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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim answers a specific question from a wife who is struggling with forgiveness and gives some tips for making it easier.
I read your article about not suffering more than you have to over and over again. I get and agree with everything in it except for the forgiveness part. I feel like I can absolutely NOT forgive my husband at this time, due to how severe the situation is and how hurt I still am. Do you have any advice?
I get letters daily from heartbroken men whose wives are stuck like you are stuck and not ready to forgive. It breaks my heart because these husbands desperately want to change, have changed or are working on changing, but the wives can’t let go of the past and forgive. This is causing great suffering on both sides. (I realize in some marriages it is the husbands who can’t forgive — the same principles apply.)
Forgiving your spouse can be very hard to do, especially if the offenses feel personal, but you must not make excuses and put off doing it any longer. Forgiving is the most important lesson you are here (in the classroom of life) to learn, and the consequences of putting it off are a great deal of pain and suffering for YOU and your family.
I'm sorry, but I'm going to be blunt here, "I'm not ready" is an excuse you use when you can't articulate the real reason you don't want to forgive. You need to identify the real reason you don't want to forgive so you can work past it.
Here are some possibilities:
Do you think staying angry towards your spouse protects you from further mistreatment and that forgiving would allow more of it? Is staying mad (and casting them as the bad guy) allowing you to avoid looking at your own faults, mistakes or pain?
I have had many spouses admit that if they put down their anger towards their spouse they would have to deal with their faults and that is just too painful.
Are you using anger and hurt as an excuse to keep your spouse away from you, because you actually have issues around intimacy (discomfort or lack of desire) and you would rather avoid it? Is your anger justifying or giving you a reason not to have a healthy intimate relationship — but blame it on him?
Are you waiting to see more shame and guilt before you can forgive? Do you feel like your spouse hasn’t been punished enough? The truth is it’s healthy for people to understand the wrong and then let it go and move forward without guilt. Drawing out the shame and guilt isn’t necessary for someone to change. Are you stuck in the need to be right? Have you cast your spouse as the bad one in the marriage and you must continue to see him this way in order to feel good about yourself? Be honest. Now, here is the truth about each of those:
- Staying mad doesn’t protect you from further mistreatment. Good boundaries enforced with strength and love do. You can forgive and still be safe.
- You are here on this planet to work on fixing YOU, that should and must be your focus. You must stop pointing fingers and work on growing, learning and becoming more loving yourself. That is your job.
- If you have issues around intimacy you must stop avoiding them and get help, so YOU can have a happy, rich, fulfilled life. Staying mad at your spouse and avoiding intimacy will never create happiness.
- Forgiving does not require that the other person be punished or repent first. If you wait for that you will only be hurting yourself and your family.
- Every day you have to choose if you would rather be right or happy. Your ego wants to be right, but it’s the wrong choice.
Remember you aren’t perfect either. Get off your high horse. Your spouse did wrong and it sounds like this was an especially painful wrong, but you aren’t perfect either. You may not have made this mistake, but you have made others, and I guarantee there is a downside to being married to you too (there is for all of us).
You must remember that you are both imperfect, struggling students in the classroom of life, with lots more to learn, who both deserve forgiveness. You alone are responsible for the pain you are experiencing. No situation can cause you pain without your participation in it, because your thoughts and feelings are in your control. No one can take away your pain or give you pain. You alone have that power.
If you struggle to understand this principle, read my article about choosing to be upset. You must grasp the truth that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings. You don’t have to wait until you feel ready to forgive. You can choose to be ready. Your spouse is guilty of bad behavior, but he is not less of a person than you are, because you both have the same infinite and absolute value. You both have the same value no matter how many mistakes either of you make.
This is true because life is a classroom, not a test, and your value isn't on the line. That does not mean you and your spouse don't have more to learn and need to improve your behavior, but your lack of knowledge and need for improvement does not affect your value.
Forgiveness is about seeing yourself and others accurately — as innocent, completely forgiven, struggling, scared, messed up, but perfect students in the classroom of life, with lots still to learn. Most of us think forgiving is about seeing people as guilty and then trying to pardon them for those mistakes. If you try to forgive this way it will never happen. You will still be hung up on the fact they are guilty.
Forgiveness will never work when it’s a gift undeserved. Real forgiveness means letting go of judgment completely and understanding that God has already forgiven all the wrongs, pain and hurt on both sides of this. The entire past has been wiped clean of all selfish, fear-based bad behavior. It is gone except for the resentment you are holding onto. It is time to let go and accept forgiveness for both of you.
You must give each other permission to be a “work in progress” and not crucify each other for mistakes. Forgiveness is the key to happiness. It is the only way to peace, confidence and security. This is just universal law. The key to forgiveness lies in one very simple choice that you must make over and over every day.
What energy do you want to live in — judgment, energy or forgiveness energy?
Judgment energy means you stand in judgment of others, condemning and crucifying them for past mistakes. If you choose this, you must understand that it will also create low self-esteem in you. This happens because you are giving power to the idea that people can be "not good enough" and this will subconsciously feel true about you too. The energy you will live in that comes with a judgment mindset is also heavy, negative and unhappy.
Your other option is a forgiveness mindset. Here you choose to forgive yourself and others and completely let go of every misconceived, stupid, selfish, fear-based mistake either of you has ever made. You choose to see these mistakes for what they really are — bad behavior born of confusion, self-doubt, lack of knowledge, low self-esteem and fear.
In this place, you choose to see everyone as innocent and forgiven (by God) for all mistakes, and in doing so, let them and you start over with a clean slate every day. If you choose this mindset, you will feel safe, loved, whole and good about yourself all the time. This energy that comes with this state is light, peaceful and happy.
The question is: How do you want to live? (This obviously does not mean you should put up with abuse. If your spouse is emotionally, verbally or physically abusive, you should seek professional help.)
If you continue to struggle with forgiveness, I encourage you also to work with a counselor or coach who can help. I also have some forgiveness worksheets on my website that may help you work through specific offenses.
You can do this!