Because of the necessity to forgive one another in any relationship we have, we are going to spell out what forgiveness looks like. There are four steps that couples need to learn in order to forgive. They are essential elements in the developmental process of forgiveness.
An authentic apology is the first step in the process of forgiveness and involves trying to understand why you offended the other person. It also involves making a real effort to prevent it from happening again. Making a sincere apology is an ongoing process that requires commitment and follow-through. But I caution you from apologizing when you don’t mean it. Apologize only when you mean it—when you believe that what you did was wrong and you want to put in the work to prevent doing it again.
Second, the process of forgiveness involves repentance. You have to show your partner that you are truly remorseful for your actions and that you have a plan in place that will make it possible for you to prevent a repeat performance in the future. This gives your apology some weight. If you don’t show remorse for your actions along with a clear desire to create lasting change in yourself, you don’t give your partner any reason to believe you won’t do the same thing again in the future.
Accountability is the third step because it involves both parties setting some expectations for the future. However, accountability involves more than holding each other responsible for making changes. It is also about developing a plan for success that clearly identifies all the factors that contributed to what happened. This includes both partners, as one partner’s behavior may influence the ability of the other to make the necessary changes.
Lastly, accepting the apology of your partner means you are convinced that they feel true remorse for what they did and are working hard to prevent it from happening again. As a caution, you should not offer forgiveness unless you are honestly willing to let go of resentment and bitterness and treat the person as if the act hadn’t happened. You have to believe that your partner is capable of change and expect that they will succeed in that endeavor. This is much harder to do than you might think. It is much easier to protect yourself by expecting your partner to fail than to open yourself up to future pain by expecting success.
When was the last time you showed true remorse for a wrong you had committed toward another? Was their response one of compassion or judgment?