The conventional wisdom used to be that there are three things that make marriages go bad: Sex, Money, In-laws. After working in this field this entire decade, I would like to add one more: Lack of Forgiveness.
I have heard lack of forgiveness or holding a grudge explained in a lot of ways, including "Holding on to anger is like taking small doses of poison and waiting for the other individual to die." Sounds silly, doesn't it? However, what I have realized personally and professionally is that if I'm really angry with someone, most of the time, they don't even realize it. How's that working for me? Quite simply: it's not. In one regard then, forgiveness is actually selfish. What is forgiveness and what is it not?
Forgiveness is not a feeling. How often have you heard someone say, "I'm just not ready to forgive"? I doubt that anyone would forgive if they waited to feel forgiving. The better question in this regard would be, "Why not forgive?" Therefore, forgiveness is a decision.
Forgiveness is a process. You can make the decision immediately that you want to forgive someone. However, it takes a while to work it in. That is the time you can truly feel forgiving. In the meantime, you walk it out and act in forgiving ways.
Forgiveness is not forgetting the hurt. Many of us heard as kids "Forgive and Forget." I'm afraid I'm not that good, holy, or magnanimous. What is often the case is that there are occasions in which it is self preservation for someone to remember a hurt or other slight. During the post divorce counseling I do, one of the questions asked is, "What were you pretending not to know about Mr./Ms. Wonderful?" That person needs to be forearmed for future relationships.
Forgiveness is not the same as trusting. This is one teenagers try to put over on their parents all the time. "I know I stayed out until 3:00 am, came home drunk and got stopped by the police. But I learned my lesson. I know now bad that was so I won't do that again." Yeah.....right. Unfortunately, loss of trust happens immediately in the snap of a finger but rebuilding that trust takes a long time. Forgiveness first...trusting later.
Forgiveness does not depend on the actions of someone else. Too often the other person doesn't ask for forgiveness. What if there is unfinished business with an individual who is deceased? Also I have seen and experienced cases in which a individual said to someone else, "I forgive you." And the other person says, "For what?" That is probably more hurtful than the original offense. It feels like the forgiver didn't even matter to the offender.
Forgiveness is giving up the right to seek revenge. Revenge is interesting. Not only is it "a dish best served cold," but it is also different for men and women. Men are really pretty good at revenge. "You do this, I do that, and we're even.....it's done." Women on the other hand.....our revenge looks like bringing it up again....and again....and again." You get the idea. When we women get hysterical, we tend to get historical.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation is a two-way street whereas forgiveness is a one-way street--especially in the short run. Sometimes the relationship should be reconciled (as in marriage) but sometimes it is impossible as well as undesirable.