How Can I Forgive him?

On Blended Families

Dear Dr. Weiss-Wisdom,

My marriage of eighteen years ended three years ago because my husband had an affair with another woman. At first, I tried to forgive him and work the marriage out because we have a daughter together. But he lied again and I just couldn’t do it anymore. When I first found out about the affair, my husband promised to break it off, swearing that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Within six months, I found out that he was still seeing the other woman; they had pretended to break up (had me listen on the phone while he did it with her). I was absolutely devastated; needless to say, we got divorced. I couldn’t forgive or trust him again.

To be fair, he was and continues to be a good father. My daughter doesn’t know why we broke up (she is now twelve years old). Her father remarried the other woman. Even though I have had several years of therapy, I cannot forgive him. My daughter senses my anger at her father and I think that she feels guilty for loving him. I don’t want her to have to feel that. They have a good relationship and I am honestly grateful for that. How do I get over my anger so that it doesn’t hurt my daughter?

- Still hurting years later

Dear Still hurting,

I know it’s not easy, but I think that the road to more peace and happiness in your life may be forgiveness. The wounds of infidelity and betrayal are very challenging to heal. In order to recover, you must be able to forgive your ex-husband for his trespasses. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, or allowing someone to continue to treat you badly. Letting go of your anger does not mean trusting the person not to hurt you again. It is mostly a gift to your self. Holding a grudge with anger is like walking around with hot coals in your chest. Chronic anger and resentment are associated with higher rates of heart disease, depression, stress, and high blood pressure. It also makes it hard for you to move on and develop a new loving relationship if you are still focused on all that went wrong in the past.

Research has shown that the act of forgiving can reduce feelings of anger, hurt, stress and resentment. Forgiveness is an act of will, a conscious choice. It involves letting go of expectations of others that they are unwilling to meet and accepting that all human beings are imperfect. While forgiveness may seem a daunting task, holding on to and replaying your hurt feelings over and over is actually more painful than forgiving will be.
Every night before you go to bed, try telling yourself that you forgive any one who has hurt or disappointed you that day. This will help you to get into the practice of forgiveness.

A few points to consider as you go about working on forgiving your ex-husband and your self:
1) It is important to know exactly how you feel about the hurtful situation;
2) Then to gather perspective, the painful experience is in the past;
3) You can take responsibility for making your present life better which can be very empowering. Holding on to anger keeps you in a blaming and victim position.
4) Learn self-soothing techniques to reduce tension and stress when you are suffering from memories or when you have to encounter your ex-husband.
5) Make a decision to put your energy in a positive direction for yourself rather than letting old injuries suck the life out of you.
6) Practicing forgiveness is good for your mental and physical health.

Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., project director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project identifies nine research proven steps for practicing forgiveness. Step #8 is: “Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused the pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.” Check out Luskin’s book, ‘Forgive for Good.’

Diana Weiss-Wisdom, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice.
You can contact her at (858) 259-0146 or through her website at this is an advice column not meant to be psychotherapy

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Author's Bio: 

Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Graduate of California School of Professional Psychology