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I Want To Forgive, I Just Don't Know How!

By Karen McMahon


I recently spoke about forgiveness at a retreat and even those that understood the value of forgiveness and deeply desired to, struggled with how to forgive.

What is forgiveness?

  • Forgiveness is NOT for the other person.
    • It is not something we do for the other.  
    • We do not stand righteous before another bestow our forgiveness upon them.
    • We do not even have to communicate our forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is for us and about us
    • Forgiveness cuts the ties that bind US to OUR pain, bitterness and resentment
  • Forgiveness is a Private Practice that enables us to let go of the depleting and debilitating emotions that hold us back and down when we live in unforgiveness.

There is nothing easy or fast about forgiveness.  It is a practice, a process...a journey.  First we must consciously choose to forgive.  This is a mental decision wherein we understand the damage that unforgiveness is doing to us and decide that we want to let go of the pain and resentment and take back our joy.  


How do I even begin practicing forgiveness?

  • How do I go from thinking I want to forgive to actually feeling forgiveness?  
  • How do I release all that emotion around the hurt and pain I have suffered?
  • How do I forgive when the other party continues behaving in a hurtful way?

The first step to forgiveness requires us to expand our perspective by shifting the focus off the person who is at the causal point of our hurt and onto our part, our responsibility within the relationship or circumstance.




The hurt:   I have felt emotionally abandoned in my relationship.  My spouse’ job, golf, drinking, friends, house projects...always seem more important than me. I did everything...made a good living, took care of the kids on the weekends, planned the vacations, cared for him/her when s/he was sick, encouraged time with friends and s/he just took and took and never gave back.

What was your part?  If you are in a relationship where you do all the giving and the other person does all the talking, it would be easy to imagine that it is all their fault.  But not really…

If you are a caregiver, have co-dependent tendencies or a need to control, that is your part.  If your way is the best way, there is little room for others to support you.  If commitment is what you desire, how committed have you been to yourself.  Do you even get on your own list for self-care or do everyone else’ needs come first...and then you complain that there is no time for you.  I never gave to myself...I did for everyone else and created selfish children and trained a selfish husband and then blamed them for my plight.

The SHIFT:  Once you accept that the way you behave plays a role in the hurtful dynamic, you have stepped out of the victim role and are empowered to change your part.



The Hurt:  My spouse verbally, emotionally or physically abuses me.

What is your part:  Take a look at your ability to set boundaries AND uphold them.  I have yet to meet an abused person (myself included) that understood and could set healthy boundaries.

The SHIFT:  Acknowledge that you have difficulty with boundaries and learn to set and uphold your boundaries so others cannot take advantage of or abuse you.



The Hurt:  My spouse cheated on me.

What is your part:  It is rare that I have worked with the ‘victim’ of infidelity where we did not quickly unearth the brokenness of the relationship that preceded the infidelity.  Perhaps you rationalized that every couple has issues and ignored yours or were afraid to speak up or shut down and found love and purpose in your children or job while your relationship with your spouse was slowly dying.

The  SHIFT:  My marriage had problems and rather than address them (or after trying to address them), we both shut down and found other ways to fill the emptiness.



Accept your part in the dynamic.  Take full responsibility.  You have now taken the first step in creating space between the story that you are the victim and the reality that you played a part in the dynamic that was so hurtful.

NOTE:  This is not to say that abuse, betrayal or abandonment is acceptable.  It is not.  It is to notice your part in the unfolding of such behavior.  As adults we choose whether or not to be the victim.


How do I release my feelings of hurt and pain?  ACCEPTANCE.

Once you begin to notice your part in the dynamic, you have shifted out of the victim mode.The next step is learning to accept the other person for who they are and how they show up.

  • If your spouse has always been late...accept that s/he will be late and act accordingly
  • If your spouse has lied to you throughout your marriage, accept that s/he is untruthful and will tell lies
  • If your spouse has often said hurtful words, accept that they behave abusively under certain circumstances


Accepting that someone behaves a certain way is very different from accepting unacceptable behavior.  In fact, until we accept how they show up, we continue to ‘be surprise and disappointed’ and we continue to feel the victim of their behavior.  Yet, they have been consistent.  It is us who keep hoping that tomorrow they will show up different.  Your new behavior is to accept how they behave and not expect it to suddenly change.

You married someone who is imperfect.  If you have chosen to divorce them, don’t expect those imperfections to change as you negotiate the divorce or co-parent together. Accepting someone for how they are enables us to release the hurt and pain that comes from seeing them as doing something to us rather than just doing what they do.  

When co-parenting with someone who has ongoing behavior that you find unpleasant, hurtful or unacceptable is hard.  It requires a constant assessment of our expectations and boundaries and of accepting that our ex is not changing and their behavior is not about us.


Unforgiveness does not create boundaries.  

Creating boundaries can be done while growing in forgiveness.  Protecting yourself from unacceptable behavior is a critical part of healing and becoming clear on what is acceptable and setting and upholding boundaries where behavior is unacceptable.



When we work on the process of forgiveness we release bitterness, resentment, hurt and pain, and we gain something that is priceless: the ability to learn about ourselves and work on our personal growth.  This process enables us to create healthier relationships and live in a lighter and immensely more pleasing energy of compassion, peace and joy!

Chief Visionary: Karen McMahon

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Our team of coaches at JBD is passionate about helping men and women navigate the emotional difficulties of relationships, breakups and divorce. We work together with you to open the possibility that your current relationship challenges can lead to a rewarding voyage of self-discovery and an immensely more pleasing life experience. Together we create a path to clarity. Find out if Coaching is right for you, and accept my gift of one FREE session.


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