Many have said in jest, “forgive and forget”. However we would not want to forget events, otherwise where is the learning? What we do want though is less negative intensity of memories that trigger us.
Forgiveness is a living thing, and it’s brought alive by the intention of our will. Life wasn’t meant to be easy, and nor is forgiveness easy. However our intention to bring it into being and let go of the hold of responsibility for another’s action can help to spark it into life, gain momentum, and come into being.
In ACA’s Counselling Australia Inc. Journal (Volume 18:1, Autumn 2018), Susan A Bennett conducted research into forgiveness within couples. She discovered that “forgiveness was something alive – it grew over time, it required nurturing; it was both fragile and robust; it experienced ebbs and lows in the relationship”. She describes the forgiveness process following betrayal within a committed couple as a dance, where “Each partner undertakes individual movements towards the other, each movement having an influence on, and in turn, being influenced by the other”.
The injured partner moves in and out of the therapist’s ‘arena’ while they express their emotional pain and chaos; and the injured partner moves in and out of the arena while they take responsibility for their decision to engage in the betrayal, and their willingness to deal with the impact of the betrayal. During this time the therapist works to improve communication, each partner to manage their emotional regulation and conflict. Both are assisted in exploring ways in which their own be behaviours have contributed to the relationship difficulties prior to the betrayal.
Increased empathy and attempts at understanding can soften both parties and bring more balance of power in the relationship. Apologies may be given throughout the process, however the injured partner needs to feel that the offender gives it with sincerity, so that offers of forgiveness can be accepted and trust can be rebuilt.
Those who have worked with committed couples who have experienced a betrayal report that, “Whilst the damage suffered following betrayal is devastating, it is possible that a committed couple can restore their relationship, as they undertake the work of forgiveness. ” Indeed, their relationship may grow stronger as they examine assumptions about themselves, their partner and the relationship, and learn to cherish each other more.