Ask Dr. Forgiveness

My partner was very abusive for a long time at the beginning of our relationship. Verbally, emotionally, once physically. I stayed by her through it and through her hard process to fix herself. I didn’t realize that I had built up walls of self-preservation and anger in order to stay with her. I started to take that out on her and for 8 months was likely emotionally abusive as well. But I’ve since realized it and have begun to seek therapy and work on my anger towards her. She has decided to leave the relationship, but I think we can fix this. How can we both move forward and forgive each other? I know we have something good here.

Without having talked with your partner, it is difficult to know what her past has been like. I suspect that she was treated very unjustly at some time in her past. She needs to look at that first and, if she is willing, to forgive those responsible. It seems that her trust is damaged and it could stem from past injustice. Your relationship has its best chance to mend if she can see and confront past abuse and then forgive those responsible. She will then have learned the pathway to forgiveness when it is time for the both of you to forgive each other. I recommend Chapter 13 of the book, The Forgiving Life, when it is time for the two of you to work on mutual forgiveness with each other.

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I am 55 years old now, when I was 14 my dad made inappropriate suggestions to me, just those words devastated me, i told my mom, she didnt punish him, he died several years ago without saying “I’m sorry”, i have never been able to trust anyone, been married 3 times, I was a single mom,catered to my 2 sons now they have abandoned me, I have tried over and over to forgive, it’s been 5 years since my last divorce, i can’t seem to get over him, he’s definitely gone on with his life and i’m still crying about him,the only person I considered my “best friend”, my sister, got married and never spend time with me anymore, I woould support her in everything but as i go through this pain, she is not there for me, I’m so tired of the ‘pity parties”, i know it’s wrong, I want so much to forgive and get pass the anger and pain.

You have a remarkable and important insight: Your father’s inappropriate behavior when you were 14 has affected each of your important relationships ever since. I recommend working on forgiving your father first because it is central to the rest of your life’s story. Please consider the material in Chapter 12 of The Forgiving Life book, which centers on forgiving one’s parents.

Now, once you have walked that path of forgiving your father, you have a very important question to ask yourself: How has my own behavior toward others been affected by my father’s inappropriateness? You may be tossing your own angers and disappointments onto others who had nothing to do with the abuse you suffered. If this is the case, I recommend two approaches. First, work on forgiving yourself through the exercises in Chapter 10 of The Forgiving Life. Then approach those whom you have hurt and seek their forgiveness. These issues are discussed in Chapter 14 of the book. That chapter walks you through the somewhat complex path of forgiving, seeking forgiveness, and reconciling.

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I have been separated from my husband for 2 years. I left because of his infidelities. We had a combined family of twelve, the real life his, hers, and ours. My family was devastated. His infidelity was open, and blatant… he dated a girl half his age…her kids even called him “Daddy.” Over the past couple of years, I forced myself to accept things for what they were. It was truly painful. Now he wants to reconcile, and doesn’t understand why things can’t be like the way they were. We are both Christians. I talk to him regularly, we have dinner, and he tries to assist me in any way possible. But I can’t help thinking about how he openly flaunted his affair. We have the same friends, some of our family accepted his relationship. Some of our family went so far as to visit their home at the time and seemingly cast my children and I by the wayside. My children were devastated. They didn’t understand how someone who came home every night, and took family trips, etc. could do something like this, and come back around and expect everything to be okay. The eldest is 22 and the youngest is 11. I thought that I was over the pain and the trauma of the situation, but I’m not. We love him, but I don’t want to open my children or myself to feel this kind of pain again. As a Christian, I don’t want my children to be unforgiving… but how do I teach them about forgiveness when I harbor resentment ?

First, I am sorry for the pain that you have. We have to very clearly distinguish between your reconciling with and forgiving your husband. There are important differences. The most immediate issue is reconciliation, which is when two or more people come together again in mutual trust. The basic question is this: Can you trust your husband now and if so, what is the evidence? Trust usually is won after a series of steps to rebuild that trust.

The second issue is forgiveness. You and the children can begin today to forgive your husband/their father. When you forgive, you are working on reducing and even eliminating your resentment toward him and offering mercy, which may or may not include a welcoming back to the marriage.

We have resources in our Store for children and early adolescents who wish to learn to forgive. My book, The Forgiving Life, may be helpful in your forgiveness journey. I recommend that you forgive your husband for each injustice that particularly has wounded you.

Forgiveness is a journey that can take time, so please be gentle with yourself and please allow the children time to be angry and to grieve because for some time now their family has not been intact.

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Is there such a thing as passive abuse? My spouse is constantly ignoring me, engages in long periods of silence, and is not receptive to my pointing out how harmful this is. I see the problem clearly. My partner does not. It is really hard to keep forgiving what is not seen as an injustice by the other party. What advice can you offer on this very difficult situation?

Yes, there is a form of abuse that is passive and silent as you describe. I am presuming that any offense you have perpetrated does not match the duration and intensity of her ignoring and silent behavior. I want to add that I am not saying that you did anything at all. You did not say. Passive aggression, as it is sometimes called, can result from the person being very angry at someone else—not you—and thus the anger could be displaced onto you.

Either way, whether you did something much smaller than the reaction toward you now or you are a victim of displaced anger, your job right now may be to forgive….every day. Ongoing abuse needs a courageous dose of forgiveness to keep your own anger low. So, I recommend that you roll up your sleeves, forgive, and then forgive again and again.

Keep striving for justice, too. After you forgive and are not angry, approach your partner and ask to speak about this situation. Your partner may not be receptive. Forgive again and strive for justice again. It is not easy, but it is a truthful and joyful way to live because you are doing your best and offering love in the face of a very challenging situation.

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