Forgiveness Requires Letting Go Of Resentment

Dear Neil:  I wonder if you would address the situation of marital rape.  This happened to me many years ago (once).  I am a senior now and still have not been able to put this behind me.  I still resent my husband deeply, along with his many lies and deceits.  He does none of these now, but I believe I should have left him long ago.  I still consider leaving him.

Still Resentful in London, Ontario

Dear Still Resentful:  It sounds as if you may be needing to simply talk about what occurred in the past, and the hurt, pain and anguish that incident has caused you—and that you still feel all these years later.  You may also be needing to hear an apology, perhaps you want him to make an amend to you.

But regardless of what your husband does or does not do, you yourself have a big problem, because people who can’t let go of their resentment usually become bitter and angry, and remain bitter for the rest of their lives.  The Buddha identified this dynamic saying that a person that harbors anger is similar to someone picking up a red hot coal in his/her fingers, getting ready to throw it.  You are the one who is more likely to be burned by that coal, not the other person.  And in the meantime, it’s your quality of life, happiness and spirit that is hurt, not the other person’s.

Author Ron Potter-Efron advises us to ask the following questions regarding our resentments:  If you weren’t so resentful, how would your life be different?  What do you say or do to keep youself resentful?  What thoughts do you have that keep stirring in you?  How much of your time has this taken through the years?  How much are you ruminating about how burnt you feel?   How many of your personal fantasies are related to retribution, punishing or getting even?

The solution all this resentment and rumination is to find a way to come to forgiveness.  Genuine forgiveness is a shared venture, an exchange between two people, says Janice Abrams Spring in the book How Can I Forgive You? (Perennial Currents).She says genuine forgiveness must be earned, that it comes with a price that your husband must be willing to pay.  In exchange, you must allow him to settle his debt.  As he works hard to earn forgiveness through genuine, generous acts of repentance and restitution, you work hard to let go of your resentment and need for retribution.  “If either one of you fails to do the requisite work, there can be no genuine forgiveness,” says Spring.  She says both of you need to address the question, “What am I willing to give in order to create a climate in which forgiveness is possible?”

To cut a path to forgiveness, you need to create opportunities for your husband to hear your pain, care about your feelings and compensate for the harm done to you.  If you treat him as evil incarnate and blast him with your silence or rage, you can be sure that nothing corrective will take place, says Spring.

The least you could do is to let him know what you need from him in order to heal from the incident of the past.  In addition, look at how you might forgive yourself for not doing anything about this years ago.  If you look carefully, you’ll likely discover that the other person you need to forgive is yourself.

It’s not too late to resolve your pain, and a couple can grow at any age.  But you might have to accept the fact that some injustices will never get settled to your satisfaction.  Still, how much longer do you want to be holding that red hot coal in your hand?

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