The mention of forgiveness during or right after divorce can feel like cursing with anger. It can make our blood boil and our jaws tighten with fury when someone mentions it to us as the right and noble course of action. Just the thought of forgiving our ex for all the pain, atrocities, loss, betrayal, and hurt screams against our logical and justice thirsty minds. How could we after all he or she has done to us?
Is it really possible to come out of a hard and painful divorce and forgive the other person at the end? What about if it was all their doing, if the divorce was forced upon us against our choice? Or what if our own choice have unleashed the enmity of our ex to such extremes that we felt we experienced the wrath of a beast, rather than the person we though we knew?
Rather than a one time action or decision, forgiveness is a long and curvy road we can choose to walk with constant willingness and repeated resolute. It might take some time until our jaws loosen and our anger cools off and that’s all right to wait it out, but unfortunately forgiveness doesn’t just happen if we wait long enough. It requires inner work and awareness, but when we are willing to be willing we have the power to choose to start walking down the road of forgiveness toward peace.
What forgiveness means.
It is crucial to understand and fully accept that forgiveness is for us and about us and not the other person. It is a gift we can give to ourselves. It is an act of self service. It helps us much more than it helps the other person. It might not make any difference in the life of the other but will make our lives better, happier, and able to move forward. It is never weakness but always requires strength and courage.
Forgiveness does not mean excusing the injustice, minimizing the pain, or forgetting and denying the effects of the wrongdoing. It does not erase the past, make the hurt go away, or save us from going through the grief cycle. It doesn’t mean we can’t seek justice or fight for our rights. It simply means we are setting ourselves free from the grip of our past, from the chains of our ex so we don’t live our lives and make decisions from bitterness, anger, and resentment.
The two options.
There are only two options possible when someone harms us. We either forgive or retaliate. The actions of these might look similar from an outside perspective (seeking justice or setting up new boundaries might look like seeking revenge) but our intentions and desires show us clearly which path we are on. There is no third option. There is no such thing as partial forgiveness and a little bit of revenge. It is either or. Even holding onto our anger and resentment for an extended time means we have not forgiven. Hating on our ex, continually trashing him to others, trying to manipulate the kids against her, seeking to harm the other, are all ways of retaliation. The relief we expect from these are temporary and do not make our own pain go away. They might give a moment of satisfaction but eventually they will destroy all our peace, contentment, and joy in life. Unforgiveness toward our ex keeps us chained to him or her way after our marriage has ended. No court or decree can remove them, neither can the other person. We hold the singular key to the shackles and it is called forgiveness.
How to forgive.
Desmond Tutu, South African social rights activist and Anglican Archbishop, in his beautiful and practical book, The Book of Forgiving, offers a feasible roadmap for forgiveness, which transcends all religions and faiths, and only require us to be humans who can look at each other as equals, all in need of giving and receiving forgiveness. He calls it the Four-Fold Path of Forgiveness, the four steps being: Telling our story, Naming the hurt, Granting forgiveness, and Renewing or releasing the relationship.
Telling our story means sharing it with a trusted and safe person. Untold stories fester under the surface and grow until they consume our whole life. Nobody can heal in isolation.
When we name our pain we put words around the hurt we suffered, the loss we experienced, the grief we feel. For those of us not fully connected to our feelings and emotions, this might be a difficult and even awkward step, but it is necessary for our own healing.
Granting forgiveness is more of an attitude change than an actual event or plain words. When we give up all need for retribution and not wish any harm on the other person we are ready to move on with our own lives and either renew or release the relationship.
As much as we wish we could completely release the relationship with our ex, if young children are involved and no parent drops out completely from their lives, that is impossible. For co-parenting or parallel-parenting we need to have a civil and workable relationship which is best built on mutual forgiveness. Of course we cannot do the work for our ex or make them forgive us, but if we do our own part it will surely affect the whole family in a positive way, bringing more peace to everyone.
Forgiving our ex-wife or ex-husband might be one of the hardest thing we will have to do in life. It might even seem impossible at times. Mostly when he or she is keep supplying us with new atrocities, hurts, and painful blows. Just when we have worked our way through the last one, finally feeling like we don’t want to murder them in their sleep, there comes the next blow, knocking us off our feet again, making our fists and hearts clench.
Forgiving over and over if it’s necessary, circling back to the four steps, keep telling our story to a friend or professional, keep naming our pain and hurt, granting forgiveness again, releasing our resentment and anger with our hopes for a different past and expectations for our ex to change. Instead being the one who changes, who is able to forgive again and again, able to set new boundaries in a redefined relationship and able to live a whole and peaceful life.
It is not easy. But forgiveness is always possible. Transformation is always possible. If we can embrace all the loss and pain of divorce as our opportunity to change and grow and become more, then we will be willing to set foot on the hard and rocky road of forgiveness and travel it until we know for sure that our hearts are lighter and steadier than ever before.
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