When there has been a betrayal in a relationship, this leads to an emotional injury, and if not addressed through understanding and forgiveness, it can lead to resentment or termination of the relationship.
But how do you go about tackling the journey of forgiveness together?
I will be honest with you and say that it will not be a comfortable experience, but it can lead to a closer and more intimate relationship.
So, here is a small run down of what the forgiveness process will look like. Of course, it is easier said than done, but overall, these steps will be taken as relationships go through the journey of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not just a statement of “I’m sorry,” it is an invitation for connection.
The first step is for both partners to be able to identify and understand what happened to lead to the emotional injury.
Sometimes this emotional injury can be obvious (i.e. having an affair), but sometimes it may be subtle (i.e. sharing something about your partner that you did not mean to).
Regardless of what the emotional injury is, this is important to identify, as it will keep the following conversations focused and will give both partners an opportunity to be heard and understood. If you can imagine, the conversations will not be effective if all past pains and hurts are being shared at once and this will likely lead to arguments and partners to feel helpless.
Second, the injured partner can identify what the emotions are and are able to verbalize them.
Anger, frustration, rage, sadness, and embarrassment can all be common emotions to experience as the injured partner. In this step, the injured partner, has a chance to explore these emotions and to understand that these emotions are a normal human experience. It is common for there to be some denial about some emotions or even experience shock. If the injured partner wants to feel understood, it is important to be able to identify and verbally express his or her hurt and pain.
The goal here is to get to a place where the conversation is not escalating to attacking the injuring partner but is a moment of expressing the injured partner’s reality.
Third, the injuring partner can listen and can acknowledge their partner’s pain.
It is during this step that the injuring partner learns to maintain and manage their own emotions, while holding space for the injured partner to share their pain. This can sometimes be challenging, as the injuring partner may be experiencing shame, guilt, anger, and sadness. Therefore, it is important to not attack on the previous step, because these normal emotions can easily lead to an argument.
Fourth, the injuring partner verbalizes how they are taking responsibility.
During this time, the injuring partner can then comment on the event and the injured partner’s emotions/reality. The injuring partner can express that they understand their partner and can truly empathize with them, again without the conversation escalating into an argument.
Fifth step is where both partners can discuss their willingness to stay in the relationship and work together.
Both partners can now focus on their emotional needs and support each other in their emotional healing to rebuilding trust and connection. During this step, couples can then share what they would like to see different moving forward and share their expectations and new boundaries.
Note that this process will take time and every couple, and every situation, is different. Give yourselves grace when going through the journey of forgiveness.
I understand that this process is much easier said than done, but it is not impossible. Many couples that go through therapy sessions are working towards some sort of forgiveness or are learning the communication skills to be prepared for anything that may come up in the future. I also want to add that depending on the emotional injury, it must be a mutual decision to stay in the relationship, as both people must eventually feel safe enough (i.e. physically, emotionally, and mentally) to be vulnerable again.
By Priscilla Rodiguez, M.S., LMFT
Priscilla specializes in working with couples and helping them learn ways to heal emotional injuries that have been caused by infidelity, lack of support, and even lack of communication. Priscilla utilizes research based techniques to help couples form a new relationship foundation. Learn more on how you can enhance your relationship today.