Anyone who is in a long-term relationship has probably had to forgive, or ask to be forgiven at some point or another. After all, it’s almost impossible to be in a relationship and not offend the other person in some way, no matter how major or minor the offense. Some offenses, easier to forgive than others, just rolls off of our backs. But if we’re speaking of abuse or infidelity, the offended partner may be reluctant to forgive, if they’re able to forgive at all.
While forgiveness is difficult in many situations, forgetting may be downright impossible. How can a person forget what may be one of the most painful experiences of their life, especially when we’re talking about forgiving someone who is supposed to love, cherish, honor and respect you? And how does the person who committed the offense expect their wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend to just “get over it?”
For many people, when they feel someone has chosen to forgive them, they automatically think that the act of forgiveness erases the offense from the other person’s memory. Some even pretend nothing ever happened and that the other person should never bring up the offense again. If only it were that simple.
But what forgiving someone means is that you’re willing to work through the pain, even when the wound is fresh and the offense is still very clear in your mind. In fact, simply trying to forget what happened and moving on without reflecting on it, talking about it and processing it may make matters worse. Trying to forgive and forget a wrong done against you is like putting a Band-Aid on a gash instead of stitches: it may seem like an easy solution at first, but eventually the pain bleeds through and the problem is worse than ever.
It may seem that if we don’t forget, then we can’t forgive. Not true. In fact, we probably can’t forget a truly painful experience no matter how hard we try; so if we claim that we’ve forgiven someone but are really only ignoring a painful memory, all we’re doing is suppressing the anger and resentment until it blows up in our faces. When you truly forgive, you do so with a clear memory of the hurt and vision of the offense, but rather than suppressing that memory, you choose to withdraw the penalty from the other person and move forward with the relationship. It’s natural to want to forget the what someone did to you rather than deal with it, but the greatest forgiveness comes when you’re able to reject the feeling of revenge or bitterness in order to restore the relationship and move on.
That’s not to say that forgiveness is easy and that trust is automatically earned again, but remembering the offense may be the only way you both can do the soul searching necessary to move the relationship forward if that’s your choice. Forgiveness doesn’t require that you forget what was done to you. It doesn’t mean that you condone what was done to you either. Forgiveness requires generosity, patience and a willingness to look past another person’s faults and give them a chance to do better and be better – and it allows you a chance to ask to be forgiven as well. When you truly forgive, the memory of the offense lessens over time if you and the person who hurt you feel that your relationship is worth saving. The burden of resentment will be lifted from your shoulders and the love you have for each other will eventually, with time, be restored.
Forgive and forget? No. Forgive and move forward? Very possible.