Using the F Word with your Partner
Most of us think of the famous (or infamous) Anglo-Saxon swear word as one of the most powerful words that anyone can say – although, of course, some people overuse it so much that it ends up having little power at all. However, this word has a tiny fraction of the force of another word beginning with f...a word that is truly one of the most powerful words in the English language. If you haven’t guessed already, that word is forgiveness.
If the act of forgiving is done whole-heartedly then it is one of the most sacred and powerful things that anyone can do for another person (and indeed for themselves, as we shall see). The poet Alexander Pope caught some of the word’s power by writing:
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
It is not a simple, easy or minor thing to forgive someone. As Mahatma Gandhi said; “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” When we are deeply hurt, especially by someone we love, it can feel almost impossible to forgive the perpetrator of our hurt. Sometimes it takes time to forgive. There are not many saints in this world and forgiveness doesn’t often come quickly. Sometimes the hurt party has every justification and human need to feel the pain of his or hurt first before they can move on. In fact, feeling the hurt first is an important part of making the forgiveness deeper and longer lasting...imagine how odd it would be if we did something awful to someone and they immediately said, “I forgive you”. I doubt we would feel forgiven, and such quick pardon may not help us to shed our feelings of guilt.
In any relationship we are likely to be called on to forgive – friendships, work colleagues, lovers, team mates etc. With family and partners this is even more likely to be the case, as these relationships tend to be deeper and more permanent. It is impossible to stay in an important relationship without forgiveness. We are all human and even the best of us mess up and hurt those we love from time to time. It’s how you deal with that really counts, rather than the hurt itself. Forgiveness calls us to be fully adult rather than lapsing into a childish or superior parental state.
It is perhaps useful to say what forgiveness is – it means the giving up and renunciation of anger, resentment, bitterness and offence. It doesn't mean condoning hurtful behaviour; it means that, whatever the previous disagreement or wrongdoing, we will no longer seek to punish, give out “justice,” get our own back or demand any sort of restitution such as meekness and “sack-cloth wearing” from another person. We make them free of all debt (whatever its nature) and pardon them completely.
Forgiveness should be unconditional and willing, BUT there is a proviso, and one that is absolutely vital in a healthy relationship: the hurt party needs to feel respected and not abused. Often in life there is a yin and yang – a head and tail; you can’t have one without the other. And the 'other' here is repentance, remorse and contrition. Before both parties can move on, the person who caused the hurt needs to be able to recognise that what they have done is wrong and accept that there have been some consequences – such as anger, pain, broken trust. They need to be able to commit to not repeating the hurtful behaviour and to making amends for it. Making amends should be a joyful thing - e.g. treating the hurt partner to something special (and recognising that sometimes a bunch of flowers just doesn’t cut it). Since we are all human and get it wrong a lot, in practise the forgiver will end up forgiving someone they love several times, and in long-lasting relationships both parties will end up hurting the other at some point. Patience is also important with deeper hurts - dismissing a partner’s feelings, especially betrayal, by telling them to "get over it" is insensitive and crass and seems to attempt to minimise or justify the wrong.
Sometimes Enough is Enough
Experience tells us that there are some hurts that we will never be able to forget. This is particularly true of serious repeat offenses; if a partner is continually abusive (whether physically or verbally) or unfaithful then there nearly always comes a time where one says “enough is enough”. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to move on – we should – but we may have to move on without the errant partner. It can be very hard to forgive a cheating partner, but it can come down to whether we loved the partner before the cheating occurred. If you already feel like strangers, then an infidelity can be a good reason or excuse to end things. If you do love them, then (in time) things can be rebuilt; and forgiveness is the key to this.
What about Forgiving and Forgetting?
Henry Ward Beecher said: “I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it can never be shown against one”.
That is true. Once the note has been ripped up, the injury should not reappear as ammunition during every major row. That doesn’t mean that the hurt party becomes “a mug” and is cornered into a position where they keep getting hurt and keep forgiving. It also doesn’t mean that we should keep forgiving someone who doesn’t even recognise that they are being hurtful.
As human beings, our pride often howls at us to take revenge. Even if we don’t want to say or do anything straight away, we may at least want to keep a “guilt card” ready in our pockets, to be brought out later in order to trump another person’s ace: “so what about the time that you did this to me...” We can probably all hold up our hands to having done this at times – and then probably witnessed how it hurt the person who thought they’d been forgiven or degenerated into a long list of offenses from both parties. Lists of grievances cause a lot of damage and intensify, entrench and deepen any rift - but forgiveness means trying to move on from it. In short, it’s about valuing the person you love MORE than the wrong they did to you once upon a time.
If you love someone remember that your relationship with them is your primary concern; not scoring points, counting sins or showing who is right or wrong.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past - but you sure do change the future.”
Letting go of grudges, anger and bitterness can make way for compassion, happiness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
- feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you
- more love
- more energy (holding onto grudges is very wearing)
- healthier and more adult relationships
- better psychological, spiritual and emotional well-being
- less hostility, bitterness, anxiety and stress
- less risk of depression
- less chance of addiction to drugs or alcohol
- the release of pressure that might otherwise build towards a poisonous or negative atmosphere
- greater connection and depth in our relationships
- the pleasures and sweetness of “making up”
How many people have each of us known whose lives are dominated or even defined by grudges, hate, bitterness and resentment? In reality, this poisons them more than the people whom these feelings are aimed at. Whenever possible (and it nearly always is), it’s far better to let it all go and to forgive and move on.
Corrie ten Boom is someone who showed saint-like forgiveness, probably beyond that which most of us could manage. Despite initial difficulty, after WW2, she forgave both the German concentration camp guards that she had previously tried to rescue Jewish prisoners from and then been held prisoner by herself, and also the Dutch collaborators who had acted against her; yet she said this: “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.” Against this example, forgiveness for lesser crimes can seem less onerous.
If you are still struggling to forgive someone but would like to, then counselling can be an option. If there is willingness on both sides, a counsellor can help clarify matters so that a workable and positive conclusion can be reached.
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