The #1 Thing That Can Strengthen Any Relationship — If You Let It

Plus, seven ways to do it.

happy couple blackCAT / Getty Images Signature via Canva

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Studies have shown that forgiveness is an essential component of successful romantic relationships. In fact, the capacity to seek and grant forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to marital satisfaction and a lifetime of love.

Understanding how to forgive yourself and others is about being willing to acknowledge that you are capable of being wounded. It also means that you are willing to step out from the role of victim and take charge of your life.


Couples who practice forgiveness in marriage can rid themselves of the toxic hurt and shame that holds them back from feeling connected to each other. In "The Science of Trust," Dr. John Gottman explains that emotional attunement is a skill that allows couples to fully process and move on from negative emotional events, and ultimately create a stronger bond.

Because if you don't forgive and move forward, your resentment can lead to emotional and physical distance.



RELATED: How Forgiveness Can Help You Take What You've Lost & Leave Pain Behind


The problem with holding on to resentment toward your partner is that it often leads to withdrawal and a lack of vulnerability. Over time, this can erode trust.

Truth be told, many mistakes are not intentional, so it’s best not to make them into something they’re not. Listen to your partner’s side of the story, and avoid blaming or criticizing them when you confront them with your concerns.

If their negative pattern doesn’t change, they might begin to feel critical and contemptuous of each other — two of the major warning signs that their marriage is doomed to fail, according to Dr. Gottman.

Why is forgiveness so important?

Often, people equate forgiveness with weakness, and it is widely believed that if you forgive someone, you’re condoning or excusing their behavior.


However, in marriage, forgiveness is a strength because it shows you are capable of goodwill toward your partner. Forgiving someone is one way of letting go so that you can heal and move on with your life.

RELATED: How To Forgive Someone (Even When They Don't Really Deserve It)

Forgiveness is about giving yourself, your children, and your partner the kind of future you and they deserve — unhampered by hurt and anger. It is about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved bitterness and resentment.

It’s important to consider that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Author Deborah Moskovitch reiterates that forgiveness is not letting someone off the hook.


She writes, “Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting what happened or condoning your ex-spouse’s actions, giving up claims to a fair settlement or reconciliation. While forgiveness may help others, it first and foremost can help you.”

Here are 7 ways to transform your marriage once you learn how to forgive.

1. Write down three ways negative emotions have impacted (or are still impacting) your marriage.

woman writing in her journalPhoto: Cast Of Thousands / Shutterstock

Be aware of negative emotions that you have not yet processed. Talking to a close friend or therapist can help facilitate this.


2. Find a way to dislodge yourself from negative emotions.

Examples include therapy, yoga, improving your physical health, and practicing expressing thoughts, feelings, and wishes respectfully. Resentment can build when people sweep things under the rug, so avoid burying negative feelings.

3. Take small steps to repair and let go of grudges.

According to Dr. Gottman, the number one thing that prevents couples from building trust and emotional attunement is the inability to bounce back from a conflict in a healthy way. The best solution to this problem is to get really good at repair.

He told "Business Insider" that you’ve got to get back on track after a disagreement if you don’t want issues to fester.

4. Accept responsibility for your part in the interaction.

One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Drs. Julie and John Gottman explain that “One person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.” Apologize to your partner when appropriate.


This will validate their feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow you both to move on.



5. Don’t let wounds fester.

Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding on to hurt feelings. Processing what happened will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship.

Keep the big picture in mind.


6. Accept that people do the best they can.

This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.

7. Think like a forgiving person.

Practice forgiveness by actively thinking like a forgiving person. Avoid holding grudges and declare you are free to stop playing the role of victim. After all, we are all imperfect.

Practicing forgiveness will allow you to turn the corner from feeling like a victim to becoming a more empowered person. Experts believe that forgiveness can allow you to break the cycle of pain and move on to a healthier life.

Keep in mind that forgiveness takes time and has a lot to do with letting go of those things you have no control over.


RELATED: Why Forgiveness Is One Of The Most Powerful Things In This World

Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW is a therapist, author, and college instructor. Her popular book Daughters of Divorce won the 2016 “Best Book” Award in the self-help: relationships category.

Co-founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, The Gottman Institute’s approach to relationship health has been developed from 40 years of breakthrough research with thousands of couples.