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 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.

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.

The late Lewis Smedes has this quotation that confuses me: “Forgiveness offers the best hope of creating a new fairness out of past unfairness.” I am confused because I realize that as we forgive, we might not get justice from the other person. I need help on this one.

I think that Dr. Smedes meant this: When we forgive, often times the injustice comes from someone with whom we have been in a relationship (a family member, a business colleague, for example). The fact that we have to forgive means that there was an injustice that could strain a relationship. As we forgive, we become open to receiving that other person back into our lives. This does not mean that we will receive an apology and a new, trusting relationship (because our forgiving does not automatically mean that the other will now be fair). Yet, forgiving does make us open to this possibility of the other accepting our forgiving and thus becoming more fair. I think the key to understanding Professor Smedes’ sentence is his word “hope.” As we forgive, we are open to the other’s changing. We wait in hope for that change.

For additional information, see Why would fairness be given to someone who has been constantly unfair to me over the years?

Forgiveness is unfair to the forgiver. After all, those who forgive are asked to do the impossible: to feel compassion, to absorb pain that should not be theirs in the first place, to be kind to the unkind. Can’t we just set forgiveness aside?

Because forgiving is a choice, not demanded in any society of which I am aware, you can set forgiveness aside. Yet, when deeply hurt by others, what is your alternative for ridding yourself of a gnawing resentment that could bring you down? In the giving of the compassion, in the bearing of the pain, in the attempt to be kind, the paradox is that you, yourself, may experience a cessation of the poison of that resentment. Does this seem like an outcome you would like to set aside? Forgiveness advances you toward this healthy outcome and may even reestablish a relationship if the other can be trusted and does not harm you.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

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.