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We all make mistakes. But when your partner messes up, forgiving and forgetting can be easier said than done.
Forgiveness, however, is as essential to the success of your marriage as love and trust, our experts say. "Forgiveness takes away the power of something to hurt you," explains Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint For A Lasting Marriage. "If you cannot forgive, then the unresolved hurt will remain like a cancer, eating away at the foundation of your marriage." Adds psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, "If a significant other wants the marriage to survive and thrive, he or will need to work towards and find forgiveness — because without it, a couple's intimacy, trust and friendship will be forever negatively impacted."
If you have something you'd like (or need) to forgive, our experts have seven ways to help.
1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.
Doares reminds us that there is always more than one way to interpret something. And yet, "we often have a tendency to got to the worst explanation first," she says. If you can go with your head and not your gut, however, "choosing the interpretation that puts your partner in the most positive light makes forgiveness a whole lot easier," Doares says.
2. Put the shoe on the other foot.
Imagine you were in your partner's shoes when he, for example, fibbed and how he might feel now. "If you had done something comparable, would you want to be forgiven?" asks Doares. "If so, then let your partner off the hook." More so, stepping into your partner's shoes "will give you a different perspective and help you to see the situation from just his side," Coleman says.
3. Consider that this might be more about you than your partner's actions.
Perhaps, Doares says, "your partner's behavior triggered something deep in you and it's easier to focus on them than go to that hard place. Having old wounds resurface is unpleasant but it is a chance to grow and become stronger." And in that case, she says, "forgiveness can be seen as a form of gratitude for that opportunity."
4. Reflect on everything that is good in your partner and relationship.
If you're trying to forgive something bigger than a fib, it might be time to remember the reasons you love your partner, then "weigh their value against the wrongdoing or hurt he has caused," says Coleman, who says that the next step is asking yourself if your relationship is worth trying to fix. "This is important because when a partner causes harm to his significant other and the relationship, it can lead to a feeling that the marriage is broken and can never be fixed," she says. "The focus is on what happened and what went wrong, instead of on all the other things that come with this partner and relationship."
5. Let go of being a "one-upper."
"Holding on to hurt and anger is a form of power in its own right," Doares says. And that power, she points out, can feel pretty good. "Your righteous indignation can be used as a way to get what you want, now and always," Doares explains. But being one-up won't breed forgiveness, or help your relationship in the long term. "If your partner will forever be in the doghouse, he will have no reason to not do it again," Doares says. "It also permanently disrupts the balance between you two, and this will lead to relationship-killing resentment."
6. Make sure the behavior or act is in the past.
If your partner did something wrong months ago and hasn't since, focus on the fact that he or she cared enough to put the behavior in the past and not repeat it. "Part of being able to grant forgiveness is knowing that one's partner has ended the affair, made a commitment to work on his temper, come clean about his financial infidelity, etc.," Coleman says. "And once this behavior is in the past, the process of working towards forgiveness can begin in earnest."
7. Ask how you contributed to the problem.
As Coleman explains, "Couples have their own unique relationship dynamics. Each brings something to every interaction and the marriage as a whole. These actions create a climate, and some climates are [more] ripe for marital disharmony and unhappiness." That's why, she says, an important part of forgiveness is that both partners look at how they contributed to the problem, and how they can fix it. "It takes two to make or break a relationship," she says. "Blaming one person for everything that is wrong in the marriage will result in divorce."
Finally, remember: "When you forgive, it doesn't mean that nothing happened," Doares says. "It means that you have chosen to move past the offense. A sincere and clean apology is extremely helpful to the process. It is important to have your pain acknowledged and redress made but you can choose to forgive without those things — and that's because forgiveness is for you, not them."