Why You Can't Have A Happy Relationship Without Forgiveness

unhappy couple in an argument

YourTango Experts explore forgiveness in relationships and how it makes us happy.

If what we really want from our relationship is love and connection then becoming proficient in the language and practice of forgiveness is crucial to our well-being and the longevity of our love. Holding a grudge, being critical and shaming—no matter how justified we feel—is not going to bring us the warm, loving connection we desire. Three YourTango Experts dive into the concept of forgiveness in relationships: what it looks like, what it's not, why it's important, and how to start doing it. How To Forgive Your Spouse in 8 Steps

What is forgiveness, really?

Forgiveness discourages dust-ups from gathering gale-force winds in the skirmishes of modern relationships. It is invariably the most efficient route, an opportunity to surrender the perception of having been wronged. Its goal is to return to square one, to feel whole and free to be ourselves again. Nothing "added" remains or is necessary.

Given how remarkably sensitive we can be over "personal territory," defending groundless positions, in petty misunderstandings, etc. the beauty of forgiveness is a quick return to workability, without injury. As a choice of interpretation, forgiveness should not be mistaken for weakness or defeat, nor practiced for the dubious reward of appearing saintly. (No one really wants to be romantically attached to a saint.) The honest work of releasing attachment to perceived victimization means growing in real terms from genuine acts of awareness and understanding. When we truly forgive the person (or situation) we believe has harmed us, our former status as "victim" loses credibility.

Acquaintances, oddly enough, may act a little disappointed when they hear how "adult" we've become in our new interpretation. We "should have dumped them!" Gossip mills and other manifestations of secondary gain begin to shut down around us. It's all part of the new efficiency, trading in the old victimization for the new…what exactly? Well, certainly, not some blind acceptance of ongoing deceit and abuses. That would not be forgiveness so much as tales from the co-dependency spectrum, a topic for another article.

What actually becomes possible in forgiveness is a clearing in the space of relatedness, a new freedom and presence existing outside of the argument cycle and its aftermath. A return to square one, to be ok with ourselves, and each other again the way it is. Sometime a change is in store, sometimes a healing.

What's the alternative?

The alternative is typically the "right/wrong game," the hallmark of chronic hostility and "grudge-mode." Actually, all varieties of non-forgiveness are far less efficient, like an engine "running dirty." It's a struggle to remain frozen in the past when you have a life to live.

In the "right/wrong" game, for instance, a lose/lose result occurs no matter the victor. It can operate between warring parties or in the sanctity of one's private ruminations. The math is always the same: a). "if you're right and I'm wrong," I lose; b). if "I'm right and your wrong," I lose also. No one wins. The proof: going out to dinner in the aftermath of a fight you've won, and the one you're dining with feels colder, more skewered-into, and viciously sliced-up than the sushi on your plate.

Naturally, the practice of forgiveness begins with ourselves. It's definitely a process, (at times, aided by a compassionate and skilled professional), and a choice of interpretation. It requires being with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that have erupted, disengaging from the passion and judgments, and gradually, mindfully, returning to the quietness where no remainders are exist. You know it when your motor is "running clean" again. You're back to square one.

Art Rosengarten, Ph.D.

Why forgive?

Forgiveness is a gift that can free us from suffering when we find ourselves holding onto anger and resentment, obsessively reliving the injustice we experienced, engaging in revenge fantasies, and justifying our need to be right about how we were wronged. Holding a grudge and wanting the other person to suffer keeps us in the prison of our own negative energy. It is absolutely human to do all of the above when we have experienced an injustice or been hurt by the person we love. Moving from the prison of negativity to freedom through forgiveness is a choice that takes compassion and empathy for oneself as well as for the other. As it turns out, it is a good choice to consider as the benefits to our emotional, physical and relationship health can be enormous.

As Everett L Worthington Jr. PhD., Campaign Executive Director of A Campaign for Forgiveness Research states: "Forgiveness is both a decision and a real change in emotional experience. That change in emotion is related to better mental and physical health." Dr. Douglas Kelley of Arizona State University has found that a key to long-term marriage may be in how well a couple communicates forgiveness. 4 Love Lessons From Gandhi

Because of religious beliefs and misunderstanding of forgiveness, it can be a loaded term that might make you cringe. It is important to know that forgiveness is never required; it is a gift in which the person giving receives the most. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or forgetting. You can forgive and still hold a person accountable for their behavior. Forgiveness does not mean you automatically trust the person again; trust takes time to restore when it has been broken. Forgiveness is letting go of the negative emotion and the story we make up about why the person wronged us. Forgiveness is empowering for the person doing the forgiving as it requires nothing from the person being forgiven. Forgiveness is a process that takes time and must come from a genuine desire in order to be successful.

Some resources that can help you with the steps to forgiveness include: Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Robert D. Enright, PhD and Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping.

Amy Blake, Counselor/Therapist

5 tips for practicing forgiveness

The path to forgiveness begins with a willingness to release the pain. How do you become ready and willing?

  • Practice releasing your resistance/fear and opening yourself to change
  • Shift from judgment to compassion by releasing a strong need to be right, which masks fears of making mistakes, being wrong or appearing to be a failure, that always blocks your ability to let go. What if there is no right or wrong, good or bad, success or failure?
  • Gain new eyes by seeing everyone you encounter as your teacher and mirror, i.e., someone you don't trust is mirroring your distrust in yourself, and every situation as an opportunity for increased personal growth and enriched relationships.
  • Release each person from their role, i.e., parent, spouse, child, seeing them as people with wounds, history, baggage and fears who are doing their best at any given time.
  • Forgive yourself by silencing your inner critic. You always have a choice about how you talk with and relate to yourself. Choose which feels lighter: Criticism and judgment or love and encouragement?

As your fears, grudges, and hurts vanish; forgiving yourself and others provides increased peace, joy, health, love and space for the relationship of your dreams to unfold. 5 Ways To Forgive

Judith Joyce, Life Coach