When you forgive, you in no way change the past—but you sure do change the future.– Bernard Meltzer
Just because the dust has settled from your divorce doesn’t mean that its effects are over. The conclusion of your divorce may bring legal closure, but in many cases, your emotional journey to healing has only begun. Forgiveness will play a vital role in this healing. You may not be there yet, and that’s okay, but at some point, prepare your heart to consider forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself and your emotional well-being. It is a choice to let yourself move out of the past and move forward.
“In the early days of the process, I desperately wanted to forgive him because I wanted to be free of all the resentment and anger that I felt. I even met with my pastor and begged him to give me some kind of magic prayer that would grant me forgiveness. He reminded me that forgiveness is a process, and that often there are several steps that need to happen before we get to it. So the best I could do was set the intention, feel my feelings, and trust that one day I would feel like I’d forgiven him. I can’t really say when it finally happened. All I know is, one day, years later, I woke up, and I wasn’t mad anymore. Instead, I felt gratitude that we had met, loved each other for a while, and brought a beautiful human being into the world.” [Anonymous]
During or after your divorce, it’s important to forgive your ex, and yourself. Forgiveness means letting go of negative thoughts and feelings so that you can begin healing. You will still remember, but it will no longer have power over you. Rather than being a one-time action, forgiveness is more of a perspective and practice. Take the following steps to move towards forgiving your ex.
Release Your Emotions. Before you can reach a place of forgiveness, you must allow yourself to feel all your hurt and angry emotions. There’s no set timeline for grief and healing, but be aware of getting stuck in your negative emotions. It might even be helpful to set some time limits for yourself. For example, set an alarm and allow yourself to cry for 30 minutes. Or, if you feel yourself wallowing in anger, tell yourself, I will entertain my anger today. Tomorrow, I will start fresh with a more positive approach and refuse to dwell on my anger. Writing a letter to your ex can be a cathartic exercise as well. Write down all your bitter feelings and tell your spouse how they hurt you. Then release them (and don’t send the letter—it’s for you).
Employ Empathy. Forgiving yourself and others is necessary for healthy relationships. As you work through your emotions, releasing some of the pain and anger, extend empathy toward your ex. This doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt you, but it might help you understand why they acted the way they did and give you more gracious feelings towards them. Most people have the same basic drives, and most of the time, people hurt others because of their own woundedness or selfishness. It takes someone who is willing to not return evil for evil to break the cycle of hurt. To do that, you have to be vulnerable, admitting that you can be wounded and exposing your deepest emotions. Understanding your ex’s motivations and basic humanness better will help you release your right to revenge and your desire to make them suffer like you have.
Choose Empowerment. Unforgiveness imprisons you as a victim. Playing the role of victim is a choice; choose not to hold a grudge and instead focus on learning from the past so that you don’t repeat it. Focus on what you can control, such as letting go of hurt feelings. Forgiveness is more for your own good than for your ex, helping you to take charge of your life and move forward with peace.
Forgiveness is often misunderstood because many people believe that it means forgetting the offense or freeing the offender from consequences. It’s important to know what forgiveness is not. It is not pretending like the hurt never happened, condoning your ex’s behavior or actions, or giving up your claim to justice and a fair legal settlement. It is also not the same as reconciliation. The person who hurt you does not necessarily get the slate wiped clean, particularly if they have expressed no regret or have not repented and changed their behavior. But remember, your choice to forgive is not based on the repentance of your ex. It can be more challenging to forgive a person who does participate in the healing process, but your ability to forgive is not dependent on that.
Although therapists often consider forgiveness to be a critical part of divorce recovery, you might not be ready to participate in the process. You must be willing to forgive, and if you aren’t there yet because the hurt is so deep or the person so unremorseful, that’s okay. You should not attempt to forgive someone before you have expressed and released your anger and pain. Until you can forgive genuinely, acceptance of the situation is an authentic choice while you treat your wound.
Forgiveness is an ongoing process and can take time. It’s for your healing, not for the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness empowers you to find peace from the past.
Identify where you are in the process of forgiving your ex, and take one of the steps above to move forward.