Forgive and Forget: How Letting Go Can Strengthen Your Relationship

Forgiveness is one of the keys to a successful relationship.
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Easier Said Than Done

Most people have some idea that forgiveness is good, but it’s much easier said than done in practice. To get to forgiveness, you need to work hard to start changing your attributions about your partner’s behaviors.

An attribution is a causal explanation. When we attribute causal explanations to our partner’s behaviors we can do so in a positive or negative light. Forgiveness begins with the choice to look toward the positive. My wife came home late from work the other night. I was upset because she does this often and I get saddled with preparing dinner for the kids on my own way too often.

I got upset, and my main thought (attribution) was that she’s taking advantage of me… again! When I let that thought take over, my blood started to boil.

She came running in the door when she got home and apologized for being late. I didn’t care, I wanted to give it to her, and I’d been working up a really great speech in my mind.

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I am not sure what stopped me, but her apology allowed me to step back for a second and re-work my attribution. She has a tough job. She’s doing the best she can. She’s human and imperfect, just like me.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so bad. The key to forgiveness is to seek understanding. You might dismiss my example as a trivial problem that hardly explains what happens when relationships are really stuck. This may be true, but consider the example above. Brian could do the same thing. The “real” reason Veronica has trouble getting on time is that she’s doing so much around the house and she’s the primary person getting the kids ready to get out the door (to school, to play dates, to visit the grandparents, etc.). Brian can forgive the lateness if he can put his thoughts and feelings about the past on hold long enough to understand the real reason why Veronica has a hard time keeping on schedule.

Don’t Be a Doormat

There are times when understanding your partner’s motivations are not enough. Forgiveness is an olive branch, and making an effort to understand your partner’s behaviors instead of jumping to negative conclusions is all well and good. Do not, however, become a doormat in the process.

To begin, I suggest you only forgive when you also express the hurt. Take the example with my wife. I totally understood her position, but I also told her how much is sucks to get left doing the dinner routine by myself too often. I was able to overcome my anger to forgive, but I expressed my frustrations in a reasonable way.

You cannot forgive bad behavior indefinitely. Express how you feel about the hurt and tell your partner what is and isn’t acceptable. If the bad behavior continues, you need to stand up for yourself and make some changes.

In this particular situation, it might be advisable to read my prior column. If you find what I wrote offensive in any way, I hope you can forgive me and see I was just trying to do my best.

This post originally appeared on

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