Saturday, July 17, 2010

Forget Forgiveness...Reach for Reconciliation

Forgiveness, says marriage counsellor and the author of 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married, is a stupid notion.
Dr. Guy Grenier is referring to our culture's preoccupation with the "forgive and forget" mentality. With betrayal, in particular he says, that's impossible.
What he recommends instead is reconciliation. Accepting what happened as in the past...and determining how you can positively affect your present and work toward a better future.
While I sometimes think it comes down to semantics – personally I've never believed that forgiveness was about saying what happened was "okay" – I nonetheless think he has a good point. And perhaps it's the word "forgiveness" and all that it implies – releasing someone from responsibility, forgetting, suggesting that what they did was okay – is exactly what stops so many of us from being able to do it.
Perhaps if we use a different word – like Dr. Grenier's "reconciliation", for example – it frees us to be able to consider the benefits behind it and apply it to our own lives.
I'm always a bit skeptical of those who, in the early weeks following D-Day, are able to announce that they've "forgiven" their errant spouse. At that point, the betrayed partner has barely absorbed the betrayal...and it's impossible to forgive what hasn't been fully experienced. It reeks, to me, of Christian stoicism – forgiveness because it's the right thing to do. Not the healthiest or the wisest...but the prescribed response to hurt. And, if it isn't truly felt, it will feel like yet another betrayal...of yourself.
I read many books and articles in my search to understand and recover from my husband's betrayal that suggested a lack of forgiveness stood in the way of moving forward in my life. Forgiveness, I read often, was freedom for myself. It was, many suggested, not about saying that what happened was okay but accepting that it had happened – giving up hope of a better past.
Those of us betrayed wives who view it that way are likely able to come to a point of forgiveness. The problem, I've discovered, is often how our partners (ex or otherwise) perceive it.
Forgiveness to them can mean a get-out-of-jail-free card. They can interpret it as being off the hook, freed from purgatory, out of the doghouse.
And that is something we, the betrayed, don't necessarily intend.
Though we may not want our (ex) spouses to feel perpetually chagrined for what they did, we also don't want them, at any point, to think that we're "over it". Or that it's "okay" now. It's not. And it never will be.
And so...reconciliation.
Reconciliation in its most extreme form was played out in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, where an entire country needed to heal.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Africa allowed that. It allowed both sides to voice their pain. To take responsibility where appropriate. And to accept that there was no turning back the clock. There was only the present and the future...and the chance to do their best to ensure what happened in the past never happened again.
And that is where true reconciliation (and forgiveness) lies. In the now.


  1. Brilliant! Thank you, thank you. I agree with everything you said, and could never have stated it so eloquently.

  2. One of the most freeing moments for me, was taking forgiveness off the table. I told my spouse if he needed it to move forward, that he wasn't going to get it and that might be a problem for him. That doesn't mean I will stew and be miserable and let his actions hold power over me forever. But saying the words, "I forgive you" is simply never going to happen.

    When I let that go, and released the pressure I felt to forgive, and when he said he didn't need those words, he only needed me, a weight was lifted and I was able to move forward.

    It was good for me to NOT forgive.

  3. What my husband has done to me is unforgivable. He knows this. I will never forgive him. I also will not hold onto this pain or hate of my husband- Learning to let it go-move forward, is hard though.



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