Because we are all human and humanity is inherently a condition of weaknesses, we cannot give forgiveness without releasing the emotions that coexist with the thoughts relative to an issue that needs forgiving. Therefore, instead of talking about giving forgiveness, I prefer to help people through a process of releasing unforgiveness. This is not an effort to label someone as unforgiving as if that was a fault. It is simply a recognition of a reality of God’s design of humanity.
An assumption or prerequisite of this process is that we have already admitted/acknowledged that an offense occurred. This process does not include any confrontation that discusses the facts of whether an offense occurred or did not.
These steps are processes, not an event. They occur over time and include individual processing of what was discussed as a couple.
Step one accepts, validates, and comforts the pain of the offended party. (It’s not about the behavior of the offense, it’s about the hurt suffered by the intimate partner.)
Step two is a recognition that the offense did not occur in a vacuum, the offender did not wake up one day and decide to behave badly. It acknowledges that the offender behaved out of his/her own emotional context. This step risks the offended party hearing a bunch of excuses. I reframe these as reasons that need to be revealed in order to fully accomplish forgiveness. These reasons also help identify some things to address in step three.
Step three is the mapping out of a new normal, with two individuals willing to be vulnerable and take a risk on each other. (Risk is inherent in any intimate relationship.)
I don’t like labels, but for simplicity I will use the terms offender and offended.
Releasing unforgiveness steps:
1. Offender to offended: Tell me your heart (your emotions/feelings, what’s on your heart, what needs to be released) relative to the issue (what I have done, our history, etc.). And, what questions do you need answered? Offender’s response to offended is to console (accept, validate, and comfort) the feelings as they are revealed and answer the questions honestly.
2. Offended to Offender: What were you feeling during the issue. And, what questions do you need answered? Offender’s response is to reveal and offended’s is to console and answer. This may be difficult for an injured party because it feels undeserving. We need to recognize and acknowledge that releasing unforgiveness/giving forgiveness is not accomplished out of what is deserved. It is done out of grace and a desire to restore the relationship.
These first two steps do not need to be done in a certain order. I recommend they be done together as you discuss subjects/time frames. But these two need to be fully complete before moving to the third step or the third will be undermined by unresolved emotions.
3. Now that we have both (offended and offender) revealed all our feelings and had them consoled appropriately, and now that we have had all our questions answered, let’s put our heads together and decide how we will live our lives for the future in such a way as to rebuild the trust that allows us to say that we trust we will not be hurt like this in the future.
At some future point in time the offended will probably recognize that although the memory of the issue/event will always be there, the intensity of the emotion is significantly less and the frequency of recalling it is significantly less. This is when forgiveness can be given and it actually be given in reality.
These steps are done over a period of time that cannot be predicted. They need to be done in short talks that do not become overwhelming.