Forgiveness is the highest act of love

Forgiveness means pardon without punishment

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In all marriages, partners hurt each other. Some hurts inflict deep wounds and heartache that you think you will never recover from. Other hurts are those daily attacks and insults that stockpile and end up eroding your sense of emotional safety and trust and force partners to put up protective barriers or strike back.

My husband and I have made some serious mistakes in our marriage so I know what I’m talking about. I suppose that’s why I’m grateful for forgiveness. To give and receive forgiveness is the highest act of love.

The art of forgiveness allows the offending partner to be pardoned, absolved and set free without punishment.

In marriage ‘punishment’ usually takes the form of recrimination, sniping and hurling reminders of the past offence during an argument. To extend forgiveness is to give up this form of torment.

But there are rewards for the forgiver too. Forgiveness allows the hurt partner to be freed from carrying the pain, anger and bitterness and obsessing, which is debilitating and soul-destroying.

We make a conscious decision to forgive and it doesn’t mean the pain evaporates instantly. If the hurt is deep, forgiveness is just the beginning of a healing process. Just as physical injuries take time to heal, so do emotional injuries. The desensitising of the wound can take months or years.

I know a couple in their 60s who survived his adultery. It took two years for the wife to recover from the trauma of feeling her whole world had collapsed. However, now they travel Australia in their retirement, holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes, cherishing each other.

Time itself does not perform the healing. A passage of time allows the mind to process the trauma and move through shock and disbelief, grief, rage, insecurity, guilt, shame and blame.

However healing is an active, conscious process, which can only occur when you allow yourself to feel, not repress these emotions. People who don’t heal traumatic hurts through forgiveness can carry festering wounds for a lifetime.

There’s another impulse, which resides in the human psyche; the desire for revenge, to hit back at the person who has hurt you. Victims of crime and victims of infidelity in marriage often experience violent revenge fantasies.

Christians say that Jesus gave a radical teaching on retaliation, which goes completely against our base impulse, when he preached turning the other cheek and refusing to retaliate when hurt.

Jesus taught that forgiveness is an on-going process. He instructed us to forgive repeatedly, 70 times seven. You can take this to mean forgiving the same offence over and over, which is necessary in the case of a traumatic violation. It also means forgiving the multitude of offences that come our way every day, from family members, friends, colleagues and strangers.

As we know, Jesus was big on forgiveness. It was his core teaching. He gave humanity the great gift of forgiveness and when we receive divine forgiveness for ourselves, forgiving other becomes mandatory. If we are walking in God’s grace, forgiveness flows from a spirit of humility and awareness of our own failings.

If there’s one thing our hatred-filled, war-torn world could use right now is forgiveness. But let’s start on a small scale. If you have been deeply hurt by your wife or husband, the one person you trusted with your heart, forgiveness will be the most challenging gift you’ll ever give. But the rewards are great. Forgiveness is the key to emotional healing and the restoration of trust, love and happiness.

Diane Priestley

Engaging storyteller, Prolific Journalist, Empowering People Matters

Hello Psychologies Tribe, Let me introduce myself! I'm an experienced journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Australia and the UK. I write about relationships, health and humanitarian issues. I'm a qualified Counsellor and Workshop Facilitator. I moved from Australia to the UK in 2009 and now live near the beach in Folkestone, Kent and part of the year in Kenya doing community work.


Go to the profile of Christine Tanner Artist
over 6 years ago
Our marriage suffered a massive blow five years ago, when I discovered my husband was having phone sex with a sex worker. We had only been married a coupe of years, and it felt like he had been sleeping with her. Whispering sweet nothings in another's ear over a period of about eighteen months, I had discovered records of payment after discovering an email in his inbox. It was as if he wanted to be discovered in order to be able to stop. I cried, raged, cursed and swore at him. I felt humiliated and our relationship was sullied in my eyes, cheapened and tarnished. We went to Relate and he got counselling to help him break a habit he had developed when single - he had never been married before - we are in our fifties. I felt like I never got closure because I got no counselling as such, and the Relate counsellor was a man who did not empathise with how I felt. I decided to work on the forgiveness thing, and it has taken me five years to get there. I'm still not completely there, but upon my awful discovery, I asked my other half if he wanted to leave the marriage, or if he wanted to stay and work it out. However much I loved him (and still do), I didn't want him to feel he was trapped. He was terrified of losing me, he said, and that he wanted to be with me. I put him through countless tests (and I still find it hard to resist looking at his emails), but he is forgiven now because I love him, love our relationship, love our marriage. I had to separate the behaviour from the man, and when I look at this man I still see the guy I fell in love with and I fall in love with him all over again. He didn't misbehave out of malice, just a lifelong habit he had developed as a single person. My past relationships were destroyed by my former husbands' malice and infidelity and I was judging this man by those standards (or indeed lack of them). I had fifteen years of celibacy between my ex and meeting my present husband, and I used that time to really work on myself and avoid choosing abusive relationships. It worked because my soul mate, my equal, my friend and my lover is benign and caring, but unfortunately for him, he hurt a hurt person, and it was not an easy ride for him, this past five years.
Go to the profile of Diane Priestley
over 6 years ago
Thank you for sharing so openly Christine your painful journey of emotional injury, healing and ultimately forgiveness. I empathise completely. Infidelity is incredibly traumatic, more than anyone could imagine, and it takes a few years to recover. I'm glad to know your love survived and flourished, due to your efforts to forgive.