A couple shares a hug under some trees in front of the sea representing how to forgive your partner

Releasing Your Pain and Anger after Hurt or Betrayal

Are you struggling to forgive your partner? When a loved one fails to respond in an emotionally supportive way at a moment when we need it the most, it can profoundly damage your sense of emotional safety and trust in your partner. In fact, from what I’ve seen as a couples counselor and affair recovery coach, the relationship can feel as though it has changed forever: positive events are wiped away, leaving us to see only flaws, annoying habits, and omens of more bad things to come. If moments like these become routine, they can chip away at the secure, loving foundation you forged so carefully, leaving your relationship in ruins.

Here are just a few examples of this kind of relational pattern. Notice if any of them feel familiar to you…

  • Linda came into the bedroom the night before their teenage daughter was set to
    enter an outpatient rehab facility. Filled with anxiety around the decision, Linda
    asked her husband Jim if he felt they were doing the right thing. Jim looked up
    from his book and said in a dismissive tone, “It will be fine. If you are feeling
    anxious about it, sleep in the guest room, because I’ve got a big meeting in the
    morning.” That interaction reinforced Linda’s perpetual suspicion that she was all
    alone in the relationship, and after years of similar incidents, Linda knew at that
    moment that the marriage was over for her.
  • Dan came home exasperated and angry. “My tire blew out on the freeway and
    then I lost control of the car! I could have been killed! And I had to Uber home
    because you couldn’t come pick me up?” Sarah replied defensively, “I’m busy
    with the kids and packing for the trip you planned. We have to leave at the crack
    of dawn tomorrow, and I didn’t think it was a big deal for you to Uber and save
    me 3 hours of driving.” Dan began to feel that he doesn’t matter in the
    relationship, and thought to himself, “I’m really hurt, it’s going to take me a long
    time to get over this.”
  • Patrick felt sick as he looked at the message on John’s iPad; the text from
    another man was knowing and intimate in its tone. As John scrolled through the
    conversation, he discovered that this relationship had been going on for 3 years!
    When Patrick confronted him, John was horrified and remorseful, stating that it
    was only an emotional affair and that he would end it immediately. Patrick just
    looked at him thinking, “Who are you?” Years of trust in his partner had vanished
    in a moment, now leaving both Patrick and the relationship in need of recovery from infidelity.

The Benefits of Forgiving Your Partner

Dr. John Gottman, an internationally recognized expert on relationships and founder of the evidence-based approach to couples therapy, “The Gottman Method“, says that negative emotion takes a great deal of energy to hold, exacting a toll on us and our relationships alike. It takes strength and courage to open yourself up authentic forgiveness, and couples need not be dominated by unresolved resentments. According to Gottman, forgiveness gives couples the future they deserve. That’s why knowing how to forgive your partner is such an essential skill.

Here are just a few of the benefits of forgiveness in relationships:

  • Decreased resentment
  • Having fun together again
  • Less stress, better sleep
  • Enjoying a better sex life
  • Feeling like you’re a united team, working together.
  • Restoring trust.
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  • Deeper feelings of love and emotional connection.

In truth, forgiveness is not about forgetting,

How to Forgive Your Partner When Hurtful Behaviors Stem From a Lack of Empathy

Couples often try to ignore these signs of relationship trouble, but resentment ultimately develops, causing cracks in the original foundation.

The partners who inflict these kinds of injuries often don’t do it on purpose or out of malice. Instead, they are simply not tuned into the needs of their partners and genuinely do not know how to offer emotional comfort. Some hurts are also a symptom of a negative dynamic between the couple to which both people contribute.

Couples often try to ignore these signs of relationship trouble, but resentment ultimately develops, causing cracks in the original foundation. As they continue to build a life together on unstable ground, the relationship grows ever more fragile, distant, and unfulfilling, which may even lead to infidelity or partners developing a crush on someone else.

One way to move through these kinds of repeated moments of significant disconnection is first to become aware of what’s happening, understand what has happened in a deep way. If our partner seems genuinely remorseful, it might be helpful to consider forgiveness. And not just helpful for them, either — but for you as well. The Stanford Forgiveness Project explored the healing properties of forgiveness and found that people who forgive experienced improved physical and emotional well being.

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So, how do you forgive your partner? True forgiveness requires the participation of both people. For the “offending partner” to become aware that they have deeply hurt their partner is a beginning. However, according to the research of esteemed psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, what is most essential and critical to achieving forgiveness is for the person that did the hurting, to take their partner’s hurt seriously… and care.

Caring is the first, and most important step on the path of forgiveness. Dr. Johnson delineates a further six key steps to forgiveness in her book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

Six Key Steps to Forgive Your Partner

  1. The hurt partner needs to speak as openly as possible about his/her pain with as much detail as possible (e.g., “I felt so betrayed/extremely alone/really
    unloved/etc.”).
  2. The injuring partner listens, remains present, and acknowledges the pain and
    his/her part in causing it. Until the pain is truly recognized and validated it cannot be let go.
  3. The hurt partner starts to emerge from his/her protective wall and again shares the depth of his/her hurt, betrayal, pain, etc.
  4. The injuring party takes ownership of the pain he/she caused, legitimizes the
    other’s pain, and apologizes from a genuine, authentic place in his/her heart. An
    authentic apology then invites reconnection.
  5. The hurt partner identifies what he/she needs to bring closure to the injury and expresses it directly to his/her partner with the partner responding appropriately and empathically.
  6. The couple now has a new story of how together they confronted the trauma and pain and are beginning to heal it.

Many couples, particularly those who have suffered serious betrayals of trust such as an affair, or feeling abandoned by their partner in a time of great need, need the support of an experienced marriage counselor to work through these steps together.

How Do You Deal with an Unforgiving Partner?

What if you are the one who’s seeking forgiveness in your relationship, but no matter what you do, your partner just won’t forgive you?

This is a problem that I see in marriage counseling all the time. It can feel so frustrating when you feel like you’ve done everything in your power to make amends and move forward, but your partner is still stuck in the past, and holding it against you. It’s important to remember that forgiveness is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. This is especially true if you betrayed your partner in a major way, such as by cheating. Your partner isn’t just making a rational decision to forgive you; they’re moving through an emotional healing process, and it takes time.

Here are my tips for dealing with an unforgiving partner:

  • Avoid defensiveness. This will only undermine your apologies and invalidate your partner’s (still hurting) feelings.
  • Remain empathetic. It will be easier for your partner to forgive you if you continue to show up and demonstrate that you care — even when it feels hard.
  • Listen to your partner. If there was a big-time injury in your relationship, it’s not something that you are going to discuss once and then be done with. You will need to continue checking in with your partner and being responsive to them throughout their healing process.
  • Ask your partner what they need from you to move forward. There may be something that you could do to help them take the next step.
  • Adjust your expectations. Get into the mindset that true forgiveness takes time and patience… and that it’s worth the wait.

Forgiveness: A New Chapter in Your Relationship

I hope you found this article helpful. If you haven’t already, check out the full podcast episode in the player above. It’s got even more advice, just for you.

I know that forgiveness can feel out reach when you’re still hurting from what your partner did. But forgiveness is not only possible, it’s the start of a positive new chapter in your relationship, once you can get there. I have relationship experts on my team who know how to help you find forgiveness, heal together, and build a relationship that’s stronger because of what you’ve been through together.

If you’re ready to take the first step, I invite you to schedule a free consultation with a Growing Self couples counselor.

Wishing you strength and healing,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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