Close Connections: Forgiveness or not – peace of mind


By Nancy Norman

Last month I listed some of the reasons we do and don’t forgive. In this column we’ll explore how to choose when faced with betrayal.

Maybe the biggest thing that determines forgiving or not is whether the decision brings us peace of mind. Something we can live with. Something that allows us to live our lives in the present rather than the past, and plan for the future with gusto. Something that focuses on our dreams and hopes, rather than the trials we’ve endured.

It would be easy to equate “peace of mind” with doing the right thing–if there were universal agreement on what is right and wrong. But what I want is a decision that feels like I’ve made up my mind. Eventually a feeling of resolve. And that kind of decision is likely based on at least three things:

  • Taking responsibility for making the decision to forgive or not, not just blindly doing what others suggest.
  • Believing our decision is right for us, after weighing everything we know about it.
  • Accepting the consequences for our decision.

So let’s take one of the most painful things that can happen in a close relationship: our mate deceives us, has an affair. Some close friends advise us to get out and don’t look back. Others urge us to stay and reconcile. With much anguish, we finally decide to forgive him or her. Does this bring peace of mind? Let’s test it by the three guidelines above.

We know it’s our decision to make, no matter what advice we get from others. And after we think about every possible circumstance around our mate’s infidelity, we decide it’s right to forgive. Now we live with the consequences. And what does that look like?

We learn that forgiveness doesn’t make the pain disappear. We live with it, we deal with it. It can take a lifetime. Eventually we want to know in our hearts that we’ll be OK.  We understand that none of us is above hurting someone, and if we risk loving, we’ll get hurt. Eventually we feel some peace that we’ve been able to forgive.

Or we decide to not forgive this betrayal. We hope that in not forgiving, we can prevent feeling like a fool for trusting. We might have to live with being angry and devastated and feeling like a victim, but that keeps us from risking being hurt again. If we can keep it from remaining an open sore, we can live with not forgiving.

Whichever decision we make, the decision to forgive or not is a way of going on with life. And each situation just has to be lived through in order to decide which is best.

Whichever decision makes it possible to love again; to not be bitter; to trust again; to focus on ourselves and our own goals, not the transgression; to know the imperfections of human beings and love anyway–that’s the one I want to choose.

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at



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