Dating & Personals

Can you forgive—for real?

By Margot Carmichael Lester

We’ve all had our hearts hurt (maybe even broken). But carrying around that old hurt doesn’t help in our quest to find a new love. In fact, it can keep us from that very thing. So why not use July 16 (which is Get Out of the Doghouse Day) to forgive those who trespass against us. It’s a solid step forward in our journey to love.

“Blaming someone else for your pain is a downward-spiraling cycle,” says Susanne Alexander, author of Can We Dance? Learning the Steps for a Fulfilling Relationship. “What ends relationships is usually a complex mix of actions, reactions, and miscommunications on both sides. Holding onto bitterness robs you of joy in your daily life and the opportunity of recognizing what new doors are opening as old ones close.”

But why should we forgive the mean old so-and-so who breaks our heart? Alexander is clear: “Forgiveness isn’t saying that what the person did was OK. It simply turns the person over to God or the universe or some power greater than you to handle.”

Here’s how to do just that: Be patient. “The end of a relationship is, in a sense, a death experience,” explains Patricia Campbell Carlson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. “If we can be patient with ourselves and allow these grief feelings to come up, bearing in mind that they rise and recede in waves and will not last forever, we eventually come to a more accepting, forgiving shore.”

Let go. “The more you hold resentment toward the former partner, the more you will be stuck in the past instead of creating a new future,” Alexander notes. “If you practice prayer or meditation, these can assist you in detaching your emotions from the person and the circumstances and then in asking for help in going forward without the burdens of the past.” Learn from it. “It will help you to move out of grieving into gratitude if you look for what you gained from the relationship and where the two of you were incompatible,” Alexander counsels. “Identifying where the relationship did not work well is vital so that you make different and better choices in a future relationship.”

Forgive. If you practice prayer or meditation, these can assist you in detaching your emotions from the person and the circumstances and ask for help in going forward without the burdens of the past. Be grateful. “We can be grateful that our hearts feel as powerfully as they do, even amidst sadness, longing, and need,” Carlson notes. “If we can recognize our own perspective, we will be more open as well to our ex-partner’s point of view. We may discover an understanding of why someone hurt us, because we recognize in ourselves that same capacity to inflict hurt. We may even discover an inner stability we never knew we had, that goes deeper than all the shifting feelings we have.” “Life is a constant series of learning lessons and personal growth,” Alexander notes. “Whatever occurs is an opportunity to learn, grow, and change. Whatever you learn through this incident will serve you well in the future. Accepting what occurred in the relationship will free you to move forward.”

Adds Carlson: “We learn through this painful act of forgiving an ex — which is like trying to open a tight fist — how to forgive in smaller ways all along in our relationships, which leads to healthy communication. Even though it’s hard as can be to learn forgiveness, for our own sake it’s the most healing thing we can possibly do.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a writer living and working in Carrboro, NC. She is the author of The Real Life Guide to Life After College and The Real Life Guide to Starting Your Career.