In my experience, it is much harder, on the average, to forgive close family members. This is the case because those close to us are supposed to love us and not treat us deeply unjustly. There can be a deep sense of betrayal when someone, who is supposed to love us, acts very unjustly. As one more point, the answer to your question also depends on how serious the injustice is from the family member and from the stranger. If the stranger’s injustice is horrific, then this person will be harder to forgive than family members who do not act nearly as unjustly.
I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?
I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin. Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family. This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come. Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other. Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard. I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.
My partner keeps saying that I am “morally superior” because I forgive. He does not mean this in any positive sense. He is using it as an insult. How do you recommend that I respond?
I would say something such as this: “Yes, forgiveness is a moral issue and so, yes, I am showing moral behavior toward you.” Yet, as the philosopher Joanna North has said in a philosophy journal article, when people forgive, they lower themselves in humility so that each person can meet person-to-person. So, yes, forgiving is an admirable moral response, but it does not suggest domination of the other at all.
I forgave my partner and still we have too much conflict. I now hate myself for forgiving and feel weak. What do you think?
I think you might have confused forgiving (a merciful response of being good to those who are not good to you) and reconciliation (two or more people coming together again in mutual trust). If you have no trust, you still can forgive by trying to reduce resentment against the partner and to offer goodness, even from a distance, if you have to leave the relationship. This distinction between forgiving and reconciling may help you to have mercy on yourself now. You have inherent worth no matter what your circumstances. I wish you the best in your decisions.
In your book, “Forgiveness Is a Choice,” you start with a case study of Mary Ann. Would it have been easier for her just to divorce her husband, given that he was toxic, rather than forgiving and reconciling?
Because forgiveness is a choice, we have to be careful not to judge others for their particular decision. In Mary Ann’s case, there was a genuine reconciliation. Since reconciliation involves mutual trust, we can surmise that he made important changes. Mary Ann is happy now and so her decision to forgive and reconcile was wise.