Don’t get me wrong. It is admirable that any man or woman deeply hurt by the actions of their former partner willingly absolves that ex-partner’s offenses. In practice, forgiving unremarkable transgressions is a challenge for most of us; however, forgiving crimes committed in the context of love can take strength immeasurable. No matter, society bombards us with advice proclaiming the power of forgiveness. We are told only the weak refuse to forgive, that not forgiving negatively affects our happiness, or unless we forgive we are not able to move on.
I know many so-called enlightened women who have taken this advice to heart, declaring they no longer carry hurt or resentment from their divorces. Similarly, a man I once knew wasted no time committing to a new woman once the previous woman had given him the boot. Maybe you’ve encountered these men and women, too? They move forward at lightning speed, easily reattaching without bringing along baggage into new relationships. At least, that is what they claim.
Why wouldn’t they? Popular culture overwhelms us with images of the scorned woman, the crazy ex-wife, and the bitter divorcee. Men also are victims: a man harboring hurts from an ex-love is weak, whipped or has questionable masculinity. Dating gurus warn of talking about your ex with a potential love, lest you wish to appear stuck in the past or unable to have a healthy relationship. Who wants to be burdened with these labels? So, to avoid being branded as unhealthy, most of us live under a forgiveness façade, pretending to be the merciful individuals society demands us to be. Realistically, our efforts to forgive are merely attempts to forget, which do nothing for our happiness, much less our mental and emotional health.
When we deceitfully forgive our exes, we punish ourselves for not being able to do what onlookers feel we should do. This self-punishment is much worse than the crime because we toxically compare ourselves to others. Or, if we are able to forgive, we neglect to do the additional required work to heal the injuries we suffered during the divorce. It is when we deny these wounds that they turn into cancers that prevent us from having positive relationships.
Focusing on other people – either the ex we try to forgive or those who have seemingly forgiven their exes with ease – diminishes us. And, it prolongs our association with the person who may have caused our hurt. If our goal is to move beyond the pain of marital crimes and promote our well-being, we do so with the power we possess. Focusing on ourselves, not our exes, after a difficult break-up affords us the best opportunity to move forward.
After my divorce, and after months of trying and failing to forgive, I gave up. Ten years after my divorce, I still haven’t pardoned my ex-husband. But, I have healed and forgiven myself, which I believe is more important.
How did I do it? I shifted my attention away from my former spouse and his actions and focused on me. I accepted the changes triggered by the alchemy of failed relationships and became self-nurturing and self-reflective. I found many wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise, that would undoubtedly interfere with my ability to relate to future partners. Some absolutely contributed to my rocky marriage. No longer stuck in the weeds of ex-spouse forgiveness, and seeking help when necessary, I began my journey forward.
I learned that the person who deserves clemency the most is me. I began working to forgive myself for mistakes made in my marriage, making excuses for my behaviors, ignoring my gut, wanting to be loved at any cost, letting fear dictate my actions, believing I am unlovable, feeling like a failure, and feeling shame for being divorced. No, it wasn’t easy; in truth, it was downright challenging. But, the time I invested exonerating myself reaped great rewards. In fact, self-forgiveness not only brought back my happiness, it banished blame and the agony of my divorce, and, most importantly, freed me from the actions of my ex.
So, if you haven’t been able to forgive your ex, stop trying! Let yourself off the hook and look in the mirror instead. Try to remember who you once were and accept who you are becoming. Take inventory of changes, both good and bad, keeping those that serve you and understanding those that don’t. Acknowledging and examining the changes resulting from your broken heart, and what you can learn about yourself because of them, is the surest way to heal and leave resentment, anger, and that ex of yours behind.
Partners may come and go; you must live with yourself no matter your relationship status. Forgive yourself because forgiving your ex is overrated.