Almost a year ago, my girlfriend of two years began telling me that she loved me and wanted to be together, however she wanted the freedom to be with other people. We did not talk for nearly two months, but in that time she had admittedly done a lot of reckless things. When she reached out to me to reengage our relationship, she was extremely apologetic and sincerely remorseful. So I agreed to try to forgive her and mend our relationship. Since then she has put great effort into telling me how sorry she is. Sometimes it hurts to be together and sometimes it hurts to even see her interact with other people, knowing that she so easily betrayed our relationship for the attention of others. Please help me with some ideas about what I might need to do in order to feel ok again.

You say you have tried to forgive your girlfriend and perhaps you have. A key issue now is trust. You can forgive someone and still have trouble trusting in certain, specific areas. In your case, it may be fidelity in the relationship. Forgiveness is an unconditional response of goodness toward those who have hurt us. I say it is “unconditional” because every moral virtue we can name (justice, courage, kindness, and so forth) never requires that someone else does something before we choose to be just or courageous or kind. And, if forgiveness were conditional on an apology, you would be trapped in unforgiveness until the other said those two little words: “I apologize.”

Trust, in contrast, is part of reconciliation, which is always conditional—conditional on the other person’s remorse (an inner response), repentance (“I apologize”), and recompense of some kind. In this case, the recompense seems to be trustworthiness, which is earned one small step at a time. You seem to lack trust because of your statement about your feelings when your girlfriend interacts with others.

I recommend first going through the forgiveness process at least once more to be sure that you have forgiven. If you are still feeling resentful or uneasy, then from your position of having already forgiven her, consider whether or not you should discuss the theme of trust with your girlfriend. This needs to be done in love and in truth so that she does not feel condemned. The point is to talk about ways to build trust so that you can solidify the relationship.

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Categories: Ask Dr. Forgiveness