Forgiveness.

Plenty of people have said that forgiveness is not for the other person; it’s for you. Most of the time, though we understand the concept, we can’t do it. It’s too hard to let it go, to put aside the intensity of the grudge we carry. That grudge can make us feel powerful in some ways. When you feel the kind of powerlessness that most of us feel in this modern world, carrying a grudge can make you feel so good. It gives you an identity as someone who was hurt in some way. (Some folks like to say that you’re playing the victim, but I think that’s an oversimplification of what happens when we get stuck in our thoughts about a wrong that was done against us.)

Recently, I have had to examine my own grudges and whether they are worth the damage they do to my mind, body, and soul. I’ve had to determine whether I’m indeed holding a grudge or merely protecting myself from someone who has a tendency to go through a chink in my armor with a 9-inch dagger. There is a difference.

Here are a couple of examples from my own life to illustrate.

  • A dear friend of mine hurt me in the way she spoke to me during a time when I was going through many changes and making life-altering decisions. I felt misunderstood, derided, and dismissed. I flew off the handle at her and shut down our relationship.
  • One of my brothers made comments behind my back about my sexual orientation, making fun of me and saying it was a choice, because I had been married to a man for all those years.

How did I handle these two things? One of the biggest things I did was to examine my own role in what happened, because I often find that I played as big a part in the hurt as the other person did.

In the case of my friend, with enough time and distance, I realized that I had not talked through my life changes with her as adequately as I probably should have to help her understand where I was coming from. I also sprang a few things on her that seemed to be “out of the blue”. While I had had years to think about these changes, she had only had weeks to process what I was telling her. Her reaction was perfectly normal for someone who thought I was making a mistake. In forgiving her, I first had to own my role in it and forgive myself first. In that way, I took pride and ego out of the equation. No defenses, no back-peddling. Also, I didn’t approach her demanding an apology. No! I apologized for my part and said that I understood why she was confused and taken aback by it all. We mended fences and have been closer because of the misunderstanding.

That’s a big bonus you get from going through something like that in a relationship. You find an opportunity to grow that relationship. I’m not saying that I recommend fighting, but healthy relationships get healthy because they bend, break, and knit back together. As Hemingway wrote in A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” You can apply that to relationships, too.

As for the situation with my brother, I wish I could let that go, but I heard multiple things he had said at different times. It’s a real shame, because he’s in his mid-60s (and I’m in my late 50s). He has had multiple procedures for his heart, and I survived cancer. We haven’t spoken in several years. I’ve asked my other siblings not to give him my number. It isn’t the first time he’s hurt me. This is at the end of a lifetime of picking at me and poking fun at every choice I’ve made. We’ve had good times, too, but I’m tired of exposing myself to his style of “teasing”. It hurts too much. Our parents are gone now, so it’s not like I’ll see him. We live many states apart. I don’t feel a grudge toward him, exactly; I’m just tired of trying to maintain a very unbalanced relationship with someone who doesn’t care what I want in life or how I feel, as long as he can tell me what to do, who to be, and how to live. I’m sad about it, but this is where I’ve left it. I didn’t spring anything on him, and to my face, he’s fine. Behind my back is another story. Were I to try to mend fences with him, I would always know that he was still doing and saying things behind my back but presenting another face to me. I don’t choose that. Inside, I forgive him for his human frailty, but I don’t choose to walk into more hurt.

What do you do when the person who hurt you is long gone? You can neither approach them to talk about it, nor sue them, nor send them to jail, nor extract an apology. If you choose to hold onto that hurt, what does it help? It doesn’t hurt the person who wronged you. They are gone. It only hurts you and prevents you from finding joy.

That is when you have to process your grief over the situation (therapy or mind/body work helps) and let it go. You really have to. I know a lot of lesbians who don’t want anything to do with men, primarily because they were abused by a man early in their lives. Well, so was I. But through years of therapy, the whole story finally made it into my consciousness (which had blocked it since I was a young child). At that point, I was able to process it and forgive. I had that choice. I could let it continue to wreck my soul, or I could find a way to send it into the ether. I’m healthier now than I ever was in my earlier life.

I’m sure you have examples in your own life of grudges that you carry or grudges that you have let go, times you have processed a break in your own relationships and grown stronger because of it. You can begin to see how forgiveness is not really for the other person. When you become someone who can deal with the emotions that surround such a break, you naturally become a healthier friend and partner–a better human!

In today’s society, I think that relationships overall have become too disposable, which is incredibly sad. We need each other as humankind. We shouldn’t be alone. Now of course I’m not saying you should stay in an unhealthy relationship just so you won’t be alone. But unless there is abuse, you owe it to yourself and the other person to try to grow through the damage and through the pain. I can tell you that in my first marriage, we went through many trials (some of them were of my making, I’ll admit, and some were due to the abuse I had suffered as a child), but we were so good as a couple. We always had each other’s back. It was my coming out and the death of our daughter that finally broke us irrevocably.

What made our relationship different is that we really knew each other by the time we made it official. We met on the school bus in high school when I was a senior and he was a junior, freshly moved to Texas from Michigan. We didn’t date until more than a year later; we were best friends. After dating for a bit, we moved in together (not such a popular thing in 1981). We finally got married in 1983, four years after we met. Too many people these days try to find love by clicking and swiping, trying to find their perfect match by a couple of photos and a description. I have trouble even finding a pair of pants that way!

One of my biggest faults that I’ve tried very hard to overcome is that I dig in my heels and don’t listen when I’m mad. Honestly, I can’t even talk about anything when I’m mad and hurt. I need to have time to cool down. If you keep trying to talk to me, it won’t go well! But I’m trying to learn to breathe and understand that the other person might need to talk it through and put it to bed right away, even though I need to cool down. What a healthy relationship does is set those boundaries and that understanding before a fight. Get to know each other well enough that you have safe words for fights, for example. Like, if I say “halt”, you need to give me 10 minutes to calm down and be able to think rationally. Or if you say “must”, I need to give you 10 minutes to speak your peace — without interruption. If I am ever in another relationship, I will use those tactics or something similar that we come up with as a couple. And we’ll forgive ourselves and each other if we don’t always get it right.

I recently had a conversation with my ex-wife in which I spoke for 10-15 minutes about the mistakes I made and apologized to her for specific things I had done in the marriage. We fell apart for a few reasons, but I feel that if we had been able to really discuss things and bond through the rough patches, she would still be here. Instead, I dug in my heels and she avoided me. We never had a chance.

But at least we have forgiven each other, and I think we’ll always be friends.

Enjoy your weekend, Jude

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