5 Forgiveness Facts for Divorce Recovery

Woman with arms outstretchedWhen it comes to your divorce, the very idea of forgiveness might feel impossible or even incomprehensible. You might ask yourself, “Why would I ever forgive someone who hurt me and ruined my life?” The answer is that just as anger and resentment feel empowering and often illusively relieve the pain of rejection, forgiveness can mistakenly feel like your pardoning your ex’s actions, or letting him or her off the hook. The truth is your anger and resentment create suffering, and your inability to forgive can keep you stuck.

Your ideas of forgiveness probably come from beliefs instilled in you early in life, and through messages you picked up from society and the media. Most likely, your definitions are distorted, making it impossible for you to even consider the “F” word. Your ability to forgive is an essential life skill that eases stress, increases happiness, and allows you to let go of the feelings that hold you back from living a fulfilling life. Understanding forgiveness and redefining how you perceive the act of forgiving is an essential part of moving on from divorce.

Here are five forgiveness facts to help you begin to let go and move on:

  1. Forgiveness is not forgetting: You have heard it many times: “Forgive and forget.” Forgiving is not forgetting, nor do you have to forget to forgive. Forgetting this part of your life would be throwing away valuable information you need to move forward. Your memories of both good and bad things will help you make informed decisions in the present and future.
  2. Forgiveness is freedom: Forgiveness frees you from the shackles of anger and retribution, which take up valuable space in your mind, body, and heart. Hanging on to the negative feelings you are experiencing with divorce is draining, and blocks you from healing and letting go.
  3. Forgiveness is natural: It is part of your human nature to repair broken bonds and relationships. Without forgiveness, we would have a hard time evolving as human beings because resentment and hatred toward others leads to isolation and disconnection. Let your natural inclination for forgiveness shine through, and your humanity will transcend your ill will.
  4. Forgiveness is about you: You were probably taught that forgiveness is about the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness is actually for you because it allows you to let go of anger, resentment, and vindictiveness. Forgiveness is a way to gain equanimity, and to take back the power of your life. You don’t even have to tell your ex that you forgive him or her for what was done. This can be your secret, your own personal process of healing.
  5. Forgiveness is acceptance: There is a period within the window of your divorce recovery that you will need to feel and acknowledge the depth of the pain you are experiencing. The goal is to feel the disappointment without having to make your ex the enemy. Accept what happened, and acknowledge the pain. Grieving will lay the foundation for forgiveness.

We all have ways we expect life to be, and when things don’t go as planned, it’s our nature to wish for things to be better, different, or more. However, it is a universal truth that people, situations, and circumstances don’t always work out how we want them to. Instead of objecting to the way life is, try practicing forgiveness and strengthen your capacity for acceptance of what has been put in front of you to overcome.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in Pasadena, 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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  • heather


    February 19th, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    So I very much like the idea of finding a way to let go of my anger, but how do I do that? Who exactly am I offering forgiveness to- me or him? Otr do I have to do both because I just don’t think that I have done anything wrong where I should feel like I have to forgive myself. Whereas I have so much anger at him that it is hard to be mad one minute and then feel like the next I have to be all smiles and sunshine.

  • Dr. Brosh

    Dr. Brosh

    February 19th, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    Heather – Forgiveness is 100% for you. As I wrote in the blog, forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and resentment to reduce your suffering, but it doesn’t dismiss or condone anything that has been done to you.This is a choice, not an obligation and forgiveness does not equate with “smiles and sunshine”. It’s not about being fake and pretending. Most importantly, allow yourself to feel the anger and to move through this part of your experience before trying to forgive. You will know when you are ready.

  • Mary Beth

    Mary Beth

    February 19th, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    It’s been 23 yrs. since my husbands affair. He chose to stay with me but it is so hard to forget. I am really trying. I have an app with a therapist next week.

  • D Slater

    D Slater

    February 19th, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    I’ve seen so many people not forgive and then face the consequences. They even resist forgiving because they think it is letting to of the perpetrator. They do not realize forgiving will actually set them free. I have been very angry with a certain someone in the past. Forgiving that person helped me feel better about myself. It helped me have a better frame of mind.

    And yet people think forgiving is helping the perpetrator, all while they are getting angrier themselves and causing harm to the self. I just hope more people start to see the reality of forgiveness.

  • Saul


    February 20th, 2013 at 3:58 AM

    After my divorce I was just mad at the world, you know? This was the woman who was supposed to be my soul mate. We had planned our entire lives together and then she would go and throw all of that away over some man she met onlinec.

    I just kept going over and over, like how could she do this to me and how could I not have known? It has taken me a long time to figure out that a lot of this anger I was feeling was not only toward her but toward me too. I had closed my eyes to our problems and thought that just because we were married would make all of it disappear if I willed it to do that.

    Thanks for the article, I only wish that I had found something like this sooner. maybe I wouldn’t have been ready for it yet, but it would have been there and that could have made a huge difference for me. Now I just hope that someone else who may need it will find it and it can help them too.

  • HannaJune


    February 20th, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    My hardest part of this to accept is that it always feels like those who have been the most wronged are the ones who are always having to do the forgiving and letting go. Sometimes you just want someone else to feel the pain that you have felt and find that it is hard to live on the other side of the looking glass.

  • Mary Beth

    Mary Beth

    February 24th, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Hanna, I agree. It’s not fair that the people who are hurt are the people that must forgive. It is so hard.

  • Nate


    February 20th, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    I have found that I am angry with someone, that person still has power over me. The minute I choose to forgive, I am back in the driver’s seat and have my power back.

  • Mary Beth

    Mary Beth

    February 22nd, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    I’m seeing a therapist next week. My husband had an affair 23 Yrs. ago. He said he was in love. He stayed with me. I have thought about it everyday but never obsessed. 2 months ago I started obsessing. Can’t shake it. I cry all the time. Crazy, isn’t it. The girl married had a child. I would love for her to know how she tore my heart out.

  • O Grady

    O Grady

    February 20th, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    There are certainly a lot of very valuable lessons I learned from my divorce that I definitely do not want to have to relearn. I haven’t quite gotten to complete forgiveness, but I’ve worked hard for every step I’ve taken towards that end. I am glad to hear you say that I don’t have to forget in order to forgive. These battle wounds will certainly be stark reminders in my next relationship.

  • Paola


    February 20th, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    Forgiveness is also key in terms of co parenting. Your children will only have the best of you and the best possible outcome when you forgive your ex.

  • Ben


    February 20th, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Grieving was certainly key for me when I was trying to get over my divorce. If I hadn’t let myself fall apart on some days, there is no way I could have moved forward. Allowing yourself to sit with the pain is a necessary step on the way to forgiveness. Until you fully feel your pain and even welcome it, it is almost impossible to get to the other side of the pain and forgive.

  • Wren


    February 20th, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    A great article and some good reasons to struggle through it all and learn to forgive.

  • kevin0769


    February 20th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Forgiveness works both ways. what I mean is that you have to learn to forgive yourself as much as you forgive your former spouse. How refreshing it is to hear someone take responsibility for the role they played in a former marriage. As the old saying goes” it takes two to tango”

  • buffi


    February 20th, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    I love the saying: Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

    The only person hurting from your bitterness is you. And maybe your children. The liberation that forgiving brings is astounding.

  • Andra


    February 20th, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Thank you for your comments. Forgiveness is such an important part of the healing with divorce, but everyone has there time when they feel ready. It’s not about when, and its never too late.

  • MAX


    February 20th, 2013 at 11:54 PM

    Through the ups and downs of life it has taught me that it is best to let bygones be bygones. Holding a grudge is only going to cause heartache to you, the other person continues to live the good life, they don’t have anything to worry or think about!

    Come to think of it, if you haven’t done any wrong why should you burden yourself? This philosophy has helped me cope with so many things all these years. Give it a go people!

  • teddy


    February 21st, 2013 at 5:53 AM

    My ex and I had such an amicable divorce that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are frineds and families out there who are really struggling nad having a hard time holding it all together. They try to keep going and going for everyone else in life but forget to take care of themselves.

    Thankfully my ex wife and I had the best interests at heart when we chose to let go of our own differences and focus solely on the healthy ways that we could help our children to manage this huge change. It has not been an easy road at all times, but we are the adults and it has been up to us to out aside our own squabbles and pettiness in a way that will benefit the kids. For this, and the fact that we have been pretty successful at it, i am more than thankful.

  • JOAN


    February 21st, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    I’d rather walk away free than carry a mental baggage against someone holding venom inside me. I don’t understand when people vow to do something bad to someone to avenge something. I mean is it going to reverse the effects on you? If not then the activity isn’t even worth pursuing!

  • Kevin adams

    Kevin adams

    February 22nd, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    This is pretty relatable for kids too, kids who have had to watch their families disintegrate due to divorce.
    i think that many times we only think about the couple and forget about the kids and the struggles that they are facing.
    Showing them that they still have some power t feel better about the situation is going to make them feel like they have more control over the situation than they may have felt otherwise.

  • Nel


    February 22nd, 2013 at 11:13 PM

    Having been through two divorces in the past eight years had not made me bitter. There are good things and there are bad things. Each of us experiences both of these. No point in keeping things for too long and torturing yourself.

    If I have the chance I would date someone tomorrow, the two failed marriages have not affected me on such a level. How I see and react to things is what determines how my life turns out. Be happy and do not loathe over the past too much and things will certainly seem better.

  • Reese


    February 23rd, 2013 at 4:58 AM

    Honestly, sometimes the forgiveness will kind of even sneak up on you.
    One day all you feel is hatred and hardness
    And then the enst week that has perhaps subsided a bit
    And before you know it, you could be wistful and a little mad, but nothing that you know time won’t heal
    And that’s kind of a great feeling when some of that hardness goes away and you are only left with a little twinge
    Not that you are wistful for what might have been, but maybe just that you can see the good of what you once had and choose not to be quite so bitter about now

  • jen


    February 23rd, 2013 at 9:57 PM

    for me forgiveness does not mean letting myself free.I can not forgive someone for some bitter experiences and still not be affected by it.its more like why should I hurt myself for the wrongdoing of someone else?at the same time I still dont have to forgive the one who has wronged.

    Maybe I am not holding a grudge but forgiving sounds like letting the person off his wrongdoing,he did it so he will always be associated with it,it doesnt come in the way of feeling good about myself!

  • Andra


    February 24th, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Jen- you are right you don’t have to forgive and you may not be ready to forgive. As long as you grieve and work through the hurt, and work toward letting go of anger you will heal without scars. Forgiveness does not let the other person off the hook, it lets you off the hook and allows you to take back the power of your own feelings. This is all about you, the other person doesn’t need to know about any of it.

  • arnold


    February 24th, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    @Hanna and Mary: It is not fair. The world isn’t fair. The fact that one needs to invest and be somewhat ‘vulnerable’ to even have a relationship makes it so. there is no way around it. But believe in Karma, it will come back and will reward or punish you for whatever you do!

  • Doug


    February 25th, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    I know that I made some mistakes, okay a lot of mistakes in my first marriage but I feel like I have tried to work on forgiving myself for the things that I did and also forgiving my ex wife for the things that she did as a result. But she is not there yet and we have been divorced for almost 10 years so I am not sure that she will ever get there. I would love to be friends with her again because she is the mother of all of my children, but she has made that next to impossible. It would be ridiculous for us to all go to counseling together now at this stage, but I know that this has caused a lot of hurt and anger for the kids and I feel terribly responsible even though some of the blame is hers but she will never own up to it. Is it time to just wash my hands of the whole thing and be the best dad I can be without her in the picture or should I still continue to try to repair the relationship with her?

  • Andra Brosh

    Andra Brosh

    February 25th, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    Doug – Without knowing too many details about your situation, I don’t think washing your hands of this would feel right to you. I hear that it’s very important for you to to make a repair with your Ex, but it sounds like she is still feeling angry and hurt. Some people can unfortunately live there a long time, and there isn’t much you can do on your end to change that. Just continue to be supportive, empathetic and loving because that is true to the experience you want to have. You can stop trying to change her experience however, it’s futile for any of us to try and get someone to think, feel or believe something we want them to. She has her experience, and you have yours and they don’t have to coincide.

  • Mary Beth

    Mary Beth

    February 25th, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Arnold, thank you so much for your comment. I’m really trying to forgive. The lady that my husband had an affair with is now very Christian and Jesus. Nothing wrong with that, I go to church. I hope she is saying prayers for me. When this happened there was no Facebook or search engines. It’s harder because you can find out so much.

  • Kris


    February 28th, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    hi, my wife served me with divorce papers in may 2012 since then we tried the separation thing the first 4 months. through many ups and downs i have been back in the house since the beginning of September 2012. she has suffered from 3 severe bouts of depression originating from the death of her father 4 years ago. we have 3 invetro children that are truly the loves of our lives. though i didn’t cause the depression i made it worse with my anger and verbal abuse toward her. my tolerance would last approximately 2 months in the beginning of the depression and then i would be angry at the world, mostly frustrated that my 3 young children didn’t have their mother. of course there are many other factors that caused me to behave in the way that i did, looking back i am not proud of it but they don’t teach you how to deal with this sort of thing in school. we are currently co-parenting or room mates if you will and there are lawyers involved as well. i believe that she would be content with this arrangement for a period of time, i on the other hand feel are we really just prolonging the inevitable. i told her the other day that her scars are permanent and she will never forgive me for anything. i wish i had more patience and even if i new i a few months things will get better but i told her lets end it if we are just prolonging her desired outcome. her psychiatrist convinces her weekly that she is better off without me. is this what a professional is trained to do? i emailed my wife a few articles on what the devastating effects could potentially have our 3 young precious children and she returns after that session saying that that email is a form of harassment and i should stop emailing her content like that. is this normal advice? my wife cannot forgive me because of her friends negative input and her Dr providing her with negative reinforcement on a weekly basis. she is on her meds for over a year straight now and she put on allot of weight and i also tried to talk to her about long term side effects and her Dr told her keep taking the meds if you want to be mentally healthy. is this normal? i am still willing to do what ever it takes to make my wife believe that i will be committed to make this work jointly. thanks for reading.

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