What you need to know:
- Choose to forgive for your own sake – irrespective of whether you will reconcile with your partner or opt to move on.
- Do not lose grasp of the fact that you have choices and rights to chart your current and future interactions with your romantic partner.
- Your partner could choose to forgive you as a way of releasing the pain but opt to stop dating you.
Saying sorry and forgiving someone are two of the most emotionally and psychologically impactful human acts. But saying “I am sorry” and accepting an apology are two of the strongest ties that bind healthy relationships.
How you seek forgiveness goes a long way in determining whether forgiveness is extended to you.
An apology must be accompanied by a sincere acknowledgment of the wrong done. According to Linda Bloom, the author of Happily Ever After and Other Myths About Love, the wrongdoer must be clear that they acted or spoke in a manner that either deliberately or inadvertently caused pain to the other. This must be done without a hidden agenda such as to get leeway in decision-making or to gain sexual favours. “There must be no other agenda other than to heal the damage inflicted,” she says.
Remember your words could aggravate the situation, says Dr. Harriet Lerner, the author of Why Won’t You Apologize. For example, if you go out on a date or party with your spouse and say something that hurts them, do not try to atone for your mistake by making light of the situation and your mistake. “Don’t tell your spouse, ‘I’m sorry you felt hurt by what I said at the [date or party] last night’. This is not a good apology. Instead, say, ‘I’m sorry about what I said at the [date or party] last night. It was insensitive and uncalled for,’” she says.
Many offenders hide behind an SMS, WhatsApp, or email message. There is nothing wrong with this. But if you apologise via any of these means, follow up with an apologetic conversation. “An apology does not start and end with a simple ‘I’m sorry’ text message. Do a follow-up to understand your partner’s reaction, perspective, and carry out a retrospection so that you don’t make a habit of repeating the mistake,” says family therapist Susan Gacheru. You must never assume that you know what needs to be done to remedy the pain. “Find out how your partner would want you to rectify the damage you have caused. It will express your genuine desire to change and the value you have allocated them and your relationship,” she says.
After the apology
In most cases, you will expect your apology to be responded to with forgiveness and rebuilding of the relationship. But this is not always the case. Your partner could choose to forgive you as a way of releasing the pain but opt to stop dating you. “Reconciliation may at times be impossible or inappropriate. For example, in cases of assault. Apology and forgiveness are possible even if reconciliation won’t happen,” says Dr. Chris Hart, a psychologist based in Nairobi and the author of Single & Searching.
Dr. Thomas Plante, the author of Do The Right Thing, says that you must bear in mind that forgiveness is a process rather than a verbal act. In given instances, this process may fail to bring you to offering total forgiveness to an aggressor. “You may never be able to completely forgive your partner for a wrong done, but you can work towards getting closer to forgiving them,” he says. To get as close as possible, you must keep the process of forgiveness open and growing.
Forgiveness vs freedom
Do not lose grasp of the fact that you have choices and rights to chart your current and future interactions with your romantic partner. For example, Adena Bank, the author of Covert Emotional Incest says that you still hold the ability and freedom to set limits and boundaries, choices and decisions that will ensure that you do not go through the same sour experiences in the future or that, in case of blatant repetition, you will be prepared to walk away.
If you want to patch things up, you must be ready for the hard work that follows. For a start, do not be overly judgmental and suspicious of your partner. “Don’t lash out at them with constant reminders of the wrong they did. Neither should you unfairly tell them off for their repentant efforts,” says psychologist Patrick Musau. At the same time, the wrongdoer must make efforts to keep their word. For example, if it is their infidelity that has been forgiven, they must make a visible commitment to getting back on the straight and narrow. “They must destroy any communication between them and their cheat partner and cease to act in a manner that is bound to raise suspicions. If they say they will be at Point A at a certain time, they must be there, same as the time they get back home,” says Musau. This is echoed by Dr. Ryan Howes, the author of What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex. Dr. Ryan says that for any rebuilding of the relationship to be successful, the aggrieved partner must be made to feel a reasonable amount of assurance that the act will not recur.
Forgiveness vs Unapologetic
Dr. Plante says that you must learn to forgive for your own well-being. “Forgiveness does not require incentives. Also, you must never expect the wrongdoer to fully comprehend the grievousness of their actions. But over and above, choose to forgive for your own sake – irrespective of whether you will then reconcile or opt to move on,” he says. This also means that you must know how to let your painful emotions come up and go out to avoid languishing in them. But this does not mean that you should make a habit of compromising your principles. “You do not have to return to the relationship or continue to accept the same acts of physical, emotional, and psychological aggression from an aggressor,” says Musau.