Forgive but Don’t Forget

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You can’t be an effective parent until you get your own stuff together. This is the foundation. This is what allows you to be there for them today, tomorrow and the years to come.

This process is the hardest. It’s even worse than imagining your husband or wife with other people. This is the one you will resist the most, so of course, it’s the most important one.

Why Forgiveness?

Everyone knows forgiveness is good, right, just, and important. It’s just better when someone else is doing it.

God tells you to forgive; it’s in the Bible. You know about that even if you don’t read the Bible. You know that every major religion in the world insists that we forgive our brothers and sisters. You know that Jesus Christ forgave the men who whipped him and crucified him. They did a lot worse to him than your wife did to you.

Read this quote from A Course in Miracles, one of the most profound books I’ve ever read: “You who want peace can find it only by complete forgiveness.”

At your core, you know that forgiveness is the way to go. We all know instinctively that forgiveness is what God wants us to do. We also know instinctively, although sometimes it’s really hard to see this, that it’s best for us. But why is it so hard to forgive? Why is it that some really good people, the ones you trust your life with, can’t seem to forgive someone who’s done them wrong?

It’s even harder to forgive if you’re the one who got dumped (also known as the dumpee). My guess is that most of the people reading this article were dumpees. I was a dumpee and some of my best friends were dumpees. In my experience over the long haul, the dumpees usually fare better. But to really do well in life, to move on with grace, they have to get past this forgiveness thing.

I really want to tell you that you have to forgive her (or him) but I won’t, because it’s human nature to resist when another person tells you that you have to do something. That being said, it would be really good for you and for your kids if you could forgive her (or him.)

Don’t throw the book away. This is the part that’s really valuable to your children. This is the part that will do the most to let your kids know everything is okay. It will help them grow up healthy and happy. You might be thinking now that you’re going to throw up because I keep talking about forgiving her and all you can do is imagine her having sex with someone else, behind your back, while you were a good husband.

I’m telling you to forgive him and you think I don’t understand because I’m just a stupid man and I can’t possibly imagine how you feel, knowing you were taking care of little kids and making dinner and being a wonderful wife while your husband was meeting his secretary at a hotel. Let me assure you, I don’t care about your cheating husband or lying wife. I care about your kids. I want to help you. This isn’t about helping the person who is being forgiven. It’s all about helping the one who is doing the forgiving.

Why is it so hard to forgive? Why should I forgive an injustice? And how do I forgive? How do I get to that point where I can forgive?

Understand that when you forgive your husband, you are not condoning what he did. When you forgive your wife, you are not in any way approving of what she did. Forgiveness has nothing to do with right and wrong. It has everything to do with freedom and release. Forgiveness exists for giving you the next good thing for your life.

You’ve probably heard the saying that revenge is like taking poison and expecting your enemy to die. It’s true. As I mentioned earlier, the ancients knew these things long before we were ever born.

The truth is, no matter what your husband or wife did, you’re not going to get even with them. You’re certainly not going to physically harm them or kill them. You’re not going to make it go away, and you’re not going to make it right. They most certainly did what they did because of their own flaws and weaknesses.

Remember George, on Seinfeld, when he tells a women he was breaking up with, “It’s not you; it’s me.” He was right! If your husband or wife dumped you, it really is them. That’s not to say you’re perfect, and I would encourage you to learn as much as you can about yourself. But if you got dumped, there was a reason for it, and most likely that reason was inside that other person. That may not make you feel any better, but they thought they had a good reason. They probably even thought they had to do it. It was more than just a desire; it was necessary for them.

How Do You Activate Forgiveness?

First you have to understand why. Why did they break your heart? Why did they leave you? Why did they cause the divorce? Just for a moment, put aside your judgment, and suspend any thoughts of blame. Cut through all the clutter and just look for the answer to why. The answer may not be rational. It may not be logical. It probably won’t make sense. That’s okay. You’re just looking for the answer to, “Why?”

Is it because they weren’t satisfied with you? Is it because you didn’t make enough money? Or you weren’t funny enough? Remember, the answer to why they left probably doesn’t make sense, and you just want to get to the answer. Most people don’t make decisions based on logic. They make decisions based on emotion.

Here’s an example. My wife left because she wasn’t happy – period. It has nothing to do with logic. From my perspective, she should have been happy. It had nothing to do with reason. Now, all these years later, she’s still not happy. She’s just not happy with someone else. You see, it really was something in her.

Years ago, I knew a dentist who was married to a woman named Michelle and they had two kids. They decided to build their dream house. By the time the house was complete, his wife was sleeping with the builder and she divorced the dentist.

The dentist told me he knew why his wife left. She was bored in their relationship and she was more attracted to the more macho builder.

On the other hand, I recently became re-acquainted with a woman who went to high school with my brother. She was married to a very macho ironworker. She had an affair with an accountant and divorced her husband, the ironworker.

So really, why did these two women leave their husbands? On a superficial level, you could say that they’re opposites. One woman left a dentist for a more manly man and the other woman left a manly man for one with more money. But Michelle married the dentist, so there was obviously something about him that worked for her at some point in her life, and the second woman chose to marry the ironworker, so there was obviously something about him that worked for her.

As an outsider observing the situation, it’s easy to see how the dentist in the first situation and the ironworker in the second situation were both devastated and felt betrayed. But can you also begin to see that it’s not any flaw of the dentist or the ironworker that caused the divorce?

For the sake of simplicity, you could say the dentist’s wife wanted a more macho man and the iron-worker’s wife wanted a less macho man. The point is, each of those women knew the man they were marrying, but over time they became bored or disenchanted or unhappy and they decided they needed more of something or they needed something different.

Both the dentist and the ironworker were good men. Neither of their wives sought out marriage counseling, tried to fix the marriage or, for that matter, really ever told their husbands there was a problem. Instead, they pretended to be good wives while going behind their husband’s back.

As I said, both men were devastated initially. But both of them came to realize that it wasn’t them; it was their wife who wanted something more. They both came to realize that no matter how much money they had or how manly they were, it would never have been enough. In fact, they both came to realize that no matter who their wife married, it would not have worked out because in each case their wives focused on what they perceived they were missing or what they didn’t have.

As an outsider it would be easy to tell the dentist, “It’s not you; it’s her.” So for each of these guys, they figured out why she did it. The answer was simple. She felt like she was missing out on something and she believed she found it with the other man. She had to be with that other man.

Marriage is probably the most important relationship of your life. You swear an oath in front of all of your loved ones that you will commit your life to this person. Without being emotional, I think almost everyone would agree that you should go to great lengths to save your marriage, to solve the problems. Yet, some people abandon that commitment casually and betray the one person to whom they have sworn to be a life-long partner. By definition, anyone who would betray his or her lifetime partner is someone that a healthy person would not want to be in relationship with.

Whether the women in these examples were flawed or selfish, there are a lot of people who are just simply incapable of long-term loving, giving relationships. Whether you call them selfish, self-centered, or dysfunctional, they had a reason for leaving the relationship. It might not have been logical or fair, but they truly felt they had to do it. The more irrational the reason, the better you are without them.

Consciously Activate Faith

There’s another part to this forgiveness thing that makes it even stronger. It’s faith. Developing faith that things really do work out is absolutely necessary. You may not be able to see how it’s going to work out from where you’re standing right now, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t work out. There really is a bigger picture that we don’t see. And the funny thing is, the more you develop faith, the more you will see things working out for you and your family. The more you stop trying to control everything in your life, the more you will find that your life makes sense and the more you will see the pattern.

I’m going to tell you a story about how a tragedy turned into something terrific – and every word of it is true.

There was a pretty young Italian girl engaged to be married. She and the groom made a handsome couple. Both families were looking forward to the marriage, and you can imagine how excited the young couple was.

Think of the thoughts that go through a young bride’s mind a week before her wedding – the excitement, the hopes, the dreams. Can you imagine how that young woman felt when her groom-to-be was killed in a motorbike accident five days before the wedding?

That’s a tragedy that most of us will never experience. I can’t imagine there was any way to console her. Had I been there, I wouldn’t have even tried to tell her that someday, something good could come from this. And yet, as Paul Harvey would say, “Let me tell you the rest of the story.”

The best man, and best friend of the groom, was on an ocean liner coming from America back to Italy when the groom was killed. He didn’t know the groom had died until he landed in Italy. He had never met the bride until this tragedy.

Over time the best man and the bride became friends, fell in love, and got married. (You saw that coming.)

I never knew the young bride, I only knew her as Nona, because that young bride was my great-grandmother. I only knew her as a little Italian lady who spoke broken English, pinched my cheeks until they hurt, and was always laughing and happy. And yes, the best man was my great-grandfather. They had six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

If she had married the original groom, I wouldn’t be here. Neither would my mom, my aunt, my cousins, my children, and my grandchildren. Things have a way of working out.
Getting Over

This article has been edited and excerpted from the book Getting Over It: Wisdom for Divorced Parents with permission by MacKenzie Publishing, LLC, copyright © 2010, Len Stauffenger is a nationally certified attorney who understands and practices transformational energy. He is a catalyst for healing and responsible for helping countless individuals achieve success in their lives. For more information visit www.WisdomForDivorcedParents.com

Please be sure to visit www.hardinglaw.com, the website for the law firm of Harding & Associates, for more information on California family law.

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