Are you weary of people saying you should just “forgive and forget” your ex to move on with your life? Frustrated by how easy it sounds, and how difficult it is to actually do? Would you like a new way to “let go” of your ex without feeling you’ve absolved him or her for what he or she did to you? This article reveals a new way to approach forgiveness without compromising your values or minimizing your experience.
We’ve all heard it before: “Forgive and forget.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
It’s all well-intentioned advice, of course. However, while it might look good on paper, or sound good in a sermon, forgiveness is not that simple for mortal human beings. Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” may work on the playing field, but it doesn’t play so easily on the field of human relationships, especially when dealing with divorce.
The Fundamental Difficulty in Forgiving Your Ex
I don’t know about you, but when I got divorced, these socially appropriate prescriptions for what I “should” do couldn’t have been further from my mind. I felt angry, resentful, abandoned, apprehensive, disconsolate, frightened, furious, hurt, and overwhelmed, among others. Well-meaning friends told me to simply forgive her, forget it, and move on. However, that was all I heard!
Divorce, including recovery from divorce, is a life transition that takes time. It also takes time to let go of personal attachments to how things used to be. This includes both positive and negative attachments to our ex. Letting go of the emotional ties to another person isn’t like flipping a light switch, it’s not a logical process, and can’t be accomplished through rational decision.
A More Helpful—and Humane—Approach to Forgiveness
After all that well-meaning post-divorce advice from friends, I found a book entitled How to Make Peace with Your Past and Get on with Your Life, by the educators and psychologists Sydney and Suzanne Simon. On these pages, the authors described what forgiveness is, what it is not, and detailed a path for letting go of the past. By putting a human touch on forgiveness, these lessons removed my guilt about not being able to make the simple decision to “forgive” my ex. For the first time, I had a way to think about forgiveness that was truly useful.
What Forgiveness Is NOT
Simon and Simon explain that what major religious traditions teach about forgiveness is not scientifically true. In other words forgiveness is NOT:
(1) A clear-cut, one-time Decision that is usually…
(2) communicated by some form of Public Pronouncement, preferably to the ex,
(3) in which we acknowledge a degree of Self Sacrifice by…
(4) promising to Forget what was done to us, and…
(5) offer Absolution to the perpetrator, while in the process of…
(6) giving the impression that we actually Condone what they did.
What Forgiveness IS
On the other hand, Simon and Simon tell us that forgiveness IS:
(1) the By-Product of …
(2) an Ongoing, Internal, Healing Process in which—over time—we Let Go of the intense Emotions attached to incidents from our past with our ex.
Some outcomes of this “letting go” include the recognition that we no longer need our grudges, resentments, hatred, and self pity. In addition, we no longer want to punish the ex who hurt us because we realize that nothing we do to punish our ex will heal us. In other words… it truly is an “inside job.”
What This Means for You and Me
What happens when you start to view forgiveness as the by-product of an ongoing healing process?
(1) Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. Rather, the negative feelings linger until they are “dissolved away.” This doesn’t mean you’re not recovering – and it doesn’t mean your recovery is stalled. It means you have permission to experience negative feelings throughout the process — and it’s normal.
(2) You must take personal responsibility to engage in the healing process. Time alone will not do it. Making a public, or private, declaration will not do it.
(3) Well-meaning people will offer all sorts of advice concerning forgiveness and how you should feel about your ex. Your job is to courteously ignore them while you go about healing yourself.
The good news is, if we “do the work” required to heal from the pain of the divorce transition, one day we’ll wake up and realize it’s been days or weeks since we had any strong feelings about our ex. This means forgiveness is complete… and going through the process of healing and transition was worth the wait.