I was told I have not truly forgiven someone, because I do not trust the person anymore. I thought we can forgive an offense, but have to work on restoring trust. Sometimes trust can be restored and reconciliation occurs, but other times it does not. I thought it was also possible to forgive someone without ever trusting them again. Is this not true? Please advise.

You show wisdom in making the distinction between forgiving and reconciling.

Forgiveness is a moral virtue that can start as an interior response to the one who acted unjustly. In other words, forgiveness starts with an insight that the other person has inherent worth, as you do. It also eventually can include what the philosopher, Joanna North, calls the “softened heart,” or compassion for the other.

In contrast, reconciliation is a negotiation strategy between two or more people who come together again in mutual trust. One can have the forgiving thoughts and feelings toward the other without interacting with the other person if that person continues to act in a harmful way. A goal of forgiving is to reconcile, but this does not always occur. Reconciliation involves trust, which can be difficult to re-establish unless the other shows what I call “the three R’s” of remorse (inner sorrow), repentance (a verbal expression of that sorry), and when possible recompense (making up for the injustice). These three can help re-establish trust, which usually takes time as the offending ones show a little at a time that they can be trusted by their new actions.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

I know that self-forgiveness follows a similar path as occurs when forgiving another person for unjust behavior. Do you think there is more to self-forgiveness than this?

Yes. As people realize that they have broken their own standards, it is common that they also have offended other people. For example, even if someone was intoxicated, was speeding alone in the car, crashed and broke a leg, this is not an isolated event. Family members may have to drive the person to work for a while. The employer may be inconvenienced because of days missed in rehabilitation of the leg. The insurance company now has to pay for this intemperate action. So, as you self-forgive, consider who has been hurt by your actions. You might want to go to at least some of them (family members, for example) and ask for forgiveness.

For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.

What is the one, central issue about forgiveness that you would give to those who are preparing for marriage?

I would encourage them to get to know very deeply what forgiveness is (a moral virtue in which you practice goodness toward those who are not good to you) and is not (to forgive is not to excuse unjust behavior, to automatically reconcile when the other is a danger to you, nor to abandon the quest for justice). Then I would urge both people to examine the injustices which they suffered in their family of origin, forgive the people, and discuss the pattern of injustices together so that they do not reproduce the injustices in their own marriage.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

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.

Are forgiveness and trust the same?

Forgiveness and trust differ. Forgiveness as an act of mercy toward an offender can be offered unconditionally. Trust needs to be earned if the offense is deeply serious. Forgiveness is a moral virtue. Trust accompanies reconciliation, which is not a moral virtue but instead is a negotiation strategy between two or more people. Finally, you can forgive without trusting the other, at least in those areas of his or her weakness. For example, you can forgive a compulsive gambler and watch your wallet.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

I am very angry with my boyfriend. Is it better to confront him while I am burning with anger or wait until I cool down?

I think it is best to wait. You may say things while deeply angry that you regret later. He may have to forgive you for how you approached him. Waiting, thinking about forgiveness as a possibility, even trying forgiveness first may be best in this circumstance. The reduced anger may help you think through what happened and what you, realistically, would like to see changed in his behavior and in the relationship.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

When I forgive, do I have to trust the other person, or are these different?

When a person forgives, he or she may or may not trust the other. It depends on the situation. For example, suppose your partner is a compulsive gambler who has squandered the family fortune. This is an offense for which you can forgive him or her. Yet, you can and should withhold trust in this one area of gambling until he or she proves trustworthy. Trust has to be earned by demonstrations and this can take time. The goal of forgiveness is reconciliation, which includes trust. Just to be clear, you can reconcile with a person and trust him or her in most things, with the understanding that work will be done in the one area that hurts the relationship.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?