Wednesday, April 2, 2014

To Forgive Or Not To Forgive?

Without a clear and rational approach to forgiveness, a relationship “structure” can remain weakened and vulnerable.  How can you move forward in a relationship after your partner said or did something hurtful to you?  Is it possible, or even worth it, to trust your partner again?

Let’s begin by clearly stating what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not an agreement that the other person’s action is acceptable.  It is not indicating that there is approval of one’s decisions, or that the violation will be forgotten.  It is not expressing that trust will automatically rebuild, and it is not a validation that it is okay for that person to do the same thing again.

What forgiveness does is restore you as the authority of your affective (emotional) experience.  It allows you to resume full responsibility for how you perceive your partner’s behaviors and your reactions.  In short, it is your key to empowerment by reclaiming your feelings, moods, and perceptions.  

When you approach forgiveness, you simply look at your partner’s actions through the lens of, “He was doing the best he could at the time with the tools he was given.”  If he acted outside of his integrity, then you recognize the role that fear played in driving his behavior. If he acted with integrity, then try to understand what values led to his decision (even if you don’t agree with them).  

Forgiveness is first and foremost a decision rather than an action.  It is a confirmation that all humans, including yourself, are capable of making mistakes.  It is a choice of recognizing that most people in this culture are taught to act and react from fear, and that cruelty and insensitivity are oftentimes a direct byproduct of that fear.  If you wish to be a catalyst for change, and live in a world with less fear, cruelty, and insensitivity, then it is up to you to stop perpetuating these practices and stop reacting to them in your interpersonal relationships.  

This may or may not mean that you do something about it.  There are situations where the person you are forgiving might be dead, unavailable, or unsafe.  You still can make the decision of forgiveness, with or without the other person’s involvement.

Letting go of resentments is tough.  Sometimes it can help to work through these concerns with a trusted therapist, friend, or spiritual teacher.  My book, "Rational Relating: The Smart Way to Stay Sane In the Crazy World Of Love" was written to help people experience connection and empowerment in their primary relationships.  Feel free to email me with any questions at

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in New York who has helped hundreds of couples and individuals create joyful, peaceful, and pleasurable relationships. He is the author of the books, “Rational Relating” and “Absolutely Should-less.” His trainings have helped thousands to learn practical skills for living an empowered and fulfilling life. To speak with Damon about counseling, speaking engagements, or media appearances - please contact him at, call 347-227-7707, or visit 

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