The Power of Forgiveness in a Relationship
When you understand the inherent power of forgiveness in a relationship everything changes. Period. End of story.
Unfortunately forgiveness eludes many couples. They don’t realize the impact a single unresolved hurt or upset can have on a relationship over time. Undealt with painful emotions in a relationship will carve chasms between two people who were at one time deeply in love. Compound that with neglected misunderstandings, disrespectful experiences, and stuffed away hurts, and the results become catastrophic for couples.
Next to self-abandonment, an inability to healthily and fully resolve conflicts becomes the second biggest destroyer of intimate relationships.
Yet even though most intellectually know the importance of forgiveness in a relationship, many still won’t do what it takes to find forgiveness until it’s too late, or late enough that it will take significant effort and shifting to rebuild a once thriving relationship.
If you find forgiveness (in a relationship) to feel impossible at times. If you or someone you love refuses to forgive, if you don’t know what forgiveness really means or if you believe that forgiveness means that what someone did was “ok,” there is more, much more, to discover about the power of forgiveness.
What is forgiveness and why is it important?
Before we can comprehend the full power of forgiveness in a relationship, we have to get clear on, and more importantly, feel what forgiveness really means.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is not actually something we do. It is felt. It is an experience. Forgiveness is a process of letting go accompanied by the release of both stored emotion and the past. Forgiveness is freedom. With it comes completion.
When we forgive someone, ourselves, or a situation, we complete with that experience or that time in our lives. We no longer have to carry its energy, or more specifically its pain, into the future. Hence when we forgive we can also drop our imprisoning walls of protection erected to prevent suffering that pain again.
Forgiveness = Freedom
If you say the words “I forgive” and you don’t have a concurrent embodied experience, then the words become simply lip service. It won’t be true forgiveness, and hence the words will have little impact. You certainly won’t feel the relief that arises with true forgiveness in a relationship.
Said in a different way, we cannot forgive logically or mentally. We cannot forgive because we want to. Forgiveness is not actually a choice, although many will tell you it is. When we attempt to decide to forgive, we ignore the emotional component necessary for true forgiveness. If we try to push ourselves to forgive, if we believe we should forgive, this mental processing will only cause more suffering within us.
We have to create a space within us where forgiveness can happen, naturally.
How do I know if I’ve forgiven someone?
True forgiveness in a relationship is a process that predominantly occurs within. In that process, we must tend to both our heart, which holds the emotional component of the pain, and our mind, which holds the stories and protective beliefs that formed as a result of our painful experience.
Genuine forgiveness requires validation of our own experience and emotions. It depends on our willingness to let go of the stories that justify our pain and lock it in place. And, although we might think that validation needs to come from another person, the most important validation in the process of forgiveness is self validation.
Through a process of making peace with, accepting, what happened, along with the honoring of – the actually feeling of – which means the release of – our emotions that accompanied our pain, then and only then can we find ourselves on the way to real forgiveness. When we can hold that acceptance and release of stored emotion, with an awareness that I am still innately ok and will be ok going forward, we can begin to let go and forgiveness naturally arises.
Even better than asking “How do I know if I’ve forgiven someone?” is to ask, “What does forgiveness feel like?” If we know what it feels like then we can recognize when it’s there and when it’s not.
We feel, we experience, real forgiveness in the body. When forgiveness in a relationship happens our heart will open instantaneously. Our bodies will soften. We will relax. We will have more peace. We will feel a sense of liberation from the past. There will be more spaciousness within you and beyond you. You will likely be breathing slower and more deeply. You will know you let go because you will feel the previous tension, whether you were aware of it or not, release.
What forgiveness is not
Misperceptions of true forgiveness run rampant. Here are 10 things that many commonly mistake forgiveness for. It is none of these.
- Forgiveness is not condoning.
- Forgiveness is not denying or ignoring.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting, although you might forget after forgiving.
- Forgiveness is not weak.
- Forgiveness is not about changing the past.
- Forgiveness is not pollyanna pretending that all is good when it’s not.
- Forgiveness is definitely not self-abandonment.
- Forgiveness is not trite words, nor is it intellectual.
- Forgiveness is not a choice.
- Forgiveness is not a lack of or abandonment of boundaries.
We need, we must have, forgiveness in a relationship if it is to last. No one is ever ever ever perfect. We will all make mistakes. We all react when we are in pain.
Over time, and in truth frequently, we will need to forgive our beloved. We will need to forgive ourselves. And, we will need to be forgiven in a relationship in order to sustain the loving that brought us together.
The truth about forgiveness in a relationship
Now that we know more about what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not, and why it matters so much. Let’s look more deeply at the practical aspects of forgiveness in a relationship, especially a romantic one.
As we said, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we agree with or condone the other person’s behavior. It simply means that we chose not to carry the hurt or the pain forward in our bodies. It means that we can see beyond the action (or inaction) and recognize that pain was the trigger. We can look at another person’s soul – at who they are at their essence as a human being – and forgive at least their soul, and hopefully, for the deepest benefits of forgiveness, their humanness too.
Too often we think that forgiveness is for the other person. It is not. It is for us. Always.
Now let’s be honest about another real dynamic when it comes to forgiveness in a relationship. When another person, including our beloved, has done something that hurt us, they may hunger and long for our forgiveness. When this happens, it’s often because they feel that they cannot let go and forgive themselves until you have forgiven them.
Sometimes self forgiveness and other forgiveness in a relationship happen simultaneously, sometimes they unfold at different times. Yet, we cannot depend on the other’s forgiveness in order to forgive ourselves. We must take on that responsibility of forgiveness for our own transgressions as much as we must commit to finding forgiveness for our partner’s, regardless of what they do or do not do in terms of forgiving you or themselves.
If we don’t forgive ourselves, whether our partner has forgiven us or not, we still cause harm to ourselves and the relationship. An inability to forgive ourselves, along with a grasping for forgiveness from the other, perpetuates separation. Ask yourself what do you choose, Love – and hence the path of forgiveness of self and other, or the path of separation where eventually that deeply heartfelt love fades.
Forgiveness in soulmate relationships
Soul connections only last if we can deeply embrace the power of forgiveness in a relationship. If we remember that the full answer to the question, “what is a soulmate?” is predicated on the fact that souls come together to evolve, to be greater versions of themselves which means we must remove barriers to that greatness, then we will know the criticality of forgiveness.
Simply put, soulmates push each other’s buttons. Soulmates will experience upsets in relationships, by design. Hence it’s imperative that we know how to fully forgive. Frequently.
We must forgive frequently, and often for the same painful experiences, multiple times. You might read that sentence again.
Another painful dynamic when it comes to forgiveness in a soulmate relationship happens when one says something to the effect of “I’ll forgive you when you change,” accompanied by words like, “your actions speak louder than words,” which implies that “if you really loved me you would change and you wouldn’t do that again.”
This is a beautiful idea in concept, yet it lacks true unconditional love. You may want your partner to stop doing some painful or unsupportive behavior or habit, yet to your dismay, and sometimes anger, they continue to repeat the pattern.
Now before looking further into what your partner should or shouldn’t do, let’s consider your patterns. Do you have any habits or patterns in your life that you have wanted to change or stop, yet haven’t? Do you have things that you’ve really tried to change about how you show up in life or relationships, and the change still hasn’t actually manifested? Do you feel frustrated or disappointed that you’ve tried so hard yet you still do expres of those unsupportive behaviors? It would be an extremely rare person that couldn’t say “yes” to these questions.
If it’s true that it’s hard for you to change, it is also true that it’s hard for your partner to change.
If they do something painful repeatedly, you have two choices.
First, you have the choice to forgive them, to let go, to see them as a soul evolving on their journey as you evolve on yours. And to be clear, this is not the same as tolerating their behavior.
Forgiveness is love. Tolerance is not love.~ Joanna Shakti
Or, if what they are doing is truly unacceptable to you or actually not healthy for, or loving of, yourself, then your second option is to set healthy boundaries or to leave the relationship. Both of these are loving to you, your partner, and the relationship.
Expecting deep rooted patterns in yourself or your partner to change quickly sets you both up to suffer deep pain, and for the relationship to eventually dissolve. Choosing to accept and forgive each other through the growing process will deepen love infinitely. And, as a side benefit, the changes will likely eventually arrive. They will come through love, not through judgment, resistance, or rejection.
This is one of the deepest powers of soulmate relationships. Yet our righteousness, that too often says “you should be able to change”, while I ignore the fact that I struggle to shift my patterns, will never honor love.
Your capacity for forgiveness in a relationship correlates directly with the sustainability of your loving.
When we choose to forgive, when we choose authentic relating, we also choose love. We experience union. We know peace in our hearts and souls.
When we choose not to forgive, we choose to carry the hurt or pain in the cells of our bodies. We are not doing the other person a favor when we forgive them. We are not hurting the other person or making them suffer when we choose not to forgive. It is only us that is set free. Or us that suffers.
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*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.