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How To Forgive Your Partner Even When He/She Is Not Sorry [Shifting Mindsets + Insightful Exercises]
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person's throat......Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established..."
~ William Paul Young
Acknowledgment is important.
It validates our feelings and lets us know that we have really been ‘seen.’ Unfortunately, we can reach an impasse with loved ones, friends, co workers etc when it comes to hashing out an argument because we are constantly battling perception. Perception is the thing we are all entitled to but can also be drastically different from person to person. We’ve all likely heard the adage “There’s 3 sides to every story,” which touches on this exact point.
When trying to engage someone in a meaningful dialogue those varying perceptions are always at play. When they don’t mesh, your conversation mate may feel that they have nothing to apologize for and without an apology it can be difficult to achieve closure.
With a few simple principles below, it can become easier:
1. Your perception requires no validation in order for it to be, well, valid.
The common pattern of ones expression and one’s apology sets up an expectation that we must have that exchange in order to move forward. Trust in your feelings and if you feel upset, you and your experiences are enough.
2. A difference in perception doesn’t mean that the person you are speaking to isn’t genuinely sorry for the hurt they have caused.
This is of course, different than being sorry for the action they have taken. That said, if the person is sincere it can become okay that you see things differently, over time because you are aware that there is genuine care and love, despite disagreeing on the point at hand.
3. You don’t have to be agreed with to be understood.
When we enter a conversation with the sole purpose of getting the apology, you create an uneven playing field that will likely lead to more harm than good. When you enter that same conversation with the desire to be understood, you have much more ground to work with. While you may still want that apology, feeling understood can take that reactivity down significantly.
Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT – www.lifeissuespsychotherapy.com
Forgiveness is a two-part process, and the first part is always about you.
When you decide to forgive someone, you are essentially liberating yourself from the anger and resentment caused by whoever has hurt you. It’s a decision to learn from the betrayal, see your part in it (if there was any) and move on after you’ve processed your feelings sufficiently.
The second part of forgiveness involves the other person in terms of whether or not you choose to continue your relationship with them.
If the person who violated your trust is willing to accept their part in what happened and work to regain your trust, you can rebuild your relationship together.
If that person is unwilling to take responsibility for their violation, then it’s wise to end the relationship and move on.
The important point here is that forgiveness doesn’t require that the person who hurt you is sorry; forgiveness is a way to let go and start fresh – either with that person or alone. And something to keep in mind in all this is that actions are much more important than words; really being sorry means following up an apology with a clear and consistent demonstration of respectful behavior toward you.
Dr. Amy Wood – www.amywoodpsyd.com
This is a new concept but when you forgive someone it’s about letting go of the resentment so you can move on, not so the other person feels absolved from their behavior.
When you don’t forgive, then resentment builds. Resentment is a barrier to having a healthy relationship with yourself and others. It prevents you from opening up your heart again.
It prevents you from moving forward with your life or in your relationship.
When you truly grasp the concept that forgiving someone is all about you and has nothing to do with them and their behavior, then you will forgive and forget. You will honor your highest intention by taking care of yourself in the situation. You will commit to living in forgiveness every single day of your life.
If the other person isn’t sorry for their actions, that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
And just as their actions have nothing to do with you; your actions have nothing to do with them. You can do your forgiveness in private. You can forgive them every day until you don’t feel any bit of resentment or hurt, without ever telling them you forgive them, especially if they are not in your life.
If they are in your life, you can explain to them that you are not dismissing their behavior as acceptable; you are simply taking care of yourself by letting of go hurt and resentment. Forgiveness is for you, not the other person.
Amanda Patterson, LMHC – www.browardcounseling.com
Forgiveness- it is a cliché to say forgiveness is not for them but for you, and yet the cliché is true.
When we are unable to let go of a past hurt, we hold on to anger, bitterness, and all the lovely emotions that their actions brought forth within us. If the person is remorseful then it is simple, our lack of forgiveness serves as a punishment and their own guilt heaps it on. But if they aren’t sorry, if there is no remorse- then we suffer double when we do not forgive.
I am always telling people that they give away the ability to be hurt.
By this I mean, if someone does something to hurt you, and they succeed- their intent may have been to only cause you a moment’s harm. Then they move on knowing that they attained their objective- but if you hold on to your anger or negative emotion surrounding their actions for days, weeks etc then every moment past the initial- is a freebie you give them.
It hurts you to hold on to these things. The assumption is that if someone is not sorry for what they have done then it was done with intention and often the objective of causing you hurt in some manner. If you hold on to that hurt for longer than necessary- then you have allowed them to claim more than their right.
So forgiveness in these cases is more about you freeing yourself from the actions of others.
It is about you saying- yes you hurt me but I won’t let myself become a hostage to the pain you inflicted. It’s reclaiming your power; it is saying you have no power over me and my emotions. Do not allow the actions of others to permanently impact you when that very action has only occupied a moment of their time.
Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes from getting back up and showing them that they have lost the power to hurt you. That they may have knocked you down, but not out- that you will rise, you will heal and they will no longer matter in your life.
Denise M Coyle, LMFT , CTS, CDAC – www.truehearthealing.com
You must be able to surrender to what is…let go of the need for them to accept responsibility. It may never come.
Let go of the expectation that you SHOULD get a certain outcome, and surrender to the one you have now. Grieve it. Otherwise you may become stuck, grow angry and resentful or depressed and hold yourself prisoner to an expectation that is not shared by the person you are upset with. And that may negatively affect your life in other ways and in other relationships.
You may decide you may need to shift or let go of the relationship with whom you feel betrayed or hurt by.
And that’s okay. But trying to make someone see the errors of his way could only cause someone to dig his heels in more. Simply stating your feelings in a controlled manner about the facts as you see them opens the door for someone to step in and consider seeing things from your perspective.
Then getting curious about how they might see the situation might foster new insight and allows someone else the freedom to feel understood. In other words, seek to understand and you may be understood.
Allow this moment to release you, and leave the space for the other person to do as he may. It may give you the information you may need to know, not the apology you want to receive. What you discover just may be more valuable.
Jennifer Musselman, M.A., MFTi – www.jennifermusselman.com
There are many fragile issues here.
How egregious was his/her “sin?”
If you wear your belt buckle above your chin and are too easily shattered by a casual remark or an unintended slight, you may be overreacting to something your partner has done. If that is a consistent pattern, your partner may have taken on a diffident attitude toward your sensitivity and just not want to continue regretting things that do not seem that important.
However, if your value systems are that different and your partner really sees hurtful things as superficial, and will not change those behaviors, you may be with the wrong person if you can’t stop being hurt.
How “un-sorry” is your partner?
Many people will say they are sorry when they’re really not. They do it to assuage your distress and keep the relationship intact but are not going to let your feelings influence whether they do that behavior again. Those apologies are useless and, over time, often offensive. It is better to be with someone who authentically tells you that he or she isn’t really sorry at all. At least you know where you stand.
The caveat would be if that person is never sorry. That would indicate that your partner does not see anything wrong with any of his or her behavior and makes you the bad guy in any disagreement. If you’ve chosen someone like that, you had better be well compensated in other areas or you are in danger of becoming a martyr.
Does the behavior continue even after no apologies are offered?
Some people just can’t admit they’ve done anything wrong. They pretend to be not accountable when you confront them but they do hear you inside. Their pride makes them unable to let you know they agree with your assessment. If their behavior does change in the direction you want after you’ve complained, it may be your best alternative to just let things go if your partner is very satisfying in other areas. Yes, it would be better for him or her to look at reasons for choosing hurtful behaviors but you can’t make someone change when those requests may be too difficult.
Automatic forgiveness can be neurotic.
If you are the kind of partner who always “swims the shark-infested waters) in order to pay homage to a partner who won’t accommodate your wishes, you are in danger of being a party to your own abuse.
If you threaten consequences and then don’t follow through, you are essentially condoning what is happening and losing your credibility. “Forgive and Forget,” is better exchanged for “Remember and Let Go.” That way you can keep a running tally of what your partner’s behavior is asking of you, and whether/when you are ready to disconnect if there is not enough to compensate.
It’s unhealthy for the emotional and physical psyche to live in hurt and resentment without the power to effect change. It’s the ultimate trap: can’t live with it, can’t change it, and can’t leave it. That is a formula for the breaking down of a person’s will to live.
It’s never a good idea to forgive someone who has no commitment to stop hurting you, even when you’ve made it plain that you are in distress. That is tantamount to participating in your own demise.
Dr. Randi Gunther – www.randigunther.com
Relationship wounds are common. Most of us know what it is like to struggle to forgive someone, whether that person is a partner, friend, child, friend, or colleague.
When the person who is not sorry (I will call him ‘the Offender’) refuses to apologize, we are left with a lot of difficult feelings and decisions.
Among the feelings we may have are what I call ‘The 3 V’s’. They are tough emotions to manage.
1. We may feel violated
2. We may feel victimized
3. We may feel deValued
We may also feel betrayed, bitter, and preoccupied by the perceived injustice.
If we are experiencing these types of emotions, we are likely suffering.
What to do?
1. Validate your feelings. Acknowledge how you feel, to yourself.
2. Have compassion for yourself. You are in pain.
3. Actively decide if you want to remain in the relationship. This may result in severing ties with the Offender, or reuniting with the Offender, perhaps with parameters in place.
4. Consider the pro’s and con’s of breaking off the relationship, and the pro’s and con’s of preserving the relationship. Only YOU can determine what is best for you, because only YOU know what it feels like to be in the relationship.
In an ideal world, the Offender takes his share of responsibility, offers a genuine, non-defensive apology, and focuses on earning back trust and forgiveness.
But we don’t live in an ideal world.
We have zero control over someone else’s actions. What we do have control over is our own actions.
Empower yourself by deciding what suits you best. Would it be healthier to release negative feelings and forge ahead in the relationship? Or, would staying in the relationship mean pretending everything is ok when it is not?
Betrayal and mistrust will never work as the foundation of a relationship.
“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself” is a well known cliché, based on the idea that by forgiving someone we release the associated anger and negativity. This frees US up and creates more space for vitality and joy.
Forgiveness is then something you offer to YOURSELF, not to the Offender. If the Offender refuses to forgive, the Offender is left holding the hot coal of anger.
Robert Brault said, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” Consider the option of forgiving the Offender simply for the sake of finding more ease in your own life. Forgiving need not mean forgetting or reconciling.
The good news is that you have choices, even if he is not sorry. Empower yourself!
Dr. Elayne Daniels – www.drelaynedaniels.com
I’ve heard that forgiveness is a choice. I agree, but only partly.
I believe that forgiveness is a process, and one must choose to engage in that process. However, I don’t believe that forgiveness is an event that happens once, but rather it is a series of adjustments that lead your relationship out of a place of resentment and into a place of appreciation.
And yes, you can forgive someone who isn’t sorry, because forgiveness is the process of restoring your emotional ‘bank account’ in a relationship. That resentment and lack of trust you feel when someone has wronged you will dissipate as the other person is able to provide attunement and nurturing of your needs.
Over time, as they prove themselves capable of understanding you and responding to you in a caring way, your anger and resentment of them will be replaced with a feeling of security and appreciation.
I don’t believe ‘being sorry’ is actually what allows us to forgive–but when we provide another person opportunities to show us they can be responsive to our needs, this restores the trust and is the manifestation of ‘forgiveness’.
So the ‘choice’ is not to forgive someone so much as it is to allow them to show you they can make adjustments on your behalf.
Being ‘sorry’ has nothing to do with this process…but it is nice to hear someone apologize when they have hurt you.
Brett McDonald, M.S., LMHC – www.thedragonflyretreat.com
This is a tough one. There is something so satisfying about getting an apology.
It is clear validation of our side of the issue. It’s second only to never having had the issue arise at all. Saying you’re sorry is often the first step towards reconciliation. Without it, things often grind to a hostile halt. This is certainly not desirable with someone you value in your life. So I highly recommend an apology.
Apologizing doesn’t make you a bad person or a loser. It means you have the capacity for self-reflection, the understanding that nobody is perfect, and the ability to self-forgive.
When you don’t get that apology it could mean that your partner doesn’t believe he or she is at fault, or that he or she is so insecure that being right trumps everything.
This is difficult. If someone apologizes just to get past an uncomfortable interaction, the apology is probably an avoidance technique rather than an authentic understanding of one’s part in the disagreement. Because an honest evaluation of the situation has been avoided, no growth occurs so the issue is likely to arise again. Additionally any hard feelings between the partners have been swept under the carpet, leaving the possibility of misunderstanding and resentment.
Now let’s look at your need for an apology.
Perhaps you too have a need to be right and can only feel validated when your partner admits fault. In my experience it is rare (although not unheard of) for fault to lie with one partner only. In general, there is often faulty or incomplete communications that result in misunderstandings. Perhaps you weren’t as clear as you could have been about your expectations.
When you are in an emotionally reactive state (feeling wronged) it is difficult to think clearly.
Things can look pretty black and white and therefore difficult to see both sides of a problem. You and your partner may both be in a reactive state so neither of you may be capable at that moment of backing down. Sometimes, it just takes some time before the issue can be usefully addressed. The ability to recognize both sides, and be respectful of a different point of view requires a fairly high degree of emotional maturity.
You’ve probably heard it said, “You can be right or you can be happy.” I don’t think this means that you should never take a stand or voice an opinion. I think it’s a call to consider the effects of a rigid position and focus on solutions rather than apologies.
There are some issues in which an apology is essential.
If your partner cheated on you or wiped out the bank account, an apology is necessary and is only the very beginning of a longer-term process. If you can’t get that apology, I think the relationship is probably doomed. But if you and your partner are stuck in the “I’m right and you’re wrong” dialogue, I think it’s time to move into a more mature and solution-focused dialogue.
Sally Leboy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else.
It is something you do for yourself so you can move on and let go of the resentment, pain, hurt and possible revenge you may be feeling. Forgiving doesn’t mean you are forgetting what happened.
It just means you are releasing the grip it has over your life and focusing on more positive facets of life for your well-being. Forgiving does not mean you are denying the other person’s responsibility in hurting you, nor does it minimize it. We don’t forgive for the other person. We forgive because of the value it brings to us.
To forgive means you take back control of your life and dissolve the hateful thoughts that may follow you wherever you go.
Here are some tips to help you understand how it works:
1. You forgive regardless of whether the other person “deserves” to be forgiven. It is about gaining your personal power.
2. You experience a kind of emotional and spiritual peace and healing when you forgive. The offense loses its power over you and stops being the object of all your thoughts.
3. When you forgive, you give up playing the powerless role of victim.
4. The sense of release enables you to rise above the painful event and move it into your personal history, not part of your future life.
5. Forgiveness is a decision you make. That decision frees you to heal and gives you permission to dissolve the negative emotions associated with that other person.
To help in the process, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I worth more than the resentment i am harboring? How do you know?
2. Can I take 100% responsibility for choosing to feel the way I do? Why?
3. Is joy and happiness a possibility for me?
4. How much effort am i willing to put into freeing myself of this burden?
5. Am i ready now?
Unless you forgive others (and even yourself), the feelings of resentment, hurt and humiliation will continue to be an active part in your life. The choice is yours to make and once you do, this personal power and growth will impact your life in a positive and joyful way!
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
Our society teaches us that a person must apologize for us to forgive.
That is not the truth, forgiveness is not about the stereotypical forgive and forget, rather it is about releasing our own anger about a situation so that it no longer has a hold over us.
Usually when we feel someone owes us an apology it is our way of trying to feel better. Why even ask for, or hint at, an apology? If someone feels they need to give it, they will. But apologies are usually superficial, meaning that the offending behavior does not change. If a person is really sorry it is best to express it in action rather than words.
Forgiveness is just getting rid of the anger we hold toward a person or situation.
That is it! It doesn’t have anything to do with apologies or deciding to stay or leave a relationship. To release the anger, feel the feeling and express it healthily through exercise, journaling, venting with a safe person, etc. When you can think of the person or situation without being angry, then you have released all the anger and are free from the hold it had over you.
Separate from forgiveness is deciding if the offending behavior is a deal breaker for the relationship.
We cannot ask others to change. Everyone deserves to be loved just as they are. But we can decide what behaviors we will accept and what we won’t. When we are free from the anger it will give us the clear vision to see what choice is for our highest and best good.
Cynthia Pickett, LCSW, LADC – www.cynthiapickett.com
One misconception about forgiveness that makes it harder to forgive an unrepentant offender is that forgiveness implies that the action was OK.
We often believe that forgiveness is an act of kindness towards another when someone who has wronged us admits their guilt, repents, and seeks their own relief by getting us (as the wronged party) to “let them off the hook.” Synonyms such as “pardon” and “excuse” seem to reinforce this idea that by forgiving, we condone the action. So when the guilty party is oblivious, unapologetic, or unashamed, it seems unthinkable that we could offer such reprieve.
But forgiving is an act of letting go, not of our self-worth, our morals, or our right to be respected, but of the resentment and pain that limits our own well-being.
Holding on to resentment is exhausting as well as painful! In the act of forgiving others, we ultimately free ourselves. So the “why” should care about how to forgive might make sense, but “how” do we get past that old idea that forgiveness equals letting that
Here are some tools to work with:
1. Recognize that people who harm others act from a place of woundedness, disconnection, and a poorly adapted self-care schema.
Remind yourself that someone who could commit such a wrong without expressing any regret must be in a state of deep internal pain. No need to add your own suffering to that of the offender.
2. Cultivate curiosity.
If you can allow yourself to wonder what might be going on in the offender’s internal landscape, what their story might be, how they came to be so completely disconnected, you can create space between yourself and the resentment, anger, or even hatred that is suffocating you.
3. Remember that forgiving someone does not mean your relationship goes back to how it was before the offense.
You can forgive someone, and at the same time choose not to have them in your life any longer. Forgiveness does not mean the action/transgression/wrongdoing was OK, or that you should allow yourself to be treated poorly!
4. Let go of the need to be validated in your rightness.
When you can trust yourself and your inner voice, it becomes less important that others recognize and tell you how right you are. Ask yourself if your rightness is actually changed by another person’s acknowledgement of it.
5. Practice self-compassion.
Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. When we cannot forgive our own mistakes and misguided attempts at taking care of ourselves, we are much less likely to forgive others. Messing up is part of being human, and accepting & allowing ourselves to be (imperfect) humans allows us to accept that others are human as well.
Wendy Dingee, MS, LCPC, LCADC, BCC – www.livewellnevada.com
You have the experience of someone doing something that hurts you.
Perhaps that individual said or did something that you feel is a betrayal of your relationship. You feel you deserve an apology. The problem is that the other person does not offer one or does not feel that he or she needs to.
First and foremost, you need to let that person know how you feel and why you need an apology.
If you’ve done that honestly and clearly, the ball is in his or her court. You cannot make the other person apologize!
So if the apology is not forthcoming, you have to decide what is best for you.
If it is not an important relationship, perhaps you write it off. If it is an important relationship, perhaps you take the high ground and accept that an apology will not happen. Either way, you get to choose. By choosing, you regain some of the personal power that may have been taken away by the hurt.
I imagine you might be thinking, “Linda, it’s not that easy. I deserve an apology!” That could very well be true, but if you have asked and are not getting one, now it’s time to let it go and focus on what is best for you.
Try writing a letter from the other individual saying all of the things you’d hoped he or she would say.
Make it as elaborate as you can. Read it a few times and then throw it away. In you mind, you got what you needed and you can have some peace.
Linda McKenney, Personal Life Coach and Motivational Speaker – www.majokpersonalcoach.com
Learning to forgive others is not easy, but it is necessary if you want to live a life free of the power and influence of others bad choices and behaviors.
My viewpoint has always been what I was taught through my Christian faith, that you forgive others because God first forgave you! But more than that, my experience has been that forgiving others releases you from the power and control of holding onto unforgivenesss.
I recently read a story on forgiveness from the Family Life website and they defined forgiveness as follows: Forgiveness means letting go of your right to punish another and choosing through the power of God’s love to hold onto the other person rather than his or her offense.
In other words, it is learning to accept and love the person who offended or hurt us despite their flaws, offenses, and faults. We cannot control how a person reacts or chooses not to acknowledge their faults in offending or hurting us.
Forgiveness does not require you to forget.
As humans our brains are powerful computers that record and hold memories, both positive and negative. Be mindful that by not letting of the hurt and offenses means you will continue to think about it and thinking about those offenses will bring those old negative thoughts and feelings back to the surface of your mind, which means you never really forgave or let it go.
The first barrier you have to remove is within yourself.
You have to decide to let go of the offense along with your desire to punish the offender and to be worried about whether or not he/she is remorseful. Often the decision to let go has to be renewed daily, hourly, or even more often.
The bigger the offense, the more challenging it can be to let go; but the less you ruminate (dwell) on the offense and feed your anger, the easier it becomes [Marriage Matters ©2010 Winston T. Smith.]
It is neither helpful nor healthy to continuously beat up on yourself when it seems you relapse into moments of unforgiveness. Check your thoughts and feelings, put them “in a box” (a mental exercise), seal it and let it go!
Dr. Angela Clack – www.clackassociates.com
When a partner hurts us, with or without intention, we don’t always receive the resolution we want, or that we think we need. That can leave us feeling frustrated and stuck in anger and resentment.
There are different types of forgiveness.
The first type of forgiveness is the most ideal.
This occurs when someone hurt you, recognizes that they hurt you, offers a sincere apology, and creates a plan to make repairs and, when necessary, restitution. Gradually, together you are able to restore the relationship connection with safety and trust.
The second type of forgiveness is much the same as the first.
You receive the apology and acknowledgement, even willingness to repair. But the betrayal or pain inflicted was so great that while you can reach forgiveness, you are not willing repair the relationship.
The third type of forgiveness is the most difficult.
In this situation, you never receive an apology, let alone the repair that you need. Often the partner denies any acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Under the worst circumstances, they turn the blame on you.
In this case, forgiveness is most important of all. Without it, you become stuck in a vacuum of unhappiness and frustration that can be toxic and eventually pollute every area of your life. This is where you show your true colors.
So when your partner is not sorry, you have a couple of decisions to make:
Do you want to keep the relationship?
The danger here is that you will covertly continue to wish for, long for, hope for not just an apology, but a repair that will never transpire. It involves a radical forgiveness that will feel more like tolerance. It involves a lot of self-insight as to your own motivation. It calls for a serious self-conversation about self-respect: What does it say about me to be with a partner who has hurt me and doesn’t acknowledge that?
Do you want to leave the relationship?
You’ve decided that you have too much self-respect to allow the relationship to continue without that concrete apology and repair. This involves an ability to conceptualize your partner from a deeper, even spiritual level. Forgiveness occurs in the effort to view your partner as a flawed human being, with a limited ability for self-insight. For whatever reason, he is who he is. And forgiveness is your ability to see that for what it is, and not take it with you.
Forgiveness is about you. Any type of forgiveness is about your personal healing and well-being. Give yourself permission to let go with integrity and move on into your own truth.
Bobbi Jankovich, LMFT – www.bobbijankovich.com
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