Bitter, Hurt Feelings? How to Forgive Your Spouse…
It should come as no surprise to anyone that an angry resentful person is no fun to be with. In fact most people would prefer to be far away from anyone who tends to project those types of feelings.
What is also true is that the angry, resentful person causes himself harm.
To harbor those powerful negative emotions on an ongoing basis puts enormous stress on a person’s immune system. (See my post on Chronic Stress).
Moreover, carrying those feelings towards a partner in a relationship will ultimately poison any chance for love to last.
When spouses or partners are in conflict they will often hold onto feelings of anger and resentment as a way of justifying or defending their position.
They may lose sight of the fact that, although their anger may be justified, the continued expression of that anger is not benefiting them at all. In fact ongoing anger and hostility breeds resentment and contempt.
Research on couples has shown that the majority of them coming for counseling have been experiencing the same problems for a long time, sometimes from the very beginning of their relationship. These issues slowly deteriorate the relationship causing partners or spouses to become critical and contemptuous of each other.
It has been found that although change of behavior is important in helping couples resolve their negative feelings, it is even more important for couples to learn how to forgive each other.
Forgiveness has been advised by priests, rabbis and healers for centuries as a way of mending hurt and curing deep emotional wounds. It is only recently that therapists have been trying to use it more often in affair recovery counseling as a way of helping spouses to heal themselves.
Learning how to forgive requires that partners begin to change the way they think about each other by taking things less personally, blaming less, learning how to reduce angry feelings and establishing better understanding between them. Forgiveness will lead to more positive emotional experiences and a sense of a more loving connection.
Learning to Forgive
Whatever reason you may have to carry anger and resentment towards your spouse, if you want your relationship to evolve and improve you will want to learn how to forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean you condone whatever was done (or not done) by your spouse. It is not meant to give someone a free ride or the opportunity to continue bad behavior, abuse or infidelity.
It means that you want to let go of the negative feelings that are trapping you and making you sick.
Learning to forgive for the personal reason of feeling healthier, less obsessed with anger or bitterness and freer to make wiser choices and judgments, is as important as it is for the benefit of your family and your relationship.
What You Can Do
Here are some ways to accomplish learning to forgive:
Decide: Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. It sounds difficult to do but it is extremely important that you choose to forgive. It is a mindset that you need to accept in order to accomplish forgiveness.
Accept your role: In most cases there is a shared responsibility for conflict between partners. The problem is that sometimes you may be too angry to look at yourself so you focus your attention on the other as the cause of the problem. This keeps you locked into anger and resentment.
Acknowledge hurt: Write a letter to your partner expressing what they have done and acknowledging how much you have been hurt. Read the letter to your spouse when you are alone and can take the time to heal together.
Ask for forgiveness: If you caused pain then admit it. Tell your partner how sorry you are and how much you care about them. Tell your partner how much it means to you to be forgiven and that you are ready to make a change.
Stop blaming: If you want to find fault you will find it! If you continue to condemn your spouse, not taking any responsibility for the problem, you will only go deeper into the quicksand of ugly, negative feelings. Move away from taking the role of the victim so that you can regain power in your life.
Realize you have a choice: You cannot control the actions of others, and shouldn’t try to do so. But you can control not only your actions, but your thoughts. You can stop reliving the hurt, and can choose to move on. You have this power. You just need to learn how to exercise it.
Try to understand: Try to understand why your partner did what they did. Start from the assumption that he or she isn’t a bad person, but may have done something bad. What could they have been thinking? What could have happened to make them do what they did? What could they have felt as they did it, and what did they feel afterward? How do they feel now? It is not that you are trying to make excuses for or condone bad behavior, but are instead trying to understand it.
Try to remember the love: You formed a relationship in the first place because you had (and may still have) loving feelings for each other. Consider that these feelings are still present though conflicted at this time. You may be too hurt to be in touch with any warm feelings when you are jammed with anger and resentment.
Try to begin again: Recognize that many things have happened between the two of you, both negative and positive. Try to look ahead with an attitude of compassion and reconciliation. Remember all this is predicated upon the assumption that your partner is asking your forgiveness and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
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About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as conflict, infidelity and intimacy. He also specializes in treating addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work life balance.