Should I forgive my ex?

At Restored Lives we discuss forgiveness

One of the things we talk about at the Restored Lives course is forgiveness. It’s a prickly subject that always prompts a lot of animated discussion in the small groups. When your relationship has broken down if you have separated or divorced can you forgive? Should you forgive?

Not everyone is ready to forgive

Some say there is no way they could even think of forgiving their ex and that’s ok. It can be healthy to express anger as you come to terms with the end of a significant relationship. Others decide they want to explore forgiveness and often discover this process can be freeing in unexpected ways. I know, I know – you probably don’t want to read this. Forgiving can be really really hard especially if someone has hurt you or your children.

But forgiveness is often misunderstood

The thing is, forgiveness is so often misunderstood. As children we are taught a model of forgiveness that is suitable for the playground, one person says sorry, the other forgives and you demonstrate this by continuing to play together and be friends. I know for me, it wasn’t until my own divorce and doing Restored Lives that I ever looked at that definition of forgiveness and realised that as an adult it is much more nuanced.

What is forgiveness?

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that your ex’s behaviour was ok, or that it didn’t hurt you. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you have to become “friends” again. It doesn’t even mean you have to tell your ex you forgive them and you don’t have to wait for them to say sorry (something they might never do).

Forgiveness is the choice to stop trying to punish the other person for the things they did in the relationship that hurt you. It might also be a choice to forgive yourself (often the hardest bit) or any third parties involved. It is an active process and might take many repeated attempts.

Why do people choose forgiveness?

It never ceases to amaze me the hurts that guests on the course choose let go of and yet time and time again we hear the same feedback, that it was the choice to forgive that was the turning point in their recovery. That it set them free to really move on from the breakdown of their relationship. That it stopped them feeling all the bitterness they were feeling.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is what one of the guests from our course in Cheam had to say on the topic.

“The biggest single change for me was the session that we did on forgiveness. I don’t think I had ever truly forgiven until I came on the course.

In my situation, my husband had had an affair which is quite common in some of the stories we hear. I always thought: ok, fair enough, he doesn’t want to be married to me, didn’t want to be in the marriage and that was fine. What was most difficult for me to come to terms with was that he had actually written a letter to the court to say he no longer wanted to see the children and they were 5 and 3 at the time.

He hasn’t seen them since. And that for me was the hardest thing, to know that somebody who had fathered children didn’t want to be in their life anymore and I hadn’t ever forgiven that.

Colin [course leader] mentioned something in one of the sessions, he said – I don’t really believe that there are bad people I just think sometimes people make bad decisions – and it was that that really made me think.

OK let’s think about his perspective, let’s think about all the things he has missed out on with the children in the time he hasn’t spent with them. And I always count my blessings now to think, I’ve grown and my children have grown up with me and I’ve been in their life. I’ve enjoyed them and I’ve enjoyed our life. He is the one that has missed out. When I recognised that and reconciled that I was able to move on myself.”

How to forgive?

If you think forgiving might help you why not try it out, you’ve nothing to lose.  Here are some ways to start forgiving someone.

  1. Don’t try to forgive everything at once if it feels too big, think of a small thing they did that hurt you and try to forgive that bit to start with
  2. When an unpleasant memory of a hurt pops into your mind say quietly to yourself “but it’s ok I forgive them”
  3. Write a list of all the hurts your ex has caused you then burn or shred it as a physical representation of forgiving them
Forgiveness Poster

Should I forgive?


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