Forgiving Wholeheartedly

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As we approach the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, every couple has an obligation to ask for forgiveness from their partner for possibly “hurting” them in any way. Many couples are faced with the challenge of having to forgive their spouse after being hurt by their partner’s actions, speech, or behavior.

A recent client of mine, Sara, spoke about how hurt she was because her husband, David, did not understand her emotional need to receive adequate attention from him. She continuously discussed the matter with him, but he could not validate her needs and she felt hurt and pained that he was not able to understand her properly. After speaking to both of them about this, David slowly started to be more attentive to Sara’s needs and even more helpful around the house - but that did not ease her pain.  Sara simply could not forgive her husband for his behavior and insensitivity towards her for all those years gone by.

What is it about having to forgive someone that makes it so hard? And why is it so especially difficult to forgive in the marriage relationship? If every year we come to ask forgiveness and are taught to forgive, then what are the hurts that stay with us, that even though we may forgive them it is impossible to forget?

Dvorah Levy, LCSW, explains that the hurts that stay with us are those that threaten our sense of secure attachment to our partner. Since humans were created to long for emotional and physical connections, positive attachment occurs when we feel secure that our partner accepts us and is there for us - physically and emotionally - when we need them the most. When we feel that we are not important and our needs are not met, then we create an “attachment injury.” As the feelings inside of us are suppressed, we create a distance and dullness in the relationship. When we are asked to forgive two things have to happen: We have to allow ourselves to release the idea of the expected relationship rather than having him/her pay for what he/she did or did not do and allow ourselves to forgive. Since we sometimes feel hurt when our expectations are not met and feel it is owed to us, whether tangible or not, forgiveness means to erase the debt. If we look at the word “forgive” we can split it into two: For Give. For the sake of giving or giving for - for the one that owes you. We know the word love in Hebrew is “Ahava” – which has the root word of Hav, which means to give.  We are able to walk through the journey of forgiving someone to whom we can give our forgiveness in order to love. Being able to let go of the past and allowing one to feel loved by the present words, actions, and behaviors are all acts of forgiveness or ways one can Give - For their spouse. It is a personal journey that one has to go on to elevate their pain and start feeling relief.

A person has to say goodbye to the past in order to welcome the future or let go of the relationship they once yearned for to create a new one within the strengths and limitations of their spouse. Many times, our partners go through a journey of their own as they grow and strive to become spouses that are more emotionally sensitive to the other’s needs. In a marriage, we are always communicating; whether we are silent or verbal – we are communicating. Therefore, taking notice of the changes verbally can create positive feelings to enhance the marriage relationship. We grow more from positive expressions rather than negative.

What is forgiveness? It is a decision to let go of resentment. When, in our hearts, we let go of grudges and bitterness, we allow room for compassion, kindness, and peace. Forgiveness can lead to healing.

When couples are having a challenge, feeling they are not being understood by their partners, there is a technique that I like to use. The partner that would like to discuss an issue should select a specific issue and then state his/her concern and his/her feelings about it. For example:

I notice that….

I feel hurt by….

I feel resentment…

I would like…

I appreciate you …

Not only is the person using the “I” statement, but also specifically identifying their feelings, their future request, and finding appreciation or what their partner has already been trying to do. While the speaker is talking, the partner is taking on a very important role - actively listening - and repeating back the message they heard stated.  Only when a spouse really tries to listen, can they hear the message!

Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change through patience and understanding. When there is a willingness to put effort into the relationship by not dismissing the hurt or my spouse’s feelings, there is motivation to work on the relationship. When we take accountability and ask ourselves: What have I done to cause this pain? We can ask our partner what type of reassurance they need from us at the time to show how committed we really are to the relationship.

There is nothing greater than being able to make our partners happy by fulfilling the other’s need. As we approach Yom Kippur and would like to forgive, we may consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in our relationships. We may reflect on the facts of the situation, how we reacted, and how this combination has affected our life, health and overall well-being. When we are ready, we can actively choose to forgive the one that hurt us… wholeheartedly.  

Adina Ribacoff, LMSW has been teaching Kallahs for over 20 years.  She and her husband, Rabbi Refael Ribacoff, have created a program to further enhance the relationship between husband & wife, called “Table for Two.”  She specializes in individual, couples, and family counseling.  She enjoys presenting workshops and lecturing on the topic of relationships and is in the process of creating a Community Marriage & Family Center to accommodate the needs of families in the community. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 347-680-9179.