If to forgive is divine, how come it's so hard for us to do? There are many reasons we don't have an easy time forgiving those we love. Certainly it depends on the crime. For instance, in our TODAYshow.com poll (Survey: How forgiving are you?), 50 percent of you would break up or divorce your partner if he cheated on you. But what about the other 50 percent who would stay? Are they able to forgive and move on? So much of forgiveness depends on our own emotional state of being. We learn from an early age how to forgive. If we were raised in a family where forgiveness was rare and grudges were long, we often unwittingly carry those traditions into our adult lives. How we feel about ourselves and how able we are to express difficult emotions like anger and sadness also play a role in how good we are at forgiving. Maybe the most important part of our ability to forgive is our sense of responsibility for our own lives and relationships. That's not to say that you deserve the mistreatment that makes you angry or hurt. It means that no adult in a consensual relationship is ever a completely innocent victim. And if you are able to really look at yourself, you will almost always see ways in which you contributed to the problem or conflict. It's that awareness that is the source of forgiveness.Ultimately, what inspires us to forgive is more often selfishness than anything else. It hurts too much to stay angry and it becomes self-destructive to hold back forgiveness. We forgive for the sake of love; we just sometimes get stuck on the way there.So what do you need to do to get on the path to forgiveness?Take a look in the mirror and ask: How have you contributed to the crime your loved one committed? How did you help drive things to this painful place? Once you see your own role you'll be able to take some of the blame off your partner.How is grudge holding serving you? Are you not forgiving because you are scared you'll get hurt again? Maybe you secretly relate to your loved one's crime and have thought about doing it yourself. Maybe what you disdain in your partner is really what you disdain about yourself. When you are aware of how little the grudge you are holding has to do with your partner and how much it has to do with you, it's that much easier to release it.Express your feelings. Yes, we may get angry and express it in the moment when we are first confronted with a misdeed or betrayal. But after that, are you just stuck in anger? Have you let yourself really feel the sadness and maybe even fear that was brought on by your loved one's actions? Have you expressed those feelings to him or her? Often you will find that if you allow yourself to really experience these feelings, the anger isn't as strong anymore and forgiving comes easier.Ask yourself what you really want. Too often grudge holding leads you to bite off your nose to spite your face. Do you want to stay in this relationship or move on? Do you still feel love and connection to this person? If you do, it's time to forgive and forget. It may take time to heal and rebuild the trust, but if you commit to the relationship and communicate honestly through the process you'll likely make it through the other side in a better place in your relationship than before.When we forgive our loved ones we are also forgiving ourselves, and we are choosing love over anger and regret. And that is truly divine.
Dr. Laura Berman is the director of the in Chicago, a specialized health care facility dedicated to helping women and couples find fulfilling sex lives and enriched relationships. She is also an assistant clinical professor of OB-GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. She has been working as a sex educator, researcher and therapist for 18 years.