“Forgive and forget” is the age old adage, intended to offer direction to help those who have been hurt move on past issues that could hold them back from future peace and happiness. It sounds simple enough. Just grant clemency to the ones who wronged you, then leave it all behind.
I don’t think it’s all as simple as “forgive and forget”, nor do think it’s the healthy way to handle transgressions against us.
I’m not suggesting that we skip forgiveness, because I have found that forgiveness is absolutely critical to healing and resuming a normal healthy life. I’m also not suggesting that we forego forgetting in such a way that we still harbor ill will about what happened or use the mistakes of others to somehow keep score or punish the guilty party as time advances. We couldn’t actually categorize a misdeed as “forgiven” if it keeps being pointed to or used to justify our own actions or to give us something to complain about forevermore.
Can you picture it? Let’s say that one spouse cheats on the other. After some time has passed, and perhaps a lot of begging, pleading, counseling, and whatever else, the couple decides to remain together and the spouse who was cheated on offers forgiveness…but, then whenever an argument breaks out the cheater is reminded of what he or she did wrong in the past. Folks, I don’t think that qualifies as forgiving or forgetting!
Okay, then, so what do I mean about forgiving but not forgetting?
First of all, when the time is right and you’re ready, you do need to forgive. I know this is incredibly hard because some relationship crimes are just so heinous that it doesn’t seem that it could be possible to let those assaults go. Infidelity certainly ranks up there, but what about abuse (physical, verbal, sexual, and financial, and others), alienation and isolation, and so many more?
I hear you! I’ve lived through being cheated on, having all of my money taken, being lied about, and being neglected. It’s about impossible to face a person who has mistreated you in these ways without wanting to spit nails. Anger and resentment were my faithful companions in the wake of my divorce. Sometimes I wonder if my rage wasn’t what fueled my existence in those darkest moments.
The problem with anger and holding onto the past is that they eat away at you from the inside out. They keep you awake at night, keep you from focusing on your present and positive things going on, and can literally make you sick. Stress as a cause or contributing factor to illness is well-known, as is the fact that just about any pre-existing condition one may have can be made worse from stress.
So, if you’re not so concerned about how stress and anger erode away at your health (physical and emotional), consider the fact that it’s not productive to fixate on so much negativity. Have you noticed that some people who divorce are more resilient and able to go on to find happiness again while others become hardened and bitter? It’s not that the resilient divorced folks experienced less pain or were less affected by their divorce, they were just better able to put the details in context and proceed in a healthier way!
The light came on for me when I realized that not forgiving gave my ex continued control over my emotions and over my ability to go on with my life. By the time I made this realization, I don’t even know if he cared to have any sort of control over me anymore; but, I let him (even if he was unaware of it) by taking up residence in my sadness and resentment. What good was being angry doing for me? It didn’t affect him!
Once I decided to forgive, it really wasn’t about him anymore. It wasn’t an act of accepting or approving of the things he had done. It wasn’t about trying to improve our relationship. It was about cutting the ties that bound me to his actions and setting myself free! I chose to say to myself “what’s done is done and can’t be undone!” None of this means I have to like him. I still have to interact with him because we share children, but now I can focus solely on the kids and what they need when I have to talk to him. I am no longer distracted by picturing his face on a dartboard or wanting to break down in tears.
I’m not going to forget what he’s done. I don’t need to in order to be healthy. In fact, remembering (without being bogged down by the nasty emotions that so easily tag along) has helped me to grow, learn, and become a better person. Introspection about what part I may have played in each situation has helped me to recognize my own weaknesses and become better. And, no, I’m not taking the blame for the bad actions of others and letting them somehow become the victim…if he cheated it was because he couldn’t control his own actions not because I was a bad wife!
Facing wrongs done to me, evaluating the patterns of behavior that go along with those wrongs, understanding why I cannot or will not tolerate these behaviors in my life, and learning to recognize the red flags that another person may do the same things to me has helped me to succeed in my relationships since my divorce. If I forgot what happened to me, I would volunteer to be ignorant and possibly allow myself to endure the same treatment all over again.
Instead, I am a stronger, wiser, and more in tune with myself and my needs, and better equipped to be a good partner, mother, and friend because I know myself better and I know that I am strong enough to stand up for myself.
I know that forgiveness, and the need to forgive, is not something that only lives in my past. Opportunities to forgive will arise every day. Opportunities to be irritated with others or truly hurt by them may also present themselves any day. I have decided that I do not have enough space in my life to fear what may or may not happen because I don’t want fear to hold me back from living. I will make smarter choices for my life and I will vow to be more understanding and willing to offer forgiveness- not entirely for the other person, but also because I know it’s something I need!