“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” This famous quote is attributed to Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mother Teresa, who famously cared for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. It’s a phrase that holds meaning much closer to home though: Forgiveness is an essential component of healthy relationships. By offering forgiveness, we acknowledge that our partners or children are human and fallible, we create a safe atmosphere where love is unconditional, and we position ourselves to receive forgiveness in return. Try these tips for introducing forgiveness into your relationships.
Communicate your feelings. If your loved one says or does something that you find unacceptable, explain your concern in a respectful manner as soon as possible. When bad feelings are internalized, they can magnify.
Take a positive perspective. Assume that your loved one did not intend to hurt you. Starting with a positive outlook will make it easier for you to find forgiveness.
Use “I” statements and listen. Frame concerns from your own point of view and give your loved one an opening to make amends. Give them time to respond to your concerns.
Practice empathy. Remember a time that you required forgiveness and how it felt when you received this pardon – or didn’t. Treat your loved one how you would have wanted to be treated.
Weigh all outcomes. Remember that granting forgiveness can affect you as much as your loved one. Consider the sadness you might feel after withholding forgiveness.
Offer an olive branch. After an argument, try to be the first to step forward. Even if a conflict is not your fault, express remorse for the lack of communication or circumstance that led to it.
Be sincere. Once you express forgiveness, do everything possible to maintain that promise. Do not “keep score” or let conflicts drag on.
Remember that apologies and forgiveness are not easy. As you practice the steps above, consider the effort needed by your loved one to admit a wrong, and take time to appreciate your own efforts to extend forgiveness. Maintaining healthy relationships is an ongoing process.
Lisa Goodwin, LCSW, is clinical director of the Masonic Center for Youth and Families in Covina, a nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic services for children, adolescents, young adults, and their families. Learn more at www.mcyaf.org.