The words “I forgive you” can take on very different meanings depending on the context and tone in which they are said and the actions that follow. It’s insincere to offer your forgiveness if the only reason you’re doing so is to put a friend or partner’s perceived wrong behind you. Forgiveness shouldn’t be about forgetting that someone hurt you, or relieving them of all responsibility for their actions. Rather, genuine forgiveness is an act of opening up to someone who has hurt you and saying that you’re willing to work with them to move forward from this.
As you can probably tell from that description, choosing to forgive someone requires a lot of reflection, and it isn’t always an easy decision to come to. So why is it important to learn to forgive, especially in an intimate relationship?
You close yourself off when you won’t forgive. You don’t necessarily have to forgive someone in the heat of the moment, when emotions are running high, but you also shouldn’t hold onto your anger for days, weeks, or months on end. When you refuse to forgive, you are refusing to empathize, and you’re making it difficult for the person seeking forgiveness to begin making amends.
You’re more likely to “keep score” in your relationship if you can’t forgive. People who struggle to forgive in their relationship are also more likely to keep a mental score of perceived wrongs and to bring these issues up the next time they get into a fight with their partner. This obviously isn’t healthy—as I’ve written before, arguments are healthiest and most productive when couples actually focus on the issue at hand, rather than returning to things that are in the past.
Forgiveness builds communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Because genuine forgiveness is so weighty and meaningful, it requires you to think hard about what you’re planning to forgive. This might lead you to attempt to better understand the issue by talking with your partner, taking some time to reflect on your own, and ultimately working with your partner to come up with a solution to repair your relationship.
Forgiveness is essential in a long-term relationship. Healthy relationships are built on trust and equality, and someone will not trust or be on equal footing with their partner unless both people have the capability to forgive. Genuine forgiveness shows that you care about how your partner feels, and how your actions affect him or her. It also shows that the relationship is important enough to you that you’re willing to work through a potentially painful conflict.
If you want to learn more about communicating with your partner or learning to forgive, consider attending a Portland relationship counseling session or workshop.