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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

7 Steps to Forgiving Your Partner

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 30th 2009

It is very subtle and happens right underneath your feet and you don't really know it until it comes out of nowhere and hits you in the face. The Jeopardy question? What is resentment in relationships? Oh this resentment just seems to boil under the surface until relationships either explode or just seem to fizzle out. In his newest book Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship, Fred Luskin, Ph.D. cites some staggering statistics that over 50% of marriages end in divorce and 60% of second or third marriages end in the first 10 years. An even more alarming statistic is the survey that showed only 25% of spouses saying they are "happy together." What's going on here?

Everyone has flaws. However, sometimes we forget that we too, have flaws and it's not just our partners. People build up resentments for all kinds of reasons:

Minor reasons: leaving the toilet seat up, chronic lateness, eating hurriedly, etc...

Major reasons: Infidelity, withholding sex, stealing money, drug or alcohol abuse, etc...

Luskin argues that it is in each person's best interest to learn how to forgive. One caveat of course is if there is severe consistent abuse or trauma in a relationship and then the person may need to separate and work on forgiveness in another way.

He lays out 7 steps toward forgiveness in a relationship.


7 Scientifically Proven Steps to Building a Better Relationship

  1. Dance with the one you brought. Remember, you chose this person "for better or for worse, during good times and bad..." This difficult time may pass, but with a sense of determination and communication on both sides.

  2. Recognize that everyone is flawed...including you! We are all human and we chose our partners with the understanding that they too are imperfect.  Understanding these imperfections may allow us to forgive ourselves for our own, leading to greater self compassion and compassion in the relationship. Learning to accept your partner's limitations with tenderness is the opening to a true love.

  3. Let your partner know how blessed you are. Love is a gift which your partner is giving! This often goes out the window with resentments. If we can begin to access the lovingkindess that is within us and actually begin to do loving gestures, this can be a powerful path toward forgiveness and happiness in a relationship.

  4. To know them is to love them. Try to see your lover's flaws and failures with loving eyes. When we begin this path of commitment it's with the understanding that we will be forgiving. Sometimes we get caught up in only seeing our partner's flaws, but we also need to acknowledge their good intentions. We all have flaws and failures and treating our own and our lover's flaws with love can be enormously helpful in healing. If you disagree, with forgiveness, you disagree as friends, not enemies.

  5. Accept what you can't change and grieve your loss. It's important to be able to discern when we cannot change another person or what happened in the past. However, we can change ourselves. One thing we know is that when we change, it changes the dynamic of the relationship and things begin to shift in the relationship. We can go from anger to understanding. We begin to stop dwelling on wounds from the past and begin to engage a more present-moment focus, opening up to possibilities in the marriage.  

  6. Choose to recommit. Life becomes routine and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we started out with, a commitment. It can help that this is a daily reminder. If it's a good relationship, it's worth the effort. Even in the midst of some major challenges, we can choose to dance with our partners on a daily basis. Forgiveness depends on this recommitment.

  7. Please give yourself a break. We are often so hard on ourselves and our partners. Sometimes we just need to step back and see the bigger picture that we are all imperfect and flawed. What would it be like to begin treating ourselves and our partners with more kindness? Life can be hectic and traumatizing enough, we could all benefit from a bit more forgiveness.

His bottom line is that if we can learn to forgive our partners and ourselves we are on our way toward a road of a lasting and happy relationship.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Yes! - Kellie Jo Risk - Jul 6th 2012

I loved this article.  Thank you.

Nice article! - Richa Kumar - May 19th 2011

The article was nice and informative. No matter how simple the word, forgiving, may seem; it has never been easy for everyone to forgive and forget. In order to learn and practise forgiveness it is important to know a few things..

a two way street - - Feb 22nd 2011

If you fiund that you are the one always giving and never receiving any of the steps tyo a happier marriage, I guarantee you will not be happier, you will be even more miserable.

Guilt and forgiveness - EB - Dec 9th 2009

I'm a divorced 45 year old woman. I have been dating a man for almost two years. In those two years we have had a wonderful loving realtionship. We truly fell in love and i was so happy. I thought after my divorce i could never find such happiness.

I have always been respectful and honest with him. I have never cheated or lie to him. I was opened and honest about my life and who i was. However, he has kept secrets from me. He has not brought over his family house or his house. He said he has an ex girlfriend as a room mate and she was to be leaving soon, which never happend. He lied about selling his home when he bought a his new home. He said he was living in his old residence and he would try to sell it once his new house was finished with the construction. I tried to believe in him, but things to started to add up and didn't make sense.

Through all this i was going through some financial hardships that i was keeping from him. I wanted to tell him, but with all his secrets i didn't feel i could trust him what i had to say and i didn't want to burden him with my debts. He had his own business and had money. I wanted to make sure that i could take care of myself and not depend on him.

One day i was in desperate need of money and i had to pay a loan or i was going to be taken to court. I have never gone through this before. i was scared and i panicked. For a moment of desperation i stoled $300.00 from my boyfriend. I took his ATM card and went to the ATM and took the money.

The next day he found out and was asking me questions and. I panicked and try to cover it up with lies. I was so scared i didn't know what to do. I wanted to tell him the truth fromt he minute it happened. I couldn't sleep all night and i never used the money. I felt so guilty and ashamed for what i have done. I thought how could i love this man and turn around and betray him like this.

I did admit to it and it cost us our relationship. He won't agree to see me in person and talk with him. I have never done this before and i never thought about doing something like this. The way it made me feel and how i hurt him has taught me a valuable lesson. However, i can't seem to forgive myself or shake off the guilt. I want to meet with him and ask for his forgiveness and also ask questions about his double life.

This is not a comment i'm writing. I need help as to how to get through this and handle this situation. I still love him. I don't know what to do. I want to somehow work through all this.

Can you please give me some advice?

But... - Cathy - Oct 2nd 2009

Sure, this all sounds good as long as you aren't living in a bad relationship.  This is one of those feel good articles that my husband might read to give him the idea that I should forgive him so he could get away with it again or maybe continue to compromise my values and health to live in a relationship with someone who is totally self-absorbed.  This is sort of the same crap his counselor gave him "well, we are just human and we will make mistakes and they will just have to keep forgiving us."  Well, I think not.  My husband is abusive and wants me to participate in his fetish which has become dangerous and sadistic - the counselor became his enabler to do this again.  I'm kicking him to the curb.  Sure, you'll say "but when abuse is involved", well, these people with mental issues don't consider what they are doing abuse so these types of articles and counselors telling them they are just human just feeds that kind of sickness.

Words of Wisdom - Andra Brosh, Ph.D. - Oct 1st 2009

Thank you Elisha for this very beautiful article. I so agree with every suggestion, and I truly believe we can reduce the divorce rate by spreading this gospel.



Great post! - Marsha Lucas, PhD - Oct 1st 2009

Thanks for summarizing this so well, Elisha. I'm a big fan of Fred Luskin's; glad to see his latest work getting attention.

I'm also a big fan of mindfulness meditation as a way to "beef up" our forgiveness and lovingkindness circuits, and more readily get out of the grip of habits of irritation, anger, and resentment.

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