You aren’t born knowing how to forgive others. It’s a learned skill. And it’s ok if you’re still on your path of learning how to forgive someone. It’s common to have real trust issues that may have made it challenging for you to let someone back in your life after they’ve hurt you. Cut yourself some slack for having a hard time, and try out these steps.
1. Learn why it’s important.
Being human, is well, human.
Forgiving others is essential. People make mistakes. It’s what makes humans unique. We have values, morals, and ideals, but we also have impulses, feelings, and reactions. At the same time, we’re both who we are and who we want to be. Those with the most integrity aren’t the people who are perfect all the time; they’re the people who own their shortcomings. If someone is being brave enough to honestly admit their shortcomings to you, odds are they’re already doing some of what it takes to earn your forgiveness. Learning how to forgive will move the both of you forward.
Love and resentment are very different things.
If you’re still asking yourself, “Why is it important to forgive?”, consider the alternative: resentment. Forgiving is healing for both parties. If your partner was late to dinner, forgiving them both makes them feel loved and will help you heal. If you don’t forgive, you’ll be continuing to hold a belief that it could happen again- checking the clock when it’s time for them to come home or sending anxious texts. That can mean real anxiety. You may always be looking for your partner to mess up. True love is being able to see and admire your partner for what they bring to the table. You simply can’t do that if you haven’t learned how to forgive and move on in a relationship.
2. Honor your feelings.
The body knows.
First, notice you have them. The anger you have when you’re resistant to forgive someone has some real physical manifestations. Check out your heart rate and breathing- are they moving quicker than usual? Do you feel hot or flush? Are you full of energy, and could you go for a jog? All of the above are ways your anger is trying to let you know it’s around and that you need to take care of it. Take time to listen to your body regularly and check in with any feelings of discomfort. Your feelings need you to listen to them, or they’ll scream until you notice. If you’re experiencing headaches, panic attacks, or aches and pains, your body could be trying to communicate to you, and you may not be listening.
Are you listening to what you need?
Once you check in with your body, use that information to help you move forward. If you’re stuck on not being able to forgive, odds are there could be some real reasons why. Our anger towards others tells us more about ourselves than it tells us about them. Listen to your feelings and what they’re telling you. Your anger says, “Hey! Slow down! You have some unmet needs!” and it’ll keep screaming at your loved ones until you stop and listen to yourself. What do you really need to move forward? Make a list of what you’d like to move forward in your relationship.
3. Make a boundary.
Share your needs.
Once you figure out what you need, you need to tell the other person. While it was hard finding what you needed, it may be even more difficult to tell your partner. Learning how to forgive and move on in a relationship means clear and open communication. We need to be brave and share the things we need, even if we’ve been hurt before. There’s no “right” and “wrong” when it comes to needs. Some people want “good morning” texts; others want to have prompt meetups. Listen to what it is you need, not what you think you’re supposed to need.
Hear others, even when it’s hard.
And more challenging yet, you need to hear what they need too. Even if someone hurts you, they still have valid needs. In fact, it may be their unmet needs that caused the situation in the first place. While your hurt is valid, if you’re not willing to look curiously at what your partner needs, you’re not actually working to move on.
4. Forgive in words and actions.
There is “I love you”, and then there are the other three scary words, “I forgive you”.
Forgiveness is a verb, and it comes with some specific verbiage. If you’re still learning how to forgive, it may be hard the first couple of times you say it. “I forgive you” might’ve been used against you in the past. Parents or other prior loves may have forced you to say it when you didn’t mean it. They may have pushed for forgiveness without the key steps we’ve outlined here. Forgiving others without getting what you need does really hurt, and it’s not conducive to healthy relationships.
But when you’re ready to really heal your relationship, it’s important to say the words and mean them genuinely. If you need to, rehearse to yourself before you do it with your partner. Just like if you messed up, you’d want to hear those words; they deserve the same. They’re powerful words that can do a lot for you, your partner, and the health of your overall relationship.
Forgive and forget?
Learning how to forgive and move on in a relationship doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean setting it down. What’s the difference? Well, for one, “forgetting” implies that you would be dismissing your needs. In the steps above, you worked on making sure those needs get met with new boundaries. Once you’ve done that, both you and your partner deserve the peace of setting the conflict down and moving on. Does that mean your partner will never err again? Absolutely not. Does it mean you’ll never get hurt again? Another hard no. But it does give you both the opportunity to move forward. If you don’t set down your disagreements with your partner, you’re the one who’s now at fault for your relationship not improving.
5. Work on yourself.
It takes two to tango.
The truth is the reason why so many of us have a hard time learning how to forgive someone is because we also have a challenging time forgiving ourselves. Taking responsibility for your own transgressions shows maturity, not cowardice. There’s this myth out there that in conflicts, one person is right and one person is wrong. In every conflict, there are two that tangoed. Sure, he may have left work late, but did you call and tell him you had a nice dinner planned? If you’re not willing to take some levels of accountability for every conflict you’re a part of, you’re simply missing the mark and doing your relationship a disservice.
Practice talking to yourself with kindness.
Take time and practice the skill of self-compassion and general compassion in relationships. Stub your toe from walking too fast? Don’t rush to the “OMG, I’m such a dumb klutz”, but instead actively work on the “It’s ok, I was moving a bit quickly, but I’ll slow down now.”
Integrating in taking responsibility and forgiving yourself for your own transgressions in everyday life will make it so much easier when it comes time to do it with your partner. Why is it important to forgive yourself? Because you deserve the same compassion from others as you do from yourself. Listen to the words you speak to yourself with and hold yourself to high standards of kindness. If you wouldn’t want someone else to speak to you the way you speak to you, the lesson you need to learn first is how to forgive yourself.