We've all heard some pretty ridiculous expressions in our lifetimes. One of my nominees for an award winner is, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It's a pretty safe bet that all of us have discovered that's just not true.
Another nominee is from an old Loggins and Messina song which advises, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." Just ask anyone who has endured the painful ramifications of such a decision, and I think you'll agree that advice is just dead wrong.
Here's another well-known expression that sounds good on the surface, but which has a deadly flaw. The expression is "forgive and forget." What, you may ask, is wrong with that? Simply that it is impossible. Stop for a moment and think of your kindergarten or first-grade teacher. I find that most people can quickly bring to mind the name and face of someone they had not thought of in years, decades in fact.
The point I'm making is that our minds, unless damaged in some way, retain every experience, every moment of our lives. To try therefore to forget a past hurt or wrong is just not possible. But while the forgetting part is not doable, the forgiving part is and I highly recommend you consider doing so — especially if the one needing your forgiveness is your spouse.
Oh, I can hear some of you now saying, "Yeah, but you don't realize what he/she did to me!" Actually I do know. Not the specifics, of course, but in 27 years of divorce mediation and 13 years of marriage coaching I have heard my share of horrific treatment experienced by one spouse at the hands of the other.
At the top of my list is the time I mediated a divorce resulting from the discovery that on the night before their wedding the groom slept with the bride's sister and got her pregnant. Of course, they didn't know she was pregnant so the wedding went on as scheduled and during the honeymoon the new bride became pregnant. What joy for sisters to be pregnant at the same time, until they realized it was by the same father. How'd you like to go to those family reunions?
Trust me, I could go on with horror stories of cruel and unusual punishment I have heard from couples, but I will spare you the gory details. I'm confident that you, or someone close to you, has a troublesome story to tell. And, while we cannot go back and undo the damage, fortunately we can minimize the results. And the best way I know to do that is to give as total and complete forgiveness as you are able. Not always easy I grant you, but just about always the best course to take.
Please realize that forgiveness does not mean that you think what the other did to you is just fine or even that you have to remain in relationship with that person. Some hurts are too deep to be able to overcome and risk reoccurrence.
Forgiveness simply means you are cancelling the debt owed to you and you wish no harm to come to the offender. You determine to leave the hurt in the past and never mention it again. You determine that when the thought of the hurt comes to your mind you will quickly and decisively refuse to act upon it. I remember hearing of a woman who had been deeply hurt by another woman, but she decided she would forgive her. When a friend heard she had decided to forgive she asked, "How can you forgive? Don't you remember what she did to you?" That that, the woman replied, "No, I specifically remember forgetting that." I just love that line: "I specifically remember forgetting that." And again, while this is certainly an oxymoron, it is quite possible to take control of any thoughts of vengeance or hostility in deference to your decision to forgive and move on.
And that, by the way is my strong suggestion, make that encouragement, for you to consider forgive and move on as the goal rather than forgive and forget. By "move on" I do not suggest you must leave the relationship with the offender — especially if you are married to him or her. By move on, I mean you go forward leaving the past in the past. I often see folks in my office trying to move forward with both hands holding deeply to the past. If you ever find a way to do that successfully please let me know because I've not yet figured out how it can be done.
I think it helps to think of forgiveness as a decision rather than an emotion. And it is a decision you do for yourself as much, or perhaps even more than, for the benefit of the other person. I appreciate how Ken Sande puts it in his wonderful book, "The Peacemaker." He writes "Unforgiveness is the poison we drink expecting the other person to die." By letting go of dwelling upon past hurts you free yourself to focus on present improvements to your relationship.
Holding onto grudges is akin to putting a pebble in your pocket. It's likely not going to pose a problem and will not impact you much at all, but what if the next day you placed another pebble in your pocket and continued to add just one more in each succeeding day? Over time you would find yourself greatly impacted and debilitated by the weight you would be carrying around.
Again, I truly understand how granting forgiveness to someone who has hurt you deeply can be difficult. If you feel you cannot do so by yourself please consider getting help from a spiritual adviser or mental health provider or relationship coach. I'm confident that any such efforts will be well worth the investment.Ron Price is the co-founder and executive director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners area. He can be reached at 505-327-7870.