In the midst of conflict, plenty of us have heard the phrase “forgive and forget” – but is forgetting really a good idea? Does it help us forgive? Does forgetting help our marriages in the long run?
As a matter of fact, it doesn’t.
Forgiveness takes many things – patience, apologies, communication about the source of a problem, changing certain behaviors, etc. – but forgetting about what has happened is certainly not one of them.
Even if the knowledge is painful (like knowing about an affair or other serious betrayal of trust), forgetting what happened accomplishes nothing. The relief you may feel from trying to forget is only based in denial of the facts, and happiness based on denial is shaky at best.
What’s more, remembering the behavior that requires forgiveness is the best way to prevent it from happening again. Looking at the details as you work toward forgiveness will help you and your spouse see all of the factors that may have lead to a certain behavior – and remembering these specifics means you’ll recognize them if they start to happen again.
You can think of them as “risk factors” to watch for, or even store them away in your memory as hard lessons learned – either way, the mistakes made and the behaviors that eventually led to this need for forgiveness are all experiences that you and your spouse can grow from.
If we’ve been hurt by our spouse’s actions, forgetting may not even be an option!
Realistically, “forgive and forget” isn’t even possible – we can’t just ignore the fact that we’ve been cheated on, lied to, or on the receiving end of some serious transgression. Those painful memories will stay with us, but through lasting, effective forgiveness, we can start down a new path with our spouse that makes that hurt just a shadow in the past.
If you’re the one seeking forgiveness, remembering what you’ve done wrong is humbling and sometimes embarrassing, but that kind of reflection is exactly what will keep you on track to avoid repeating your mistakes.
This doesn’t mean that you or your spouse should be bringing up the painful past at every opportunity, or using the other person’s mistakes to justify your own. Once you’re able to forgive each other (no matter what the issue is), it’s best to put the problem to rest in the back of your mind. Don’t forget, but don’t drag it back to surface either.
Forgiveness is about moving beyond a problem toward a happier, healthier relationship, but allowing yourself to forget what happened (and how) is an invitation for it to happen again.