When I divorced my ex-husband, I had a lot of anger, bitterness, resentment, and hurt. He’d been unfaithful, abusive, dismissive, neglectful — in general, a lousy husband and father. I thought I was justified in my feelings. And I was.
But even when a feeling is justified, that doesn’t mean you should hold on to it forever. When I look back today, I can see how holding on to the things he’d done and the feelings I had as a result made my next relationships a disaster.
Forgiveness, the letting go and acceptance of what has happened, is key to truly being ready to move on from a previous relationship. But too many people are unwilling to forgive because they misunderstand what it really means.
Acceptance is not ignoring
When you forgive, you accept something. But this acceptance is often confused with ignorance. People mistakenly believe that acceptance means you ignore what someone did. That you pretend it never happened, or that it’s okay they did what they did, and just continue on as you always have.
But that’s not what acceptance is. Acceptance is exactly what the word says — accepting. You can’t change what happened. But you can accept that it did. You can acknowledge that yes, this thing happened.
Yes, my husband cheated on me. Yes, my husband abused me. Yes, my husband neglected and dismissed me. Yes, my husband was a lousy husband. Yes, my husband was a crappy father.
I can admit those things without being angry with him anymore. I can acknowledge that he did and was all those things and still also acknowledge that those things are wrong and I don’t want those things in my life.
I can understand that those things make up who my ex-husband is and that he never would have changed.
I can accept all that. I can forgive it. And by doing so, I don’t tell him it’s okay he did that. I don’t tell him that I would be with him again and allow him to treat me that way.
It’s merely me saying, “These things happened. They’re unchangeable facts. And while they impacted me and shaped my life in some ways, they don’t have to do that forever.”
Holding on keeps it alive
When you hold on to what someone did to you, you keep it alive. Your mind doesn’t really know the difference between something that is happening right now and something you’re just remembering that happened at another time. It reacts the same way to both, generating the same thoughts and feelings and stress.
So when I moved into new relationships while still holding a grudge against my ex for cheating, abusing, and otherwise hurting me, I was bringing those feelings into the new relationships. I was bringing resentment, fear, anger, and suspicion into those relationships. And of course, my new partner was sensing those feelings even if I never spoke them or acted on them. It was a recipe for disaster.
Those feelings would cause me to look for even the smallest sign that my new partner was like my ex. This meant that I would often misinterpret, often deliberately, the most innocent of words, gestures, or actions. I would make unfounded accusations or merely let my suspicions simmer mentally for days or weeks until I reached a point where I believed them to be true, even if there was plenty of proof that they weren’t.
Forgiveness frees you
Once I forgave my ex-husband, and forgave partners who hurt me in subsequent relationships, I was free. Forgiveness gives you freedom.
It gives you the freedom to let go of hurt, anger, resentment, bitterness, and sadness. It gives you the freedom to get past insecurities, doubts, and shame. It offers you the freedom to open your heart fully and completely to someone new.
When you forgive, you accept that something happened to you but that it isn’t about you. You acknowledge that their behavior may have hurt you, but that it was about them rather than you. You understand that even if they specifically did it to you with the intention of hurting you, it still says more about them than you.
But it’s not one and done
Forgiveness takes time. It doesn’t happen instantly after the offense, and it doesn’t always happen soon after. It can take weeks, months, or even years before you’re able to really forgive someone.
And even after you’ve decided to forgive, and have forgiven, you might find that occasionally it bubbles back up as a problem. Old feelings may surface again.
While I had forgiven my ex-husband for cheating, when I found out another partner was cheating, it brought back all the old feelings of resentment, hurt, anger, and insecurity. It hurt me in the present moment because someone I loved was cheating, but it also brought back everything that had happened with my ex-husband.
I not only had to work on forgiving the current partner (who immediately became an ex, because forgiveness doesn’t mean keeping the person who hurt you in your life) but I also had to let go of everything with my ex-husband again.
Of course, how long it takes to forgive and whether it comes back up again in the future depends on what it is you need to forgive. Smaller offenses are easier to forgive and forget, while bigger ones take more time and effort and might be more likely to rise back up again in the future.
However long it takes, however hard it is, and however many times you need to forgive again, forgiveness is the key to moving on. Forgiveness is the key to the lock on the shackles that hold you back and keep you from committing fully to yourself and your life. Be willing to do the hard work of forgiving because you deserve that freedom.
Wendy Miller is a Single Mom Coach & meditation teacher. She helps moms use mindfulness and meditation to create the life they really want. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her newsletter where she offers more insights, tips, tricks, advice, and information to help single moms find purpose, creativity, passion, and peace.
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