5 ways to begin to forgive your spouse

Posted September 18, 2016
Updated October 28, 2016

Forgiving your spouse, whether in the case of an affair, an addiction, or another serious situation, can be a journey; one that many spouses struggle with. Just knowing how to start forgiving can be difficult.

Forgiveness may not change the consequences or results of your spouse's actions, but it may help in your healing process.

The following are five ways to begin forgiving your spouse. This is a very broad subject, and while this list of suggestions may not apply to everyone, it may be a good place to start finding forgiveness.

1. Don't personalize your spouse's actions

Realizing that your spouse's actions are their own and that they don't reflect on you is an important step in forgiving your spouse and healing yourself.

Lois Haroldsen, a licensed clinical social worker, said, "Consciously recognize that this doesn't have anything to do with you, don't personalize it. Recognize that. Recognize that (she or he's) got a problem ... It's really more about them than it is about you. When people personalize it and think, 'it's my fault, I should have done something differently,' then it's really hard to let that go."

2. Look to religion

Haroldsen explains that those people who have religion in their lives, that really believe that they are supposed to forgive, will pray and try to work toward forgiveness. "And then it can happen," she said. "If they don't have that religious belief, then they're more likely to stay angry. As long as you're really angry and really hurt, it's hard to forgive."

She goes on to describe, "Most of my clients have a religious belief, so I go there and I'll say, 'In order for you to have peace, you're going to have to let this go. And the only way to really let it go is to turn it over to God and to pray about it and to consciously recognize that this doesn't have anything to do with you. Don't personalize it.'"

3. Have empathy

Many people who engage in destructive behavior are experiencing their own type of pain and sorrow because of those behaviors. When trying to forgive them for how they have hurt you, it could help to remember that they may be hurting as well, she said. While this doesn't change the severity or the reality of their actions, it may help you to start on your path of forgiveness.

4. Know what you want

Haroldsen said, "The first thing, if they don't have any kind of religious background, is to say, 'What do you want from this relationship? Do you want to get divorced or do you want to stay married? If you want to stay married, then we are going to have to work on ways for you to not personalize this and recognize that this is his issue and his problems, and you are going to have to let it go.'"

She went on to say, "If they want to stay married, then they're going to have to work together on just letting it go and making it in the past. This happened, but it's over."

5. Remember the times you've wanted to be forgiven.

Perhaps you have experienced the desire to be forgiven? Haroldsen said remembering how you felt, or imagining how you would feel, might be a good way to start on your path to giving forgiveness.

Haroldsen, works with those who have an addiction and also with their spouses at Lois Haroldsen Counseling and at LifeStar Therapy Network.

You can contact Jenelle at writejenelle (AT) . She also blogs about fighting pornography, dealing with your spouse's sexual addiction, dealing with addiction in general and other related content at


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