the non forgiveness pile around. Last fall I reached out to someone to meet for a forgiveness tea. The person chose not to attend. As you say, it was okay, because it was about me lightening the unforgiveness load than about us forgiving each other. It reminds me of one of my fav films, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. One can get used to being emotionally contorted and that the lightness feels unbearable. Thanks! G.

Thanks, Julie! Never heard of that film. Will see if it’s on Netflix or Prime!

Hi, Jill. I love your blog on forgiveness. The decision to forgive — with no expectation of the person or situation you’re forgiving — produces peace and healing.

It is hard to let go of anger, drama, and indignation, but none of that offers the wholeness and healing that come from letting go. I often ask myself if I want to be right or I want to be happy. Ultimately, it’s my decision.

Thanks again.
~Kathryn

Thank you for adding your thoughts to this, Kathryn. So glad you loved the blog post! And you’re so right about the decision for happiness. It IS up to US!