(The following post is an excerpt from my workbook, Hurt by the One You Love: The Power of Forgiveness in Intimate Relationships. The premise is that daily acts of forgiveness are vital for a healthy relationship and meaningful intimacy. Many of the couples who seek my relationship help and marriage advice are stuck because they lack a collaborative forgiveness mindset–a mindset we can all cultivate with practice).
“He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”
All couples should work toward adopting a collaborative forgiveness mindset.
When you work toward collaborative forgiveness, you strive to create an atmosphere that acknowledges the importance of WE instead of simply “I.” Building a collaborative atmosphere of forgiveness is an ongoing, elastic process that allows for mistakes and errors—it allows two fallible humans to come together and work as a team; it allows you and your partner to stumble and err as you both attempt to navigate the complexities and mysteries of an intimate union.
Collaborative forgiveness is a judgment-free atmosphere that still gives you and your partner permission to challenge one another to be the best partner/spouse/person possible. Challenging one another when appropriate is very different from criticizing and judging each other. Challenging occurs within the fabric of support and connection; criticizing breaks apart the “we” of the relationship and is fueled by a right versus- wrong mindset. Criticism places someone into a superior role (the person who is “right”) and the other person then exists in a shame-based, inferior role (the person who is “wrong”).
When your relationship is overwhelmed by criticism, finger-pointing and condemnation, the trust and safety that are vital for intimacy will never be realized.
The cancerous growth of criticism is one reason why so many couples drift apart and fail to maintain the connection essential to a long-term successful relationship.
Openness and Acceptance: Essential ingredients to collaborative forgiveness.
How do you practice creating an atmosphere of collaborative forgiveness?
To create an atmosphere of collaborative forgiveness, it is your job and responsibility to monitor your own critical thoughts (and your partner should do the same). The goal is to become aware of all the ways in which you judge your partner (and others). If your knee-jerk reaction in reading this is, “Hold on a second, I don’t judge him/her!” just hear me out on this one.
Over the last fifteen years I’ve had many clients practice thought-monitoring (keeping a journal of their thoughts throughout the day). This is an effective way to become more mindful of the subtleties of your experiences. And whenever they give serious attention toward becoming mindful of their attitudes and thoughts, a large percent of them are surprised to discover how many critical, judgment-based thoughts are actually a part of their daily life.
Many of these thoughts are fleeting and can be so automatic that you probably aren’t even aware of them. Even subtle judgments can have a profound, negative impact on you and your marriage/relationship. A mindset consisting of judgment and criticism is the polar opposite of the acceptance needed for collaborative forgiveness to grow.
Relationship Help: Self-reflection Action Step
To become mindful of the role of criticalness in your life and in your relationship, I’d like you to take the following challenge:
Monitor your thinking for one week.
Simply be mindful of the thoughts you are having, especially while interacting with others.
To help you stay on task, it is recommended that you keep a journal of the thoughts you become aware of.
During this exercise be aware of all comparisons (comparisons are sometimes subtle) that you make between yourself and others.
Until next time,
Dr. Rich Nicastro