Relationship Workshop: The Steps to Forgiving your Co-parent
Marissa was emphatic: “I could never forgive him for what he did to me.”
Jacob was equally certain about his feelings: “I can’t stop thinking about the terrible things she did and how she hurt me.”
And Stephanie was sure she could never forgive – or forget – what her co-parent had done to cause her so much pain: “It is impossible to forgive what he did. He doesn’t deserve any forgiveness.”
While all three of these people were convinced they could never forgive their co-parent, yet each did – eventually. You may feel the same way. Your co-parent offended you in such a hurtful way that letting go of the anger and bitterness you feel …well, you just can’t contemplate doing that. But, like Marissa, Jacob, and Stephanie – as well as countless other co-parents – discovered, if you don’t forgive the person who has hurt you, you end up carrying around massive amounts of anger and resentment that hurt you far more than it does them. In fact, most of us who have been hurt in a romantic relationship sooner or later reach the same conclusion: “I just can’t go on being so anger; I’ve got to move on with my life.”
And that’s the reason forgiveness is so important. You need to get on with your life and, perhaps more importantly, you have to stop being so upset because you have your children to be concerned about. None of us can be effective parents when we go around filled with hate and hostility.
Once you reach this same conclusion, there are some important steps you can take to let go of the negative feelings you harbor towards your co-parent.
Step One: Recall the hurt. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Recall the hurt? I can’t stop thinking about it! But that’s exactly right. You ruminate about it constantly – or at least most of the time. But this step is best accomplished by writing down what your co-parent did to hurt you. That’s the starting place. Get it down on paper, so you remember exactly what he or she did to make you so angry.
Step Two: Understand why they hurt you. Maybe you think you don’t want to understand your co-parent’s motivations or what’s behind the way they hurt you. But you do. You need to see them as something other than a one-dimensional, purely evil and malicious individual. Only by writing a story about their life and background and what may have motivated their behavior towards you can you begin to develop the kind of empathy necessary to forgive.
Step Three: Reflect on your own life and make a list of the people who have forgiven you along with reasons why you needed forgiveness. All of us should be grateful to those people in our past who have forgiven our mistakes and hurtful acts. By remembering that others have been kind and generous in forgiving you, it helps to extend your forgiveness to your co-parent.
Step Four: Make a commitment to forgive your co-parent. Write it down that you will forgive them. Then, tell other people that you intend to forgive your co-parent. By telling others, it strengthens your resolve to actually do this.
Step Five: Write a letter to your co-parent telling him or her that you are forgiving them and why you are doing it. For instance, one man in one of our forgiveness groups wrote: “Nancy, I forgive you for trying to turn the children against me and depriving me of the opportunities to spend more time with my kids.” Your forgiveness letter can be as short or as lengthy as you like. Just make sure you write it.
Then what do you do? Do you send this letter to your co-parent? Verbally tell them you are forgiving them?
The answer to these questions is simply this: Maybe. Maybe you want to send the letter. Or maybe you don’t. Either way it doesn’t matter. They might want to hear you forgive them. Or they might laugh at you and reject your attempts at forgiveness. But it is not important what you do with the letter. The important thing is that you wrote it. And that you fully intend in your heart and mind to forgive the hurt that was done to you. That is what will bring you peace.