Forgive, But Don’t Forget

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.

You should learn to forgive your spouse, but don't forget what they've done.
You should learn to forgive your spouse, but don’t forget what they’ve done.

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.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders,

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Joe Schiewe 10 years ago

What if the betrayal needing to be forgiven is daily and they don't care that it hurts you for they believe that it is a part of who they are.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Joe - Then that is an issue you need to address first. Without knowing what it is, it's hard to point you in the right direction, but try talking genuinely and letting them know how it hurts you. If they refuse to change and you'd tried all you can, then it's up to you what to do from there.

Joe Schiewe 10 years ago

It always comes back to the same catch 22 doesn't it. I have let her know on multiple occasions on how it (her pursuit of a gay lifestyle) hurts me and our kids, she refuses to change and it is impossible to do all I can until I am dead. She has told me that she has never felt attracted to me before and during our 25 years of marriage, that our marriage was her biggest mistake and it was based on lies she told me because she was afraid to admit her true feelings and had hoped that God would change them. She says that her efforts in our marriage were completely out of a feeling of obligation, she was always disgusted with any intimacy with me, she has abandoned hope in God helping her change for this new lifestyle is what is right for her, and we both need to adjust to that reality. She hasn't divorced me because she hasn't the means financially and emotionally to take care of herself. According to multiple professional counselors, she has the maturity of a ten year old with regards to relating to people. To some extent, I have a wife that I love that is a damaged child who dislikes herself & most others, is gender confused and has huge filters of fear and control. Multiple professional counselors have told both of us that her therapy will likely be needed for a very long time and her odds of overcoming it are slim.

dolly 10 years ago

She cheated on me for about a month, before finally admitting it to me, unable to take the guilt anymore. I had made it clear in the past that such a thing would be the end of it all for me, so she waited and waited before telling me, not wanting to "hurt" me and finish the relationship I guess.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Then, Joe, you know what needs to be done and it's your choice if you can follow through with that, knowing the possibilities.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Dolly - I can only imagine how hurt and betrayed you must have felt. If you feel she deserves another chance, or if you feel it's over, we support you either way. If you do want to try, we recommend -

Missy 10 years ago

Two years ago I found out about my husband's affair (the affair lasted 3 months). I'm still not able to completely forgive him. Every time when things get a little better between us the memories of him and the other woman comes into my mind. I start to pull away from him. I distance myself from him. Normally this goes on about 2 weeks. Within those 2 weeks I feel like that the only way for me to escape the memories of his affair is to leave or move away. He will then talk to me about it. Afterward things are slightly better but it's not for long. Any advice?

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Hi, Missy - I can understand how it's hard to stop imagining. Dr Dana has addressed this exact common issue - I hope you both are able to move forward.