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Tips for Learning to Forgive

Forgiveness is a virtue, but it doesn’t always come easily. It can be devastating when you experience hurt or betrayal in your life or marriage. Whether you find out you’ve been lied to or that your spouse has cheated on you, your world feels like it’s crumbling down around you. You can’t even begin to imagine learning to forgive your spouse at times like these.

The anger you feel is unmatched, and all you want to do is seek revenge. You may wish to inflict the same hurt on your spouse that they’ve done to you, just to make things even. It’s normal to feel this way when you are hurt, but you may not realize that the person you’re hurting the most is yourself. 

When you hold a grudge, you’re causing more harm to yourself than anyone else. You feel the emotions weighing heavily on your mind and spirit, and the hurt you feel manifests in physical ways. You may even feel aches and pains in your body because of the negativity that you’re harboring within yourself. Forgiveness can feel like a daunting or impossible task, but it hurts more not to forgive. 

Although the pain of betrayal might be immense, there are ways to learn to be more forgiving. Studies show that marriages are healthier when both people forgive each other. These tips will help you overcome hurt and betrayal to live a healthier, happier, and fuller life with your spouse!

Common Forgiveness Misconceptions

Many people struggle with learning to forgive. If you don’t know what forgiveness means, it will be very hard to move forward in the forgiveness process. Many people have misconceptions about what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not mean invalidating your feelings. When you’re upset about something, you may think that working through it means that your feelings are no longer valid. 

This could not be farther from the truth. 

If your spouse does something to upset you or wrong you somehow, you may want to downplay the situation as a defense mechanism. This does not lead to forgiveness. If you try to move on as if nothing happened, you will not get very far in the healing process. 

Another way you might try to practice forgiveness is to keep all of your feelings inside and never share your hurt with your friends or with your spouse. For example, if your spouse betrays you by cheating on you, you might respond by trying to make peace with the situation internally. But when you keep all of your emotions inside or simply block out the pain, you’re making it harder to forgive your spouse and heal from the hurt.

What is Learning to Forgive?

Forgiveness means to let go of your hurt and anger towards your spouse. When you feel hurt or betrayed, it’s normal to want to seek revenge on the person that hurt you, but part of forgiveness is also to let go of your desire for vengeance. When you forgive, you accept the situation for what it is. For example, if you’re upset with your spouse for spending a lot of money behind your back, you will need to accept that the money is gone to move forward. You will also need to have compassion and empathy for your spouse. You may ask, why did they spend so much money without telling me? Your spouse may have been going through something they were too ashamed to talk about, so they used spending money as a coping mechanism. Realizing that everyone makes mistakes and deserves forgiveness is also an important part of learning how to forgive.

The Importance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an important part of your healing journey. Learning to forgive will have a huge impact on your life, health, relationships, and marriage. It’s very important to learn to forgive, considering how positive your outlook can become when you practice forgiveness in your life. Forgiveness improves friendships, relationships, and your marriage because you become less bitter as a person. When you can give grace and practice empathy in forgiveness, you won’t hold grudges the way you did. This allows for healthier and happier friendships and relationships. You will also be more trusting towards others because you know that even if they betray your trust at some point, you will still be able to forgive them. In turn, you form stronger bonds with the people around you. Being more forgiving also improves your temperament and makes you less prone to anger. When you replace anger and bitterness with kindness and empathy, people will want to be around you more often, and you’ll feel more at peace within yourself.

Forgiveness also has proven health benefits. When you’re less focused on the hurt your spouse’s wrongdoings caused you, you’ll have lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and depression, better sleep, better self-esteem, and less muscle tension. It’s no mystery that the mind and body are connected. During your forgiveness process, you’ll notice the healing in both your body and mind if you pay attention. 

Another reason forgiveness is important is that you’ll have a better and stronger relationship with yourself. You can trust that no matter what happens in your marriage and your life, you’ll be ready to heal from any betrayal or hurt. You’ll be a calmer person and will have the increased ability to self-regulate your emotions. You’ll also be more acutely aware of your inner strength and will have increased self-esteem. When you’re able to forgive others, you’re also able to forgive yourself. Having more empathy, in general, makes life easier to go through, and learning to forgive will increase your capacity for empathy.

Preparing Yourself for Forgiveness

Let’s say that you’re in a situation where your spouse has hugely betrayed your trust. You want to move forward and forgive your spouse, but you just don’t know where to start. You might feel overwhelmed and want to give up before starting. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s important that you first prepare yourself for forgiveness. Forgiveness does not come easily and takes time, effort, and emotional energy. 

The first step in preparing yourself for forgiveness is to give yourself some time. Take time to yourself away from your spouse just to gather your thoughts. Give yourself as much time as you need just to process the situation. Cry as much as you need to. There’s no rush to forgive your spouse. You are on your journey. 

The next step is to not expect immediate change. Evaluate your expectations and make sure you are not expecting too much of yourself or your spouse. Change does not happen overnight, and the situation will not immediately improve after a hurt or betrayal. Again, it will take time. Adjust your expectations accordingly and try not to be too hard on yourself because you aren’t able to “just get over it.” 

Another important step in preparing yourself for forgiveness is always being authentic and staying true to yourself. Don’t try to convince yourself to feel the feelings you aren’t ready for. If you aren’t ready for forgiveness or empathy, don’t force yourself. Stay true to yourself by checking in frequently to see how you’re feeling in the moment. Don’t invalidate your emotions or punish yourself for still being upset. 

Forgiveness is for yourself

Remember that forgiveness is mainly for yourself. Focus on what your end goal is. If your end goal is to forgive your spouse, think about why you want to forgive your spouse. Your answer should always circle back to you. For example, you can say, “I want to forgive my spouse for the hurt they’ve caused so that I don’t have to carry so much emotional weight.” It becomes easier to move through the hurt if you frame forgiveness from a self-love perspective. When you practice forgiveness for your own sake, you forgive because you want to feel better and not because you should forgive the other person. Forgiveness is about you!

With that being said, make sure that you’re the one deciding to learn to forgive. Don’t let your family, friends, or spouse tell you when is the right time to forgive. That’s up to you to decide. As long as you’re living authentically and not allowing anyone else to dictate how you should feel, you will be ready to begin the process of forgiveness.

Tips for Learning How to Forgive

Learn to sit with your emotions

Learning to sit with your emotions is an important tool for all aspects of life. If your spouse has betrayed you, you’re inevitably feeling some pretty intense emotions. You may want to try and block the feelings out or numb them somehow. You may reach for alcohol or recreational drugs to help you cope, but substances are just a temporary fix that will make you feel worse. Avoid engaging in activities that will prevent you from truly sitting in your feelings and will only make you feel worse.

You have to be ready to face your emotions to sit with them. You will need to be able to feel awful for a while without engaging in unhealthy distractions. It will be uncomfortable, but meditation or mindfulness practices can help immensely with the discomfort. Are you still full of rage? That’s okay! Try to breathe through the feeling and observe the emotion in your body. Sitting with your emotions instead of trying to make them go away is the first step in your forgiveness journey.

Write it all down

Writing is an effective tool for processing emotions and promoting healing. When you write down your thoughts, you’re slowing down and honoring your feelings. Journaling is great for forgiveness because you can work through your emotions and privately process your feelings. Journaling allows you to express your innermost thoughts and feelings, and once you get that all out on paper, it’s easier to move towards forgiving your spouse. You can also write letters to your spouse that are as mean or angry as you need them to be, and then you can rip the letters up into shreds or burn them. 

Being able to express yourself through writing lets you get as mean, heartbroken, sad, upset, or angry as you need to be without hurting anyone else. This is a healthy way to express your emotions so that you can start forgiving.

Express your emotions openly

When you have experienced something hurtful, you might be the person to keep everything inside. Bottling your emotions up will only make them fester and become more unmanageable. It’s important to express your emotions openly when you’ve been hurt. If your spouse betrayed you, it’s okay to tell them how much you’re hurting. Make sure you have people in your life that you can talk to about the pain you’re experiencing. Talking about your negative experiences out loud allows you to process your emotions. You’ll be able to speak about difficult subjects more easily the more often you do it. For example, let’s say you’re upset because your spouse cheated on you. If you keep it inside and don’t tell anyone about it, you’ll develop feelings of shame. If you’re open about how you feel with people you trust, you won’t feel so plagued by the things bothering you and can forgive more easily.

Also, don’t be afraid to express your emotions openly to yourself. If you need to cry while in line at the supermarket or on a crowded public bus, go ahead and cry! Let your emotions be. Part of learning how to forgive is knowing how to move through the pain so that you can eventually be free from it. If crying your eyes out in public will help you move past the pain and learn to forgive, go ahead and do that.

Find the Silver Lining

When you find the silver lining, you’re refusing to let a bad situation completely bring you down. For example, if you’re struggling to forgive your spouse because they yelled at you in an argument, it can be hard to find the silver lining. You can think that you remained calm in the argument and didn’t yell back. That’s a silver lining! You can also think about what you learned from the situation. What did you learn about yourself from this? Maybe you realized how strong you are as a person considering how you handled the situation. Focusing on your inner strength makes it easier to find the silver lining. As another example, maybe you were hurt because you found out that your spouse was unfaithful. Instead of lashing out or engaging in harmful behaviors, you treated yourself to a fresh new haircut. The silver lining is that you didn’t completely crumble or seek revenge, and instead, you did something that made you feel good about yourself.

If you feel hurt or betrayed, you can focus on how you exhibited emotional strength. You can also focus on what you learned or how the situation made you stronger. When you think about the positive, it’ll be easier to forgive your spouse for their wrongdoing because, in a sort of twisted way, they did you a favor by teaching you an important lesson about yourself.

Avoid self-blame

This tip may seem like a given, but it can be quite difficult for some. If you’re prone to self-blame, it will be incredibly difficult for you to move forward in your healing journey. When you experience hurt or betrayal, it’s easy to get wrapped up in wondering what you could’ve done differently to prevent this. For example, your spouse threw away some of your sentimental belongings while cleaning the garage. The emotional pain was overwhelming, and you became very angry. You blamed yourself and wished that you had stored those items elsewhere. You also blamed yourself for not being there to help because then you could’ve prevented those items from getting thrown out. 

In this scenario, it was not your spouse’s place to touch your things (much less throw them out), so don’t blame yourself for their mistake. When you reject self-blame and forgive yourself for your past wrongdoings, you can do the same for others more easily. This allows you to forgive others while avoiding feelings of shame and self-blame. Avoiding self-blame promotes healing and is a quick way to experience true forgiveness towards your spouse.

Develop empathy and understanding

A necessary aspect of forgiveness is developing empathy and understanding for the person that hurt you. If you’ve experienced infidelity in your marriage, you know the immense pain that comes with that. Though betrayals can feel incredibly personal, they’re not personal at all. Your spouse may have cheated on you, but it has nothing to do with you. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that your spouse is insecure about themselves and likes the attention they got from the extramarital affair. You can have empathy for your spouse even though they’ve hurt you. This is a powerful way to combat negative inner feelings and move towards forgiveness.

You become transcendent when you develop understanding and empathy for your spouse and other people. No longer will you take anything personally when you realize that other people’s actions do not reflect who you are. You will realize that having empathy and understanding is the ultimate path toward forgiveness.

Seek extra support

If you’re struggling with learning to forgive and need more support, therapy is a great resource. You can also consider joining support groups for other people dealing with betrayals in their marriages. Support groups are an excellent outlet to vent your frustrations and connect with others with similar issues. Therapy and support groups will allow you to learn forgiveness in a guided and structured environment. You might also feel inspired by hearing other people’s stories of how they were able to overcome betrayal. You may even be surprised by how easily forgiveness comes to you when you have that extra support!

Additional Tips for Forgiveness

Make forgiveness a daily habit

When you make forgiveness a daily habit, it’ll be easier to practice forgiveness in general. If someone cuts you off in traffic, forgive them! It might’ve been a mistake, or maybe they were rushing to the hospital. You never know. When you develop this capacity for empathy and insight, you’re better equipped to practice forgiveness. Plus, when big betrayals happen in your life or marriage, you’ll be better prepared to practice forgiveness.

Focus on your goals

Focusing on yourself is a great way to be more forgiving. You’ll be so wrapped up in your personal growth and future goals that you simply won’t feel the need to focus all of your energy on pain of betrayal. You’ll also increase your self-esteem and be less likely to self-blame! Focusing on your goals will prevent you from self-destruction because it serves as a positive and healthy distraction.

Practice Mindfulness

If you’ve been hurt and want to work towards forgiveness, the last thing you might think about doing is going outside and smelling the roses. Noticing the small joys in life will help immensely. When you practice mindfulness, you will enjoy all of life’s good things. You will appreciate the small moments and will be better able to enjoy the present. Mindfulness will help you move towards forgiveness by giving you a sense of serenity and putting life back into perspective.

Final Words for Healing

Remember that learning to forgive is part of the healing process. The end goal doesn’t have to be forgiveness itself but rather healing and self-love. You will find that although practicing forgiveness can sometimes prove to be difficult. It’s easier when you take it step-by-step. No matter what kind of hurt you’ve experienced, you’ve made it this far in life and are growing stronger by the day. Anything you may be going through is leading you towards a better and more forgiving version of yourself. Although learning to forgive comes with practice, it can also happen naturally when you focus on loving your spouse and yourself. 

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Sofia Bolanos

Sofia Bolanos has over seven years of experience in the mental health field and is an avid peer support counselor and volunteer. She also works closely with homeless populations in the San Francisco Bay Area and provides resources and support to vulnerable individuals within the community. Her goal is to utilize her gift of insight to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. As part of her commitment to that goal, she facilitates a monthly support group in which couples are strongly encouraged to attend. She received a B.A. in Sociology from San Francisco State University and is on track to continue her graduate studies in 2023. In addition to her passions for writing and helping others in their healing journeys, she enjoys oil painting, contemporary dance, plant care, and spending quality time with her dog.

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