Relationship Workshop: Forgiving Your Co-parent Might Be the Best Thing You Can Do for You
Welcome to the second installment for our Relationship Workshop! We hope you will enjoy this new series by James Windell, where we will tackle some tough issues for parents and kids, including high-conflict divorce, forgiveness, and child-parent relationships. Please feel free to submit questions for James regarding your own divorce questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
Abigail was so angry when she got a divorce from Harold that at times she wished he was dead. After all, she told her best friend, he had been unfaithful to her. She had a right to be angry.
And Michael was angry and bitter, too. Jennifer had tried to turn the kids against him and he resented her efforts to make him out to be a bad father.
When it was suggested that both Abigail and Michal consider forgiving their co-parents, they couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept.
“She’s tried to alienate my kids from me,” said Michael. “Do you expect me to forgive her for that!”
Abigail sneered at the idea. “Forgive him after what he did to me! He hurt me so badly I could never forgive him!”
If you’ve been hurt in your relationship with your co-parent, the idea of forgiving them might sound repugnant to you. It might feel like you were being asked to forget how they hurt you. And as one woman said to us in the forgiveness workshops we run for co-parents, “You’re saying I should condone every mean and nasty thing he ever did to me? What kind of weak person would do that?”
Here’s how Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines the word forgive: 1. To give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon; 2. To give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook; 3. To cancel or remit (a debt). This definition says nothing about forgetting about or condoning an offense, nor does it say anything about the forgiving person appearing weak. It simply says that by forgiving you give up your resentment and your anger.
When you hold on to your anger and resentment, you suffer. In fact, researchers have found that hostility is related to a range of physical problems, including increased blood pressure and heart problems. But there are other ways that holding on to your hostility, anger, and resentment can hurt you. By focusing on your negative feelings, you are less able to concentrate on your responsibilities as a parent, and you are giving away your power as an individual while at the same time diminishing your ability to focus on the purpose and the meaning of your life.
Bishop Desmond Tutu once said that there’s nothing more destructive than resentment and anger and revenge. “In a way,” Bishop Tutu said, “to forgive is the best form of self-interest, because I’m also releasing myself from the bonds that hold me captive, and it’s important that I do all I can to restore [the] relationship. Because without a relationship, I am nothing, I will shrivel.”
Bishop Tutu, a great South African statesman, knows about suffering and the potential corrosive effects of anger and resentment. So perhaps he has it right when he says there is nothing more destructive than anger and resentment. Anger and resentment, when we can’t let them go, binds us in an unhealthy relationship that can destroy us.
So why is it so difficult for us to forgive, particularly if we realize that our anger and resentment is slowly killing us, or at least robbing us of the enjoyment of life? Maybe it’s because it means we would have to give up our anger. Maybe it’s because we believe that giving up those negative emotions toward our co-parent would make us vulnerable to being hurt again. Or, maybe it’s because we feel it would weaken us in some essential way. Whatever the reason is I know from experience and extensive research that forgiveness is the healthiest response to being hurt.
But, forgiving is not an easy thing to do; it requires strength and courage. However, if you are aware that you are holding on to too much anger and resentment towards your ex, and if you know that these feelings are interfering with your ability to be the parent or the person you would like to be, keep in mind that forgiveness is an option. You may not be quite ready to forgive yet, but when you are ready to let go of your negative feelings, I will tell you how to go about forgiving your co-parent in future Relationship Workshop blogs.
In the meantime, think about the emotional benefits you will reap by releasing your anger. And consider that forgiveness is not about your co-parent; it’s about you.