Forgiveness and Divorce: 14 Considerations

divorce-forgiveness-0506135This is a big topic. It may be at the core of why many divorces do not proceed well. The ability to forgive can be quite complex, depending on the events and issues under consideration. However, forgiveness may be one of the most important and perhaps most powerful experiences you may have when going through what can be a very difficult and painful event.

Some things to consider when thinking about what it might mean to forgive your ex-spouse:

  1. Healthy boundaries: When we forgive, we are learning to have healthy boundaries so that we do not say or imply that what was done was OK. Holding a grudge is not the best way to make sure you are not hurt by someone again. Being clear about what you are and are not willing to do going forward is a stronger stance.
  2. Ongoing experience: Forgiveness is an ongoing experience. It doesn’t happen once and then be done. It happens over time, allowing us to acknowledge our feelings and put them in perspective. Feelings such as anger and resentment take time to heal. Forgiveness is part of the healing process and important to our own health and helping to decrease stress in our lives.
  3. Realistic view: When we can recognize other people for who they are and give up on the hope of changing them, this often has the impact of changing our response to them, our expectation of them, and our need to forgive them for being who they are. Having a realistic view of another person may help to minimize the things they need to be forgiven for if the expectation that they be someone other than who they are is not there.
  4. Afraid history will repeat itself: We are sometimes frightened that if we forgive someone we will have to go back to being in the relationship in the same way we were before. It is important to remember we need not choose to be a victim nor allow ourselves to participate in something that is intolerable or abusive in order to forgive the actions of another.
  5. Feeling powerless: We are sometimes fearful that we will feel powerless if we forgive a person who is asking for our forgiveness. We may feel powerful when we refuse to offer it to them. Forgiveness is not about power. It is about creating an internal sense of peace.
  6. Continual forgiveness: We need to stay aware of choices we make that may put us in the position where we feel a continual need to forgive. This relates to being clearer about your boundaries of what you are willing to tolerate or expose yourself to.
  7. Cycle of arguing and forgiving: During a divorce, disagreements and problems may arise that result in arguments and feelings of anger and resentment. We may feel an ongoing cycle of hurt, anger, argument, and forgiveness. It helps to be aware of the ways we engage that are about our expectations and disappointments that lead to anger and then a need for forgiveness.
  8. It isn’t fair: One of the reasons we find it difficult to forgive is because we feel it isn’t fair that the person who has hurt us will not be punished or forced to make amends. Forgiving is not the same as thinking others should not be accountable for their actions. It is about coming to terms with what happened, allowing ourselves to find a calmer place in our hearts in understanding what happened, and letting it become part of our history rather than continually intrude in our lives.
  9. Getting even: Getting even is a short-term experience. Moving on, forgiving, and living the life we want free of anger and stress is its own reward.
  10. Avoid an uncomfortable situation: We can guard against forgiving someone so that an uncomfortable situation can be averted rather than because we truly feel we are ready to let go of our judgment of them. When forgiveness is given for a reason other than feeling ready to forgive, resentment will often emerge instead.
  11. Not the same as forgetting: Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. We may have an experience which reminds us of what happened. This doesn’t mean we no longer forgive that person. It is often helpful to have these reminders as a way of remembering why we needed to forgive in the first place.
  12. Forgiving yourself: It is as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive another. We can act in ways we regret, sometimes realizing it right after we do something. We are as capable as anyone else of transgressions and to hopefully learn from them. Sometimes, our unwillingness to forgive ourselves results in placing our anger with ourselves on someone else.
  13. Private experience: Forgiveness can be a private experience with ourselves and does not need to be pronounced to the person you are forgiving. Many people have no information about the amount or nature of the ways in which they have been forgiven.
  14. For your own benefit: When we forgive, it is an act for ourselves, for our own benefit, not the person we are forgiving. It is about our relationship with the self, our attitude about others, and our beliefs about what should be rather than what is.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD, therapist in San Ramon, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ramon

    Ramon

    May 6th, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    got trouble forgiving in the past.my ex girlfriend was the most important episode for me to discover this part of me.things just didn’t seem to end.and although it was because of not forgiving I think I still have that problem.it sort of hurts to forgive.it feels like I’m saying its okay, what you did to me was okay.and hey it definitely isn’t and I don’t wanna forgive for the same reason.

  • Merri

    Merri

    May 6th, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    I am still constantly playing the blame game with myself, because I know that the things that I did were the major cause for my divorce. I was a bad wife, cheated on my husband, and let my whole family down. I regret my actions but I think that looking back I can see that I was only looking for someone to love me unconditionally which was something that I never felt from my husband. I did it the wrong way and now I pay for it, so I am not sure how to ever get past the things that I did and start trying to make them right again.

  • s miller

    s miller

    May 6th, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    forgiving is for u and not for the other person.if u r hurt there is that burden and weight over u.as I’ve come to discover forgiving is a great way to get rid of that burden.it just sets u free.feels much better and u can finally leave that behind and move ahead.hanging on will only result in reminding u of the hurt time and again.gotta set yourself free gotta forgive!

  • Blake

    Blake

    May 7th, 2013 at 3:28 AM

    There are simply some things in life that are plain hard for most of us to deal with and I would say that getting a divorce is atop that list.

    You feel guilt, the other spouse feels guilt, and then add to that the hurt and anger that also go along with the situation. It isn’t an easy one to process. I think that all of the points above represent something for any of us who have been through divorce, and I would agree that those of us who have been able to make some peace with it and process through it using those points as a guide are generally going to be in a much stronger place than someone who continues to hang on to their own guilt or spends the day thinking about how they have continuously been done wrong by another.

  • Jolene

    Jolene

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    This sayz it all my moma and daddy were so hateful to one another after there divorce it was so tuff on my sisters and me. We had to here them fight all the time even when they didn’t live together no more it always made us so sad.

    I just pray for all the kids going thru divorce today that there hearts can hele and they wont take the damages into there adult lives. Me and my sisters still struggle today with relationships and I know its cuz of the way my parents never forgave each other.

    Children are so precious and I hope parents can remember to take care of there kids heart’s when they are going thru divorce. Kids didn’t do nothing to deserve it.

  • Mora

    Mora

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    #1 is my absolute favorite. Holding a grudge is so satisfying, but only in the short term. In the long term, it can wreck every relationship you have, even the relationships that aren’t really connected to the one you’re holding a grudge against. It feels so good to know that when you are going through something painful there is someone else to blame and you make it your personal mission to make sure everyone knows how wrong you were. But, I can guarantee you, forgiving someone and letting that grudge go will serve you so much better in the future. Be sure to forgive your ex, even if it is only for your own happiness and well-being.

  • Perrie

    Perrie

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    If you are having to forgive someone. Like over and over again. Like more than one person. Let’s say you are having to forgive three different people. In one year.
    The problem may be with you. Rather than with the whole world.
    I know so many people. Who do that kind of thing. Like they’ll wonder why they keep getting hurt. Like why their luck is so awful.
    Sometimes. When you look inside yourself. You see that you are the problem all along.
    Once you get that. You can really start to know yourself better. Like you’ll be able to have real fun with people. And really love them. And let them love you.

  • Jack L

    Jack L

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    If you forgive and don’t forget, aren’t you going against what the Bible says? I may not know much, but I do know that following the advice in the Bible is the best way to heal yourself.

  • gwayne

    gwayne

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    I forgave my girlfriend after she broke up with me just so we could be friends.We were friends before our relationship began so it was a big deal for us to try and retain the friendship we had.That was the only factor I forgave her for everything that transpired.Looking back i think it was a good decision.We maintain a healthy friendship and I sure would not want to let go of it.

  • Bryan

    Bryan

    May 7th, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    This one really speaks to me:

    It isn’t fair: One of the reasons we find it difficult to forgive is because we feel it isn’t fair that the person who has hurt us will not be punished or forced to make amends. Forgiving is not the same as thinking others should not be accountable for their actions. It is about coming to terms with what happened, allowing ourselves to find a calmer place in our hearts in understanding what happened, and letting it become part of our history rather than continually intrude in our lives.

    Once I realized it wasn’t fair that my dad and step-mom got divorced, forgiveness came.

    My dad married my step-mom when I was 2, after my own mom died.

    So, she was like my mom to me.

    When they got divorced, I think that little 2 year old inside of me got hurt and left by his mom all over again.

    It made me mad because it was so unfair.

    Once I realized that it really didn’t have anything to do with me and that, yes, it was unfair, I started to let go of the resentment.

    Now, I have a great relationship with both my dad and step-mom.

  • Tom

    Tom

    May 7th, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    I found the saying “forgiveness is giving up on the hope that you can have a perfect past”.

  • Richa

    Richa

    May 7th, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    One should always apologize first if you have made any mistake!!

    These small conflicts always lead to a big problem..

    So, better you should never start the beginning of non-ending war!

    Thanks..

  • Brock D

    Brock D

    May 8th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    For many people of divorce they don’t learn their lesson the first time aorund. They become so entrenched in blaming the other person that they forget that more than likely they played a large part in the marriage ending too. Then they start to repeat those same patterns over again in the next relationships that they have, and I would suspect that this is why once you have been divorced and remarried the divorce rate continues to climb the more partners you have had. I just wish that more of us could be a little smarter and learn from our mistakes the first time so that our children don’t have to continue to pay for our own dumb decisions.

  • Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D.

    Shendl Tuchman, Psy.D.

    May 29th, 2013 at 4:13 AM

    Thank you all for your marvelous insights. It truly seems like many of you have thought long and hard about what it means to go through a difficult time and work at coming through it in a way that is less painful for you in an ongoing way. It is true, we cannot always avoid pain, but we do have the ability to work through it and forgiveness is a powerful method of allowing that to happen.

    Forgiveness is very strong medicine.

  • sylvia

    sylvia

    January 11th, 2014 at 3:47 AM

    Still married. and in a situation where i have to constantly forgive. Im in that situation where i am tollorating abuse. how can i forgive if he never stops or never ever really gets what he is doing to me. how can i leave when our child is only 9mo old. in my case each time i forgive it IS telling him its okay. bc he keeps doing it. and keeps making excuses and doing it. how can i not hold a grudge? how can i let the pain go? how can i teach him that he is also hurting our child when he does these things. i guess i may not be the only one whos husbands heart is corupt bc he is obsessed with porn.

  • Scott

    Scott

    June 20th, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    I’m a bit late on this post but figured I would write just the same. I’m a single father now for 9 years, my ex was having an affair and left one night – called me and told me she wasn’t coming home. My world was turned upside down that night and to make it worse I had to tell our 2 boys who were only 1 and 3 years old at the time that mommy wasn’t coming home.

    I went through every possible emotion in the first year and I will say that forgiveness doesn’t come easy. @Sylvia I honestly feel for you, 5 months from the time you posted your comment so I’m not sure where you are at emotionally.

    I would have to say that it is extremely difficult to forgive when the wounds are raw and fresh and if you have confronted him with his problem and he still doesn’t get it, then I would have to say that perhaps he doesn’t have the love of family as you do.

    Many people get married with different notions, but think there is some fluffy warm picture that is common for many of us, for me, family is a part of who I am and that isn’t something that can be taught – it is a yearning.

    I have spent 4 years forgiving my ex and then I met my fiancé 5 years ago and realized that she had the same love of family that is what connects those of us who have that deep nurturing aching need deep within us.

    9 months ago I lost my fiancé in a car accident, my life was destroyed, She had become my world, my Angel, my friend, my life/soul partner. I had given up on life and after months and months of grieving I found myself hating my ex again!

    I realized not too long ago that the reason why I was hating my ex was because I was actually hating myself, hating myself because I wasn’t there to save my fiancé from that tragedy so we could spend our lives together. I realized I had to forgive myself, I was blaming myself for her death.

    Forgiveness isn’t easy, believe me I have had some hard lessons on that – but for you Sylvia I would say you need to find a safe place for you and your child to reflect on your life and perhaps a bit of soul searching.

    Sometimes we want something so badly, we allow ourselves to be hurt over and over again hoping against hope that it will get better. I know I have and am finally letting go of those destructive emotions and loving my children – forgiving myself and searching my soul.

    I don’t know what life will bring me, but I know that I am tired of sorrow and misery. The right path is never easy, if it was everyone would be walking it. I truly hope the best for you Sylvia and for all of us who are hurting.

  • Baker

    Baker

    September 24th, 2017 at 3:27 AM

    Scott, hello I feel for you and what you have been going thru. Everything you say is spot on. I’m going thru a Divorce now after 16 years of marriage. It is killing me on the inside and I finally realize what she has been saying to me for so long. BUT its too late. Would love to chat and check upto on you since your post in 2014. Thanks.

  • Anil

    Anil

    March 24th, 2018 at 7:48 PM

    I forgave my hudband and ready to take divorce.

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