When couples suffer a relationship injury there are some specific steps I guide them through in order for them to reach a place of true apology and forgiveness. The problems that arise in the space between apology and the beginning of forgiveness come when the triggers happen and behavior isn’t changing. Real forgiveness can only come when actions match words on the part of each person. This is a case where “fake it ‘til you make it” won’t work.
If you’re the injured party and your partner says they’re sorry but you keep seeing the same old behaviors and feeling the same kinds of energy from them, it’s pretty hard to forgive. You’re in a protective mode where you’ve been hurt before and you’re not trusting that your partner isn’t going to hurt you again. How can you move forward when you feel like you’ve not made any progress in resolving the original issue(s)? You expect to be hurt again. You feel like they are just giving lip service to the apology and aren’t committed to change. You may feel like your partner really isn’t trying and they’re not truly there for you. Forgiveness can’t happen because trust isn’t quite there yet, and until actions match words, trust cannot be restored.
The real magic happens when the actions match words and you can both see that it’s happening. Confidence begins to build and you can feel that there’s a change in how you’re interacting together. She says she will do something then she does it. He tells her he will be there at a certain time to meet her, and he is there on time. These small “actions match words” moments begin to fill in the cracks in the foundation of your relationship. Each time trust is affirmed, you gain in confidence and the feeling that your partner is really trying to repair the relationship. Your partner is really trying to be there and be true to their words.
When you know that your partner is trying to do the work needed, you can let down your guard. You begin to trust again and with that trust come feelings of safety and security, and yes, forgiveness. You are gaining in the knowledge that your partner is doing the work they promised to do in repairing and restoring the connection in your relationship. It’s a long road, and it’s not an easy one, but with both of you putting in the effort to both change and forgive you can get there. When actions match words, you’re getting past that relationship injury and moving forward together into a better and stronger connection.
My hope is that soon you won’t have to try so hard. You’ll be in a new pattern of interaction with each other that has both of you being authentic, vulnerable and able to communicate with one another on a deeper and more meaningful level. It’s important that you move forward and don’t live in the past. Instead, strive to communicate about everything, even the stuff that makes you uncomfortable. You want to avoid that type of injury ever happening again, and once you and your partner have developed this deeper connection, the odds of that happening decrease dramatically.
Show love and kindness every day, and cement this deeper connection in a way that your actions match your words and your connection continues to grow deeper and more solid all the time.