• Forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about you

    Profile of Girl with Hat

    One of my more insidious character faults is a knack for holding grudges. Revenge isn’t necessarily my taste; I’m far too insecure for such defiance. Strategic spite is more my flavor. Instead of removing your eye I prefer to irritate it; being diplomatically busy, acting a jerk at the most inopportune time, conveniently forgetting every Sunday school lesson learned. Nor do I allow these hard feelings to run empty; they stay topped off by random internal monologues, tongue-lashings that leave you lying prostrate at my feet begging for forgiveness. I get a sadistic satisfaction in imagining my enemies groveling for mercy.

    •♦•

    As a scorned husband and single father I know a thing or two about forgiveness, or at least what it’s like not to forgive; and the fact that society eagerly supports my bitterness for being cheated on doesn’t help. It seems that any attempt to absolve an adulterer results in equally white-hot contempt for the one doing the absolving.

    Turning the other cheek is great advice but infuriating to receive. I’ve always found it convenient that those who preach forgiveness loudest seem to be the ones whose most heinous slight was getting cut off in traffic. But regardless of that dichotomy, deep down we know that holding a grudge is petty, immature and forgiveness of another represents the very best in each of us. And when forgiveness is withheld that’s the ugly side showing up – and we inherently know it.

    Mercy, forgiveness, charity, whatever you choose to call it is fine with me so long as that person meets my overtly narcissistic forgiveness requirements which include a face full of tears, confession that they have wronged me, and a willingness to do whatever necessary to be back into my good graces. In such rare cases I am normally very benevelont. But what if the other person says nothing? What of the spouse who never admits they’re wrong? How do we forgive someone who fails, or simply refuses, to confess they have hurt us? And better still, in such cases is forgiveness even necessary? Are we still to forgive when no one apologizes?

    •♦•

    This was the one problem I had struggled with more than any other in the years after my divorce. How to bring myself to forgive the person who wrecked a marriage and sacrificed a family on the altar of her own vanity? How to forgive her when after all that time she never once admitted she did anything wrong? Many are tempted to ask the question, why bother? Why offer the olive branch at all? There is an answer; it isn’t easy to accept.

    I can never grow beyond my level of hatred.

    What I mean is that so long as I have feelings of animosity, anger, and revenge against her I can never grow beyond that level of person. My maturity will be stifled because any buds of personal growth will eventually be strangled by the weeds of resentment. Compassion is forged and my words will be tainted with hypocrisy. How can I genuinely be more sensitive and sympathetic or rightly teach my children to forgive others or hope the Queen will overlook my own failures if I’m unwilling to offer my ex wife the same? And what does all of that say about my future happiness if I’m hell bent on clinging to the past?

    There have been countless articles and books written on forgiveness offering up a play by play on the how, why, and benefits of doing so. But with all of them I was left with the same feeling– like a doormat trampled upon. This is due in part to the Hollywood idea that forgiveness is only accomplished if vengeance is satisfied, so letting someone ‘off the hook’ is a sign of weakness. In other words I always saw forgiveness as giving something that wasn’t deserved, like paying an employee for a job never performed.

    And there lied the nitty-gritty of my struggle – forgiving someone without them asking for it. I had convinced myself that until she acknowledged her mistake and asked for my forgiveness I had a righteous claim to my indignation. The most fatal of Solomon’s deadly sins – pride- simply wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise.  But I wasn’t all too eager to do away with this belief anyway; it provided me adequate justification for my resentment. As long as she refused to admit her fault, I had tenable grounds to revel in my disdain.

    There’s only one problem in that way of thinking – it’s unsustainable. In time or through circumstance we all must come to deal with that tension. For me, being a father eventually forced the issue. I realized I could never be the man my children could be proud of so long as I held this anger towards their mother. But how could I forgive her if she acted as if she did nothing wrong?

    •♦•

    This all came to a head for me in a recent conversation with a mentor. During one of our monthly conversations, he asked if I had completely forgiven my ex-wife. Apparently my canned answer wasn’t convincing. So I asked how do we forgive someone who hasn’t asked for it. His wisdom was as eye opening as it was brief, ‘forgiveness isn’t about her, it’s about you’.

    He went on to explain that forgiving another person, whether they are sorry or not, boils down to simple choice. The feelings that prevent us from forgiving are ours alone, the other person may have caused them but we keep them alive. That might make us feel better since we get to validate our bitterness while using someone else as a scapegoat, but in the end we are the ones who suffer the most, we are the ones who experience the feelings.  And that was his point, if we are choosing to hang onto these feelings we can just as easily choose to let them go. That’s why my friend said forgiveness is about us, we are the ones who reap the greatest benefit.

    If my friend is right, and I believe he is, this takes how most see forgiveness, especially those in a divorce, and turns it on its head. Imagine how much better co-parents we  become and how better off those children would be if every divorced parent simply chose to forgive the ex who wronged them – all while expecting nothing in return?

    This isn’t to say any of this is easy. I haven’t completely made it there yet, but if I can hold fast to this idea that forgiveness is ultimately about me and all I need is to give up control of those feelings then I believe I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.

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15 Responses to “Forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about you”

  1. Lori says:

    Thanks for saying you hadn’t made it there yet! Working on this myself, also working on what it means to “forgive” while still setting “boundaries”. Does saying “no” mean I don’t forgive? Am I saying “no” because I want to make things difficult or because it’s legitimately not in my needs. Does it mean I have not “forgiven” if I simply don’t want to talk to the OW? Is it holding onto bitterness to just ignore her because there’s nothing there to say?

    • Great question Lori. I think the answer to it lies within our hearts. When we say ‘no, where does are heart land in the equation? Are we saying ‘no’ because we are simply adhering to established boundaries or are we secretly wishing to ‘get back’ at that person in any way we can?

      When we stop to consider that for a moment…I believe the answer becomes very apparent.

  2. Jeremy says:

    why do you have to forgive? Is it better to forgive and ignore and not cooperate with the ex because you hate them or is it better not to not forgive and cooperate as a parent.

    Forgiving her or not does not change my day to day attitude or approach. I simply choose to ignore her and dont want to have any interaction. Harder to do when you have kids but forgiveness has nothing to do with it. My insides would not feel any better even if I forgave her. You feel better and move past someone when you can get them as much out of your mind and sight as possible.

    • Jeremy,

      I’m convinced, as I wrote, that your position is untenable. At some point will have to face the tension. I once felt as you did. It was that reason, primarily, as to why I treated my co parenting relationship with my ex as a business. I still do and I am reaping the benefits of that. And this says nothing of our long term ability to be an effective parent for our children in all areas of their lives – I don’t think we can do that with animosity for their mother.

      Additionally, forgiveness isn’t dependent on cooperation or vice-versa. I cooperated with my ex for years while secretly wanting to push her into oncoming traffic. That wasn’t healthy, holding contempt for another is never healthy, it’s like a cancer that slowly eats away at our insides killing only ourselves and no one else.

  3. Peter Papageorgiou says:

    Hello Chopperpapa,
    I do so much understand you… i’ve been through two divorces. In the first one I was the one “ditched” for another. in the second I did the “ditchin’ ” But…are things really so black and white? no… in my first divorce yes she did leave me for another but to be hnest i had already fallen in love with another too, even though I decided not to do anything about it…and in my second divorce, after I “confessed” to having fallen for another, she told me she had too, before me! So I am finding I have some forgiving to do too…again… The thing is it is not the “falling for someone else” that I’m bothered about…it is the “not taking care of our relationship” that bugs me. I am finding it hard to forgive her for not trying, for making my life miserable enough for me to end up falling for another…because I truly believe if we had looked after our relationship better, this would not have happened…

    • “I am finding it hard to forgive her for not trying, for making my life miserable enough for me to end up falling for another” –

      Peter, that is an interesting view point. I’d love to think on that more and possibly write on it if you’d be willing to send me an email message through my contact page expounding on the story.

      However, if you’d prefer not to I completely understand.

      • papapete67 says:

        sorry I had not seen the answer earlier Kyle. No problem I am into communicating… feel free to ask anything, I look forward to hearing from you!

  4. Marrie says:

    I do truly believe that forgiveness is a gift we grant to ones self. It is not for the other party to expect or even appreciate but for us to respect about our self. I do agree that Hollywood and even society as a whole looks at those who forgive as suckers and saps. Mostly portraying them as numskulls that blindly forgive and move on to repeat the same mistakes; choosing not to learn from the lessons of the past. When in reality genuine forgiveness takes knightly fortitude and princely wisdom. I applaud your willingness to heed your mentors words and release yourself from the weight of anger and resentment.
    Marrie recently posted..The Business of Love: Marriage and PrenupsMy Profile

    • Marrie,

      “knightly fortitude and princely wisdom” — that’s good! I’d love to say that I’ve eclipsed this mountain, but it would be a lie. I’m still working on it.

  5. Seeking and extending forgiveness and making apologies doesn’t indicate weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength. You become empowered by such acts. Now, I have to struggle to recall all that happened during our divorce. If I remained bitter and chose not to forgive my ex, I’d leap at any opportunity to say negative things about her. But believe me, it’s much better the way it is now. She’s moved on and I’ve moved on and each of us is much better as a result. And more importantly, our daughter is just fine – a well adjusted, happy pre-teen.
    Dwayne F. Tucker recently posted..No last blog posts to return.My Profile

    • Dwayne, thanks for writing in! It’s good to hear that you daughter has adjusted to well, due in part to a strong and sacrificial father!

  6. Jeri G. Mccarty says:

    Seeking and extending forgiveness and making apologies doesn’t indicate weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength. You become empowered by such acts. Now, I have to struggle to recall all that happened during our divorce. If I remained bitter and chose not to forgive my ex, I’d leap at any opportunity to say negative things about her. But believe me, it’s much better the way it is now. She’s moved on and I’ve moved on and each of us is much better as a result. And more importantly, our daughter is just fine – a well adjusted, happy pre-teen.
    Jeri G. Mccarty recently posted..No last blog posts to return.My Profile

  7. Charlie L. says:

    This blog has helped me immensely – I can go so far as to say its helped me identify repressed feelings that have damaged my outlook and actions for years…I’m a “stiff upper lip” kinda guy and have a hard time admitting I’m hurting. My anger was never so much at my ex wife but at the “system” that ruled my children had “no ties to the community” and allowed my ex to move 300 miles away… my hatred and contempt has been for establishment at large… the legal profession… but as mentioned above its not sustainable. Thanks for writing and sharing – it really helps those of us who are not as far down the road as you in dealing with this stuff.

    • Charlie, thanks for the kind words! I’m so glad to hear my experience is giving you some things to consider. Feel free to reach out anytime.

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