Reconciliation is different from forgiveness. When we reconcile, this is a process of two or more people coming together again in mutual trust. Reconciliation is conditional on the other person’s willingness to change, if he or she was the one who acted unfairly. Forgiveness, in contrast, can be offered unconditionally to the other as a form of respect, understanding, compassion, and even love, even if there is no reconciliation. So, you can forgive without reconciling.
With all of this as background, here are four questions which might help you decide if you are ready to reconcile (and I am presuming that the other is the one who has hurt you):
1) Has the other shown an inner sorrow about what he or she did? We call this remorse;
2) Has the person verbally expressed this sorrow to you. We call this repentance;
3) Has the person made amends for what happened (and we have to ask if he or she has done so within reason because sometimes we cannot make full amends. For example, if someone stole $1,000 from you but truly cannot repay it all, then you cannot expect that he or she can make amends in any perfect way). We call this recompense;
4) If the person has shown what I call the “three R’s” of remorse, repentance, and recompense, then do you have even a little trust in your heart toward the person? If so, then perhaps you can begin a slow reconciliation, taking small steps in rebuilding the relationship. Your answer to these four questions may help you with your question: How do I know that I now am ready to reconcile?
What cautions do you have for me before I reconcile with a former partner who was not particularly trustworthy?
Here are three cautions for you:
- If you reconcile too quickly without the other showing any remorse, repentance, or recompense, then this could be a false reconciliation in which you may be hurt again in the same way.
- Please do not think of forgiving and reconciling as the same. You can forgive from the heart, but then not reconcile if the other continues to be a danger to you. If you equate the two, then as you forgive, you may feel a false obligation to reconcile.
- If you are still angry and not forgiving, then, without realizing it, you might use reconciliation as a weapon, in which you come together in a superficial way and then you keep reminding the other of how bad he/she has been and how good you have been. This is why you need forgiveness to occur before a deep reconciliation occurs.
I am concerned about learning through observation. If children see parents arguing frequently, sometimes intensively, will these children, in the future, engage in bullying others in school or even be a contentious partner in adulthood?
This depends on what the child, who now is an adolescent or an adult, has learned from what was observed about the parents. It is possible that the person might gain wisdom from the parents’ fighting and realize that such a pattern is not healthy. Thus, the person may deliberately commit to not following the parents’ behavior. In contrast, if the person does not reflect on the potentially destructive pattern, then, yes, the person may grow up to show bullying behaviors in school and to repeat the pattern of a conflictual relationship with a partner. In other words, insight along with a commitment to not imitate the conflictual behavior might spare the person from repeating the parents’ behavioral pattern.
My daughter recently divorced her husband. She wants nothing to do right now with forgiving him. On the other hand, I am interested in forgiving him for how he treated my daughter. My question for you is this: Can I forgive him or would I be disloyal to my daughter who does not want to forgive?
You are free to choose forgiveness in this case. Even though your daughter’s ex-spouse did not hurt you directly, he did hurt you in a secondary sense in that he hurt your loved one. Forgiving in this context is appropriate. You are not being disloyal to your daughter if you choose to forgive to rid yourself of resentment. You need not, then, go to your daughter and proclaim your forgiveness and then pressure her now to do the same. You can forgive without discussing this with your daughter. If and when she is ready to forgive, then you can share your insights about the forgiveness process with her.
I have not whole-heartedly forgiven my partner, who remains unrepentant. Does this mean that I have not yet forgiven?
Forgiving another need not be whole-hearted. Sometimes people have anger left over and that is not an indication that there is no forgiving that is happening. Do you wish the other well? Have you forgiven to a point? For now, that may be enough. You need not be hard on yourself.