Question: People keep telling me that I need to forgive and move on in my relationship. I want to forgive, but does that mean I have to pretend like nothing happened? (Julie W.)
Answer: I’m so glad you asked this question. How to forgive and move on in a relationship is often misunderstood. The short answer to your question is “no.” But, let me explain why.
Forgiveness does not mean that you ignore what happened. In addition, forgiveness does not mean you trust someone after the trust has been broken. Nor does it mean you continue to place yourself in harm’s way.
When you forgive someone, you simply release your right to get even. You let go of your desire to make the other person hurt in the way you did. You stop wishing them harm. Forgiveness often happens inside of YOU. It’s an attitude of the heart that restores you, but it may never restore the broken relationship. That part is up to them.
True forgiveness requires you to face what happened honestly, not gloss over the facts.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. As a young adult, I didn’t know how to hold others responsible for their behaviors, nor did I even think it was important.
I could usually understand why someone was misbehaving, even when it hurt me. So, I used to tell myself, “She’s lonely,” “I need to respond with kindness,” or “She’s going through a lot with her parents, so I can’t expect much of her in this situation.”
For the most part, I was praised for my kind ways. “You’re such a forgiving person,” people would say.
The problem is that I let myself get walked on. I ignored bad behavior in the name of being “nice.” That wasn’t forgiving—that was foolish.
True forgiveness is about releasing any hatred and resentment in your heart toward someone who has hurt you.
Forgiveness is not the same thing as mending a broken relationship. That’s called reconciliation, and reconciliation requires TWO people, not just you.
In fact, the ability to forgive often goes hand-in-hand with accountability. For instance:
- You can forgive someone AND maintain healthy distance.
- You can forgive someone AND have firm boundaries.
- You can forgive someone AND let consequences play themselves out.
When someone has hurt you repeatedly without showing remorse, forgiveness is something that occurs inside of you. I suggest these three helpful steps to start the healing process:
3 Steps to Forgive and Move On in a Relationship:
Step 1. Before you consider forgiving someone else, ensure that you are safe and far removed from the hurtful behavior
Think about it this way, when someone has hurt you repeatedly and shows no effort to change, you have two choices:
a. Continue to put yourself in harm’s way and grow increasingly resentful; or
b. Distance yourself from the other person and forgive.
Which option is better? Obviously, the latter. Once you’ve said “no” to being hurt, you can then use the space you’ve created to say “yes” to an attitude of forgiveness.
Step 2. Care for your own wounds
In many cases, forgiveness is much more about what goes on inside of you than it is about the other person. Remember, it’s about acknowledging and releasing anger, resentment, hostility, and pain.
However, don’t rush the “releasing” part. First, take the time to work through and heal the hurting parts of you. For example:
—Notice the emotions you’re feeling. What surfaces when you think of the other person?
—Extend compassion to yourself. Can you understand your negative emotions and why they’re there? Emotions pass. But, they do need to be acknowledged as valid. Something bad happened to you.
—Rebuild trust with yourself. What assurances do the hurting parts of you need that you’ll protect yourself going forward? For example, you might notice your anger soften a bit as you promise yourself you’ll limit exposure to the person who has hurt you.
—Talk to someone you trust. Check in with a family member, friend, or counselor who can help you process what happened. But, be careful of people who suggest that you rush the path to forgiveness. It takes time and effort to heal. It’s not helpful to put a band-aid on a gaping wound.
Step 3. As you tend to your own heartache, begin to release the resentment, anger and pain.
Releasing the negative emotions inside you is critical to the process. Look at the issue from these perspectives:
—Ask God to handle the justice. This doesn’t mean justice isn’t important; it just means you’re not going to pursue it anymore because pursuing it isn’t to YOUR benefit. At this point, you don’t deny what happened, you simply leave your desire for justice in God’s hands to work out. You might pray, “That person hurt me. But, I trust you to work out the details of righting the wrong your way, even as I take measures to protect myself.”
—Repeat as often as needed. When someone hurts you deeply without showing any remorse, then forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. Forgiveness may be something that you practice on a daily basis for a while. So, don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a process.
—Imagine the challenging person as his or her best self. In some cases, especially if you have to be in ongoing relationship with this person, it can be helpful to release the other person to God. When you think of the person you’re forgiving, you might imagine that individual in the way that God MEANT for them to be. Then, pray that they grow in that direction. This does not mean you change the boundaries you have put in place. It can, however, help YOU shift away from negative emotions you are carrying.
You can forgive and still set healthy boundaries.
When you forgive and move on from someone who has hurt you, remember that you are not being mean. Nor are you trying to punish anyone. Instead, you are saying “no” to the harm, so that you can say “yes” to the health and peace you need in your own life.
You may never have a relationship with that person again. But, you’ll be able to replace any toxic hatred and resentment with the healing balm of joy and peace. Other people may never change, but YOU will be FREE.
For Further Reading:
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
Do you wrestle with forgiveness after someone offends you? What aspects of forgiving do you find the easiest or the hardest?
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