Forgiveness does not mean approving of someone’s poor behavior. And it does not mean to forget or to reconcile. Recently I had a married couple in my office who were separating because of infidelity by the husband. I talked to the woman separately about forgiveness of the bad behavior to enable us to go forward with a peaceful divorce. In a somber emotional state after I asked the husband to rejoin us, the wife looked at him and pronounced the magical sentence: “I forgive you.” Silence occupied the room for a few seconds. Then the husband happily started to collect his papers. “I thank you, Nadia. It seems like we don’t need your services any longer,” he said.
The wife and I looked at each other and knew right away that he had misunderstood the meaning of her forgiveness. To her, it meant letting go of the pain that his wrong had caused her. To him, it meant reconciliation.
As a mediation attorney, I have come to hear many stories about couple’s hurts while facing, especially, infidelity in their relationships. Finding forgiveness from deep in our hearts is a hard task that often appears impossible. But it is one that, according to the Dalai Lama, if achieved could bring true peace to our hearts.
Compassion and forgiveness foster the spirits of reconciliation and dialogue between couples caught in the destructive zone of infidelity. But forgiveness does not come easily.
Recently in Denver, Colo., I attended a series of workshops by researchers from Stanford’s Center for Disease Prevention. According to research, the need for forgiveness emerged from a body of work demonstrating the harmful effects that unmanaged anger and hostility have on health. This suggests a strong correlation between the spiritual and physiological effects resulting from forgiveness, with immunological and biochemical parts in the body. Decreased anger leads to improved psychological and physical health.
Forgiveness as a religious duty has been inscribed in the Bible, Torah, Quran and other holy books since the beginning of mankind. We have all heard and read biblical stories of the benefits and after-life rewards for those who forgive the wrongdoer and portray compassion. However, what I learned from reading years of research is that compassion is more than just the promissory note collectable after life. Forgiveness enables the body to release toxins flowing through our cardiovascular system.
In my practice, I regularly see clients who are imprisoned by the pain of betrayal by their partners. Forgiving your partner does not mean you condone his actions. It means you let go of the pain that holds the effects of the wrong. It also does not mean that if he (sorry, the number of husbands who betray their wives is larger) apologizes for his bad behavior, she lets go of child support.
The science of forgiveness is not just about feeling good and self-healing when the trust in a relationship is broken. Failing to reconcile unresolved anger and blame for past hurt can cause immeasurable physical and emotional health problems.
Forgiveness is empowering and holds great promise to conflict resolution. It is a transforming experience that fosters more positive emotions and less negative thoughts about oneself. Remember, you are forgiving for yourself, not for the one who has wronged you. Let the healing begin.