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You’re sick of fighting. It’s a never ending merry-go-round of ‘He-said’, ‘She said’, ‘You did this’ and ‘You did that.’ Sound familiar? If it does, it might be time for you to flex your forgiveness muscle.
I recently read a fascinating account about forgiveness. Matt Thiele, a prolific Queensland-based pastor, recounted personal stories he heard from survivors of concentration camps.
He described the horrors these people faced yet what astounded him the most was their capacity to remain joyful and kind. “… one key difference (of these people) seems to be forgiveness. Whether or not they chose to forgive their enemies had a great deal to do with what followed in their lives. Those that chose anger and to hold their grudges seemed tortured their whole lives … Those that chose to forgive their persecutors, seemed to be able to move on.”
Choosing not to forgive can be toxic – both to yourself and to your relationship. Dr Caroline Leaf states that numerous studies have shown that we when don’t forgive and revisit our memories of the supposed wrongdoing, a fear response is produced in our amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for our emotions). This response causes a release of stress hormones which increases our heart rate and blood pressure. If we keep holding on to our betrayals and anger, this response remains active, putting us at risk of developing stress-related illness both mentally and physically.
Forgiving is not easy. Just like any other difficult task, you have to learn how to do it by putting in the time and effort. But for the sake of your own emotional well being, as well as that of your partner and ultimately, your relationship, do you think it’s worth it?
A good starting point is to look at the ATTUNE acronym devised by Dan Yoshimoto. It has five basic tenets to help you build trust - a key in your ability to forgive and create a healthier YOU. This concept centres on you trying to understand things from your partner’s perspective while remain neutral - rather than defensive - in your responses.
The ATTUNE philosophy is a great starting point but let’s keep going. I have five more fantastic tips to help you grow your ‘forgiveness muscle’:
TOP FIVE FORGIVENESS TOOLS
1. Look Inwards, Practice Empathy
Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can be such an easy thing to do - except when it comes to your partner! More often than not we feel more empathy for people we hardly know rather than the ones we hold dearest. When your forgiveness muscle is slack, simply ask yourself this: ‘How is he/she feeling right now?’, ‘Are they justified in their actions?’, and ‘What is my part in this?’ Answering all these questions will put in you in a clearer state of mind and help you on the path to forgiveness.
2. Switch Off The Nasty Voice
We all have an inner voice and more often than not, it doesn’t play nicely. When we fight, its critical nature comes to the fore, spewing forth things like ‘He’s trying to manipulate you’ or ‘She’s twisting your words again’ or ‘Just ignore him. You’ll feel better that way’. All of this is counter-productive to forgiveness. Learning to switch off the nasty voice and replace it with a kinder one is paramount to moving forward and playing fairly.
3. Let It Go
No, I’m not talking about that darn ‘ole Frozen song, I promise! But the sentiment is simple and true – rather than holding on to all the little things your partner has done in the past (and I know you know what I mean – that vast catalogue of their wrongdoings stored in your brain!), you must learn to leave it behind you. You will fight, that is human nature, but don’t hold onto the upsets. Work through the current issue and the forget it. Start fresh.
4. Ditch The Past Baggage
Like it or not, your childhood plays a big part in the relationship you have with your partner. The way you grew up influences the person you are now. If you have difficult memories of childhood, this can impact on your current relationship. Perhaps you had a parent who used silence to let you know they were angry. Consequently, each time your partner is quiet, you find yourself wondering ‘What have I done?’, ‘Why are they punishing me?’ In reality, your partner may just be tired and having a quiet moment. But the baggage we bring to a relationship is always there so take the time to acknowledge this. Work out where your fear stems from, put it into context and evaluate your behaviour from this logical, rational standpoint.
When you’re in the thick of an argument, it’s very hard to ‘see the forest for the trees’. You lose track of the goal of being on the side same – a tenet of any good partnership – because you’re so concerned with winning. But for you to win, your partner has to lose. Is this the outcome you truly want? Focus instead on the goal of cooperation and commitment to forgiving and see if that leads you down a better road instead.
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Joanne Wilson is a Sunshine Coast professional Counsellor and Psychotherapist with a keen interest in relationships and pre-marriage therapy. She is often found contributing through guest speaking invitations and has also produced her own books, Pearls of Wisdom from the Thriving Thirties, The Relationship Rejuvenator E-Book and presented a series of relationship seminars.
Joanne will be your Confidante, enabling you to speak freely in complete confidence and serenity. An integrated approach tailored to your specific needs will be utilised.