If you cannot forgive a loved one in general, being able to love that person is in jeopardy. Sooner or later a loved one will do something that hurts you. Then a test of love will ensue. Without the aid of forgiveness, you won’t be able to right and restore the relationship. That being said, forgiveness is not just the responsibility of the party offended. It is a process both the wrongdoer and the wronged need to work through together for genuine forgiveness to come about. If the former denies the deed, or shows neither regret nor a desire to repent, heart-felt forgiveness won’t happen. If the latter refuses to be appeased, regardless of the other’s remorse and repentance, unforgiveness will have hardened yet another heart.
There are minor as well as serious offenses. Sometimes the one saying, “I’m sorry,” followed by the other saying, “I forgive you,” will suffice for both persons. But for a serious offense, more is required. The parties involved need to work through the entire process of making amends to solidify an enduring forgiveness. This process involves a sequence with the following five components:
Awareness: you have to admit to yourself the wrong and recognize its pain. If you deny or downgrade its significance to you, you won’t resolve it. Both parties need to be aware of the wrong.
Communication: it is vital to tell the other about the wrong committed against you. This is the most difficult step for most of us. It’s easier to keep the offense to ourselves, to diminish or dismiss its impact on us. Yet to heal the breach, you have to let your pain remain as pain, and refusing to translate it into anger, you must speak the truth calmly, succinctly, staying on track.
Acceptance: you need to feel validated, to believe your grievance is legitimate. This means you cannot let the other convince you the problem exists only in you, that your pain arose merely from your interpretation of the event, rather than from the event itself. This would generate a “double-¬whammy”: first is the initial wound, second is the suffering endured by being called into question – if not called “crazy.” You may need a counselor to validate you, and to serve as a referee between you and the other.
Repentance: if the other recognizes, regrets and desires to repent of the wrong, expressing commitment not do it again, forgiveness becomes both possible and essential. The regret needs to be sincere, not just to appease you.
Reconciliation: now it’s for you to forgive. Your forgiveness may however need to be in stages, especially if this is not the first time the other has committed the offense. It’s perfectly acceptable to grant a conditional forgiveness, like a trial or probationary period. If this seems unfair to the other, it is fair to you – and may be necessary for the relationship. Forgiveness takes time.
Forgiving another doesn’t always entail going back to the way things were before the offense. This may prove neither possible nor desirable. You may reach the point where you will not risk trusting or being intimate with the other again. Forgiveness would then signify your releasing the past to be the past, and the future to be open to new beginnings.