Apology can be an important part of acceptance and may or may not lead to forgiveness. Having talked to hundreds of divorcing or separating couples, we’re often asked about the need for apology and the role of forgiveness.
At the end of the day, divorce and separation is the result of our inability to love each other in the way that we needed to be loved, whether it was humanly possible to provide enough love, whether it was from a place of not knowing how to do any better, and whether it’s true for one person or both.
Most of the issues surrounding the separation are about love falling short, through our actions, our words, our connection, communication, or our inability to meet our commitments. You may feel blameless or filled with guilt. Either way, there’s probably an apology due. “I’m sorry I was unable to love you in a way that met your needs, to take care of you in the way that you expected, and to be the person you wanted me to be.” There may be other very specific things to be sorry for as well, and in an ideal, thoughtful, empathetic world, those apologies are delivered.
Acknowledgement and apology are salve for the emotional wounds of rejection, failure, and loss. When we can come to a place of acknowledging each other for not only our negative contributions to ending our marriage, but also the ways the other person enriched our lives, contributed to family life, or tried in whatever ways he or she may have tried, we move a step closer to acceptance and a more balanced perspective on life. It’s very rare that someone is all good or all bad. When we can recognize our shortfalls and apologize for the ways we wish we had been able to do better, we set the stage for taking down the walls of hurt and anger, blame and enmity.
Can I forgive and/or do I need forgiveness? Whether we get the apology we think we deserve — and give the apology our former partner deserves — we’re left with the question of forgiveness: “Can I/will I forgive him/her for leaving?” or “Can I/will I forgive myself for actions I’m less than proud of?”
Forgiveness does not mean agreement. It does not say that you felt another made the right choices or behaved in an acceptable way. What it means is acceptance of the other person and/or yourself as less than perfect.
Forgiveness is possible when we are able of take the energy of “looking back” and wishing the past could be different and turn it to “looking forward” and creating a meaningful future. In making that shift forward, we show that we’ve unearthed valuable learning — we’ve mined the gold from the coal — cherished wisdom, deepened compassion, strengthened sense of self… there are many possibilities. at said, most parents who have walked through the mire of divorce/separation, need many months — if not many years—to unwind the complicated emotions, and sort out the divorce/separation experience for the learning. Be gentle with yourself.
As stormy seas subside, keep your eyes and heart on the lighthouse of raising competent, happy, secure, loving children, and you will find your way to increased stability, growing acceptance, and perhaps, in time, even forgiveness. Ultimately, you choose when and if forgiveness feels like the next natural step on the journey.
From The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family from Little Ones to Young Adults by Karen Bonnell, ARNP, MS, Co-Parenting Coach with Kristin Little, MS, MA, LMHC, Child Specialist