The Problem with Forgiveness

Obviously it’s beneficial to work toward forgiveness—it heals relationships and it heals our minds.

But it’s not always a clear-cut thing.

When it comes to forgiveness, what I’ve seen from working with couples is this:

1) Forgiveness As Permission
Forgiveness can be seen as a license to continue damaging the relationship. It can be seen as permission.

The leaders in the betrayal trauma training said expecting a woman to forgive too early can lead to problems, which confirmed my decision to not ask women to forgive before they’re ready—not when the husband expects (or demands it), but when the wife is ready.

2) Forgiveness is Difficult When…
It’s difficult to forgive him when the damage is continuing, and this doesn’t just mean his involvement in porn or his interest in other women.

It also means the other damaging stuff, like his explosive anger, his continued deception… or even just his frequent irritation with real life. All these can lead you to believe the most important person to him is still himself.

But let’s say he begins to apologize. This leads to the following…

3) Surface Apologies = Surface Forgiveness
If he doesn’t really connect with how all this has hurt you, he can only give a surface apology. And if he can only give a surface apology, you can only give surface forgiveness.

You can’t go deeper with him if he refuses to ‘go there’ with you.

But not just that… he needs to ‘stay there’ with you until it gets better.

But let’s say he begins to apologize at a deep level, where he continues to sit in the reality of the pain he’s caused you. This leads to the following…

4) Your “Want To”s
If he sits in the damage he has done to you, and you still find yourself saying, ‘I don’t really want to forgive him,’ then the first step is to change your ‘want to.’

-Do you feel bad about not wanting to forgive him?
-Do you ‘want to want to’ forgive him?

If so then God sees your heart, and He will get you to the place you need to be in order to forgive him.

Because God is so good He can change your ‘want to’s.

5) Still Difficult
If it’s still difficult to forgive, then there may be a deeper level of pain that you feel he needs to understand.

If you’re not at a place of being able to forgive the ‘right’ way, I hope these tips help you see other ways of getting there.

And really, you want to be able to get to the place of forgiving him for your own sake… even if forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation.

Why? Because his actions don’t deserve your future joy!

Do you have a history with forgiveness? I forgave too soon, and it led to over a decade of breakdown, because he turned it into a license to continue the damage.

What’s your story?

(God’s best to you all on this extremely difficult journey.)

Comments 10

  1. I am trying to figure out what “forgiveness” would look like practically. I don’t want to be bitter, & I believe that moving away from bitterness/resentment/anger is walking in forgiveness. As soon as we were engaged I told my husband that I would never tolerate infidelity. I was very clear that infidelity included looking lustfully at a woman–God said so. My issue is do I want to be with a man, no matter how hard he is working at recovery & no matter how much he says he loves only me & thinks I’m beautiful, who treated me so badly by lusting throughout our 43 years of marriage. I feel like I was cast aside, ignored, “waiting at the end of the line,” and demeaned. And deceived. Is there a legitimate concern for my feelings of self-worth? In other words, do I take that treatment & forgive & forget even though he had clear warning that I would not tolerate it? Is it selfish for me to think his sin is so great that I do not have to forgive & FORGET? Does forgiveness have to mean that we live together as husband & wife, i.e. have physical intimacy? I can see God getting me to a place where I will be past anger & bitterness, but I cannot imagine getting to a place where I don’t think about what is going on in his head if he sees me naked, or if we are being intimate. I guess that may be a way of me saying I can’t see myself ever feeling safe that he is not remembering/comparing. His visual memory is so detailed & vivid. He has been saying lately that he wants so badly to hug me and reassure me, and yet that is still a boundary for me. EVERY time he has touched me over the past 1.5 years he has turned it into imagining someone else. He says it won’t happen now, but he also says he can’t help it when it does happen. So if I were to let him hug me, and then he imagined, for even a second, that I was someone else, it would be the final nail in the coffin. Is it unforgiveness if I never let him touch me again? I truly want to do what God would have me do, but I struggle with, in essence, how much do my feelings matter? Am I supposed to be “stepping out of the boat?” It would be so great if I could see handwriting on the wall & a Daniel could interpret it for me!!!

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      Author

      Hello Again, Esther,

      You wrote: “Is it selfish for me to think his sin is so great that I do not have to forgive & FORGET?” What I hear you saying has an emphasis on the forget part, and no, I don’t think it’s selfish. I think it’s wisdom. Especially with what you wrote about his past actions and what he’s admitted about them.

      Also, regarding your question, “Is it unforgiveness if I never let him touch me again?” I don’t think it’s unforgiveness. I think it’s feeling unsafe with that much intimacy with him.

      What comes to mind is a rape victim. She can forgive the rapist, yet still not want him touching her again.

  2. I’ve recently learned how forgiveness and trust are completely separate. I was one of those who used to think they were intertwined, only because I never had a reason to think about it any further, until now.
    I felt that I had regained some trust in my husband but I also knew I had not forgiven him, nor was I even close to forgiving him. I struggled to understand why.
    Then it hit me, my husband was definitely sorry for hurting me, however his depth of truly wanting to understand my pain was only at a superficial level. He wasn’t willing to hear me or explore further the impact his choices had and are still having on me. Therefore, his apologies, while genuine, are only skindeep. Below the skin, most if his sorrow is aimed at himself. He’s feeling sorry for himself that he still has to “put up with” my emotions, boundaries etc. after 2 years.
    And so, what I discovered, for myself, it’s almost impossible to forgive someone, when it’s clear they don’t truly/fully understand or know what it is they are being forgiven for, especially if that lack of knowledge/ understanding is due to a lack of willingness on their part.
    “I know I hurt you, I’m sorry, I won’t do it a again”.
    NO, that is not all it takes for me to move forward.
    Just this morning I told him an analogy I thought of. I said to him, “I feel that you think you cut me accidentally and youve kissed it better so now I should be ok. But you didn’t just cut me, it’s not just a superficial graze, you murdered me. And every time you become irritated by my reactions to what You did, it’s like you are sitting on my chest, stabbing me to finish the job. That’s what it feels like to me.”

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      Author

      Wow, Stef, that’s a powerful word-picture you gave your husband. If you’re willing to share, how did he respond?

      But whether you respond or not, I wish your husband had given more effort in really understanding what his actions have done–and pray he will turn that around in the near future.

      But that’ having to put up with your emotions’… ugh! That makes it more difficult.

      My heart goes out to you.

  3. I too “ forgave and forgave” too soon. But I’ve learned that if you don’t sit down and really look at the impact of the hurt it has caused you, then you’re not really forgiving. I’m not explaining this well. It’s like cheap grace. When the deep picture of Christ’s death and the depth of how horrible our sin is that caused Him to go to the cross is not really understood, then our grace is cheapened. Forgiveness has to be lined up to the actions that hurt and the impact they have made. I’m still struggling with this because denial is such a part of how I’ve survived that I’m still not completely able to name those things. But, I do know that I must so that I can.

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      Author

      Yes, In His Grip, I watched you forgive and forgive. And I think you explained it well, “Cheap Grace.” One of my favorite group leaders calls it that, too.

      I know you’re going through some real stuff right now, friend. If this were the 80’s and I made a mixed tape for you, “Coming Up for Air” by Margaret Becker would be on it… but not the first stanza, because I don’t think it applies to you : )

      Let’s keep in touch.

  4. the part about other deceptions is key. I find that seems to ” transfer ” to other things he knows aren’t good but continues to hide because he fears my disappointment/disapproval. This has made my continued forgiveness difficult. I told him – the hiding makes me think…. “what else are you hiding to avoid consequences ?” I desperately want to continue healing and forgiveness- I have come to forgiveness and he IS doing the work( no porn or leering at other women, etc. ) but rooting out any and ALL deceptions is taking him time to do, it had become a pattern, sadly of behavior. . I am trying to be patient and firm at the same time. I calmly explained my feelings and he immediately apologized and vowed to take care of it. SO I feel as long as he works on it I can, too.

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      Author

      Yup, sometimes I think the hiding is part of the addiction… and I’ve heard addicts admit as much. I am glad your husband is doing the work. That’s more than half the battle.

  5. OMG. I want to be able to forgive him and possibly get to the point of forgetting, however HE WON’T LET ME.
    I too have forgiven too early, believing in the “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
    So over and over he continues his deception, secrets, lies and masterful manipulation. Everything good I have given him, he has made evil. He wants me to “just get over it!” and refuses to see the reality of pain this has caused me and our family. My children don’t even know the REAL me. He has not taken away anything from all of the counseling he/we have had, except now he is grooming the counselor he is currently seeing. This torment has been going on since 2006 (that’s just when I first found out). I have known him since we were four years old. Or so I thought.
    He has his own definition of Sober. HE KEEPS ME IN A STATE OF NEVER FINDING THE BODY.

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      Author

      First, I have to say I LOVE your screen name–ha ha!

      And that “just get over it” is an injury of sorts all on it’s own. And when our definitions are so different than the guys, that can create problems on it’s own! So my heart really goes out to you!

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