A Specific Forgiveness Exercise for Couples

Those of you who have the absolute perfect spouse, please raise you hand……anyone?

Now, those of you who are the absolute perfect spouse, please raise your hand…..I see no hands up.

OK, so we have established that we are not perfect and neither is our partner. Yet, we can always improve. Note carefully that I am not suggesting that you read this to improve your partner. I write it to improve you, the reader.

Here is a little exercise that I recommend for any couple. Together,Couple talk out the hurts that you received in your family of origin, where you grew up. Let the other know of your emotional wounds. This exercise is not meant to cast blame on anyone in your family of origin. Instead, the exercise is meant for each of you to deepen your insight into who your partner is. Knowing his wounds is one more dimension of knowing him as a person. As you each identify the wounds from your past, try to see what you, personally are bringing into the relationship from that past. Try to see what your partner is bringing in.

Now, together, work on forgiving those from your family of origin who have wounded you. Support one another in the striving to grow in the virtue of forgiveness. The goal is to wipe the resentment-slate clean so that you are not bringing those particular wounds to the breakfast table (and lunch table and dinner table) every day. Then, when you are finished forgiving those family members from the past, work on forgiving your partner for those wounds brought into your relationship, and at the same time, seek forgiveness from him or her for the woundedness you bring to your relationship. Then, see if the relationship improves. All of this is covered in greater depth in my new book, The Forgiving Life.


What if there is no justice in place to protect you? Perhaps, it is a problem with justice not forgiveness, but do you still recommend forgiveness even if justice is not available to protect you? Why or why not?

Are you asking this?—What if the boss is obnoxious and you want to leave?  The old job with this boss is bad for you and there is no better job on the horizon.  Might forgiving the boss keep you in an unhealthy job?  I do not think that forgiveness is a weakness here.  You can forgive and then perhaps, with reduced anger, ask for a more just situation with the boss.  In this case, forgiveness may help you to seek fairness where, right now, justice does not exist.  Your trying to **create** a just situation, after you forgive, may be your protection.

In Memorium: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

We are aware that Nelson Mandela was a controversial figure in this life.  He admitted to 156 acts of violence as a young man.  Apparently, his view was to counteract oppression and violence with violence.

Yet, people change, sometimes toward bitterness and despair, other times toward a greater vision that we are all in this together.  Mr. Mandela seems to have transformed in prison to seeing the humanity in all with the one exception of the unborn.  Yes, he had a flaw there in not seeing deeply enough into the humanity of the most vulnerable.

nelson_mandelaIt is for his stand against the evils of apartheid, a stand that ultimately became non-violent, that we say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Mandela, for your unwavering vision and amazing courage. You guided a nation in transition away from violence. It could have been very different.

One case in point: he invited his jailer to an honored place for the Presidential Inaugural Address.

He showed by his actions that forgiveness is the way back for South Africa.

As another case in point: How many reprisals against apartheid happened after he was elected?  People listened.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Nelson Mandela.

He did not always see clearly, but he matured to see that political violence is no solution at all.

Rest in peace.

If I forgive over and over, might the one forgiven start taking advantage of me? Might it be better to take a longer time to forgive so the other has to wait for it and realize they hurt you?

Aristotle reminds us that no moral virtue should ever be practiced in isolation from the other virtues.  If this is true, then it is true of forgiveness as well because it is moral virtue.  The key moral virtue that should accompany forgiveness is justice so that we are not exploited.  Thus, we need not wait to forgive lest the other take advantage of us.  We can forgive now and ask for justice now.  When we forgive, our request for justice might be kinder than if we were burning with resentment.

Helpful Forgiveness Hint

Start SmallWhen starting to be a forgiver (someone who forgives consistently), try to begin with hurts that are not so large. It is not unlike starting an exercise program. If you try to run 5 miles the first day or to bench press too much weight too soon, you get quite sore, quite discouraged, and may stop exercising. If you start slowly, you build up strength so that you can handle the longer run or the challenging bench press. Start forgiving someone who has not gravely hurt you and work up to those who have.


Forgiveness does not mean staying in an abusive relationship, right? What if the offender is your boss? You want to forgive him/her, but not to get hurt again, you now want to leave the relationship–not without a consequence though because now you’re losing your job. Perhaps, I can ask the same question regarding married couples too. You forgive your abusive partner, but not to get hurt again, you want to leave the relationship, which oftentimes has many negative consequences. Justice is to be practiced alongside forgiveness, but what if you lose more (and are wronged further) by practicing both forgivenss and justice?

The key words in the question are these: “but not to get hurt again.”  When we seek justice we do not necessarily have as our goal “not getting hurt again.”  If we fail to try to reconcile because of possible hurt, then we are misunderstanding what it means to reconcile.  Most people will get hurt by bosses and spouses again because we are all imperfect.

I think the key to an answer here is this:  Does the offending person show the “three r’s” of remorse, repentance, and recompense?  In other words, is there inner sadness (remorse) for what he or she did?  Is there language that suggests this sorrow (repentance)? And is there an attempt by the offending person to do something about a grave offense (recompense)?  Yes, there may be negative consequences when quitting a job or leaving a marriage and so one must not do so too quickly and especially because of the issue of being hurt again.  If the offender consistently offends and shows no hint of instituting the “three r’s,” then staying in the job may be more hurtful than leaving.  In the case of marriage, if the other is a consistent offender over a period of years, say, and is showing no hint of “the three r’s,” then one has to question whether there is a valid marriage, which, depending on one’s particular religious beliefs, can be determined by religious authorities.

Making a decision to go ahead and forgive is hard. Even when I try to “will” myself to forgive by saying over and over, I will forgive,” I have a hard time doing it. What can I do when I do not feel like forgiving so that I can make that important decision to go ahead?

To forgive is a difficult task and so we sympathize with you.  If you are having a hard time forgiving a particular person, try to forgive someone else first, someone who is less challenging because the injustice might not have been as severe.  As you learn the path of forgiveness and get better with practice, then turn your attention to the one who has hurt you so deeply that it is hard to start the process.  This kind of practice may help you work up to forgiving this one person who is posing such a challenge to you.