Is there a difference between forgiving and wishing someone well?  I wish my ex-husband well, but I am still very angry with him because he broke the marriage covenant.

The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, made the point that people are starting to forgive when they wish the other person well.  Thus, you likely are at the beginning of forgiveness and this is a positive step.  Now you need to press onward toward deeper forgiveness.  Try to see your ex-husband’s worth; try to see his emotional wounds which might have contributed to the break-up; try to be aware of any compassion that may be growing in you as you do this work.  The result, based on our research, likely will be reduced anger.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Forgiving for me is a struggle, but I can accomplish it.  My issue is with reconciliation, which I am finding very awkward with one particular person.  Can reconciliation ever be truly accomplished after a brutal betrayal?

Congratulations on forgiving in the face of a “brutal betrayal.”  This is not at all easy to accomplish.  Regarding reconciliation, your struggle may be centered on the theme of trust. How trustworthy is the person whom you have forgiven?  If you are not able to establish trust, at least not yet, this may be the cause of your struggle.  Try to get a sense of whether or not the other is sorry for the injustice, uses words that suggest sincerity of repentance to you, and shows behavior that is consistent with the inner sorrow and words of repentance.

For additional information, see Do I Have to Reconcile with the Other When I Forgive?

A year ago, my wife hurt me deeply, right down to my core.  She did not apologize then or now.  She does not feel responsible because she did not intend to hurt me.  I do not want revenge at all.  While I believe that I can forgive her, even without an apology, is it inconsistent with the notion of forgiveness that I feel she cannot remain my wife if she will not take responsibility for her part in my suffering?

Yes, it is inconsistent to both forgive your wife and to consider leaving her for the hurt she caused you, especially when her action appears to be a one-time act that was not repeated. To put in perspective what I am saying, I think you may have a good case against your marriage if: a) she showed a pattern before marriage that made it impossible for her to be a wife to you; b) she continued this pattern that is so extreme that she was not a wife to you during the marriage, and c) it appears, from the counsel you receive from competently wise people, that she does not have the capacity for the future to truly be a wife to you.

Perhaps you both need to sit down and revisit the hurtful event from a year ago. She says that she never intended to hurt you. Sometimes, intentions that are not directed toward unjust and cruel actions nonetheless are morally wrong. Here is an example: A person at a party knows that she will be driving. Yet, she drinks and then drinks to excess. She gets behind the wheel of the car, drives, crashes into another car, and breaks the leg of the other driver. She did not intend wrong. She tried to be careful even though she had too much alcohol in her. The act itself was negligent even though there was no intent to break another person’s leg. It was negligent precisely because the consequences of driving under the influence can be dire even with the best of intentions.

Does your wife see this: one can act unjustly even with intentions that are not leaning toward doing something unjust? Do you see this: Her actions, though hurtful to you, may not have been unjust? Try to have a civil dialogue about these issues. And continue to deepen your forgiveness and to see that your avowed commitment to your wife is far deeper than one even enormous hurt that she inflicted on you.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I was hurt in a 5-year relationship and now I am hesitant to get into any other relationship. Does this lack of courage on my part suggest that I have not forgiven the one who hurt me?

The issue here seems to be one of a lack of trust. You may or may not have forgiven the one with whom you were in a relationship for the 5 years. Even if you have completely forgiven, you still may lack trust and this is not a sign of unforgiveness. It is a sign that you know hurt is possible when you commit to others. Forgiveness can help with taking the risk and at the same time your using common sense in the new relationship, along with sincere acts of trustworthiness by the other, should help to slowly create a trust with the new person.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I thought I had completely forgiven my ‘ex’ and last night I had a dream that reawakened all of my anger. I had forgiven, maybe, a year ago. Now here I am again fuming. Do you have a suggestion for me to really get over this and forgive permanently?

We have to realize that forgiveness, as the late Lewis Smedes said, is an imperfect enterprise for imperfect people. It is common to have forgiven and then to be triggered by something unexpected, whether it is a dream or meeting the person for the first time, as examples. Because you already know the path of forgiveness, I recommend that you get your backpack on again, and your hiking shoes, and travel the forgiveness road once again. This time it may be quicker with deeper results. And please do not be discouraged if and when you have another trigger for your anger in the months or years ahead. Go on the forgiveness journey once again.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I am finding no excuses for what my husband has done to me. When I try to forgive, it is very difficult for me to cultivate any sense of empathy toward him. What would you suggest to help me forgive?

You need not find any excuses for your husband’s behavior if you are to forgive him. Forgiveness is not based on finding excuses, but instead is based on seeing his worth, not because of what he did, but in spite of this. Further, try to see his inner world. Is he wounded in any way? Confused? Do you see a human being rather than someone who is less than human? These kinds of perspectives can increase empathy and foster forgiveness.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

When I forgive my husband for his forgetfulness (he forgets to bring in the mail, he forgets to help with the dishes, and other annoying issues), it only seems to encourage his behavior that gets to me.  It is as if my forgiving is the ticket for him to keep it up.  Can you help me with this?

Yes, I think I can offer some possible insights.  I am guessing that your husband is interpreting your act of mercy in forgiveness as permission to keep everything as it currently is.  When we forgive, we should consider bringing the moral virtue of justice alongside the moral virtue of forgiveness.  When you forgive and your anger diminishes, then might be the time to gently bring up the theme of justice: How can he be fair to you, to share the load?  This may get his attention and also send the message that forgiveness also is tough-minded enough to gently ask for fairness.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I am somewhat convinced that if a particular person leaves my life, then he will not be hurting my family or me any more.  Am I correct in thinking this way, or should I forgive anyway?

Forgiveness need not be reserved only for the times in which you feel deep resentment which might be making you miserable.  At times, you might want to forgive simply because forgiveness is centered in goodness because it is a moral virtue.  In this latter case, you are forgiving because forgiveness is an end in and of itself.  Regarding this issue of deep resentment, it can stay with us even when people physically move away from us.  They still remain in the heart and the heart can be restless until the offended person forgives.  So, even if the one who hurt you leaves, you can forgive because: a) forgiveness is good in and of itself and b) you might still be resentful and want to be free of that.

For additional information, see Do I Have to Reconcile with the Other When I Forgive?

I am forgiving my husband for some really inappropriate behavior.  Even so, I cannot say that I feel any sense of freedom from all of my effort.  Does this mean that I have not forgiven?

We do not necessarily reach complete feelings of freedom upon forgiving because we sometimes have anger left over.  As long as the anger is not controlling you, and as long as you are not displacing that anger back onto your husband, then you very well may be forgiving or at least in the process of moving toward forgiving.  Has he altered the behavior that you say is inappropriate?  Sometimes there is the unfinished business of seeking justice toward a full reconciliation.  You might need to talk with him about the behavior and if he willingly changes, then this may help with your sense of freedom.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

I have tried to take the perspective of my former partner, but I am finding this very difficult. Every time I step inside of his world, I see that he has lost great opportunities and has done this deliberately.  Can you help me?  Am I missing something when it comes to what you call “taking the other’s perspective”?

I would like to suggest an important addition to your exercises of taking your partner’s perspective.  You seem to consider him primarily at the time of your conflict and his leaving.  Yet, is there more to him than this?  For example, was he abandoned as a child?  Did someone emotionally wound him as a child or adolescent so that he now is so wounded that he cannot endure a healthy relationship?  My point is this: I think there is more to him than his apparent insensitivity to you in the recent past.  Is it possible that he has brought a certain brokenness into your relationship?  If so, how are you viewing him when you realize this, if it is true?

For additional information, see  The Four Phases of Forgiveness.