Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation in a Relationship

When you’ve been hurt or betrayed by someone you love, you may hear the old adage that forgiveness is the key to your own freedom. But does that give the other person a hall pass for their behavior? Does it mean they don’t have to take responsibility for what they’ve done? And does forgiving someone take away all the hurt and anger you’re feeling?

In truth, forgiveness has nothing to do with your ex-spouse (or whomever you might forgive) and everything to do with you and your well-being. It’s not a condonation of what they’ve done. It’s a freeing of your own mind so you can pursue your best life. 

Does forgiving mean you’re reconciling with your former partner? Not at all! You can forgive all on your own without ever uttering a word to that person. 

Forgiveness vs. reconciliation

Forgiving certainly won’t erase the past, but it can help you heal from it. When you forgive someone, it releases you from the emotional burdens of the past so you can finally heal and move forward. The person you forgive never has to know anything about your choice to forgive them. It’s a gift to yourself.

Reconciliation requires effort from both people. If both of you want to try again, it can open the door to a reconciliation – but to be successful, both must commit and work hard.

Bottom line: It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two to reconcile. 

How long do you want to let all the hurt from your past relationship take up residence in your heart? And how long do you really want to carry around all that hurt? 

How to forgive someone

Anger and resentment keep you rooted in the past, causing you to feel unhappy with yourself and others. If you do not forgive, you remain stuck in victimhood. It’s bad for your mental health and holds you back from the ultimate goal of a fulfilling and happy life. 

When you release the self-consuming negative energy of anger, however, you give yourself a clean slate from which to start.

Forgiveness requires self-examination and self-compassion:

  • Take accountability for your own role in the break-up. 
  • Give yourself permission to feel the betrayal and hurt. At the same time, understand that allowing yourself to stay stuck in these feelings indefinitely would hurt you even more.
  • Establish better boundaries to prevent repeat mistakes.
  • Be patient with yourself. Forgiveness is an ongoing process. Just when you think you’ve gotten over those past hurts, they can come crashing down on you all over again. 

We’ll say that again: Forgiveness is an ongoing process. It can take some people years to find forgiveness and finally get closure. But it sets the stage for a positive future and can be well worth it in the end.

Forgiveness does not exonerate your ex, but it releases you from their negativity.

How to reconcile with someone

Maybe forgiveness isn’t your end game after all. Maybe what you really want is to reconcile with your spouse. Let’s say you’re part of a married couple, and your spouse commits adultery. The two of you are in the middle of the divorce process when you suddenly realize that this marital relationship might be worth saving.

Will you succeed at patching things up? Maybe. But know this: Reconciliation takes two people who are fully committed to healing, whether it’s a marriage relationship or another type of relationship.

A successful reconciliation requires both people to do the following:

  • Acknowledge your hurts and resentments, and commit to putting them behind you.
  • Agree to focus on the present instead of the past. Rehashing old conflicts will only eat away at any healing you accomplish.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. As only half of the healing equation, you have half of the power over what happens. You must rely on your partner for the rest.
  • Try to see the other person’s point of view. Looking at your relationship from your partner's perspective helps you understand their side and take accountability for your own role.
  • Offer heartfelt apologies to each other. Taking responsibility and being truly sorry for your actions allows the other person to feel heard and validated. 
  • Continue to take the time and effort required to build trust. Reconciliation is not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. It took time for your relationship to break down, and it may take even longer to build it back up. 
  • Respect each other’s boundaries. You’ve been hurt, and you’re taking baby steps toward a mended relationship. That means you need to be especially respectful of each other’s feelings and boundaries. 

Can you reconcile without forgiveness?

While reconciliation is a process, it’s a difficult one without forgiveness. To successfully reconcile with someone who has hurt you, it takes commitment, accountability, and a good dose of empathy on both sides.

If one partner is still holding on to hurts and resentments of the past, forgiveness and reconciliation can be challenging, if not impossible. Without forgiveness, the old hurts have a way of circling back and making it difficult to move forward in a positive way. 

Can you forgive without reconciliation?

Forgiveness is yours and yours alone. Whether you want to reconcile with that person or not, forgiveness is the gift that allows you to move forward with your life and your new relationships without the burden of past hurts getting in the way of your future.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are hard work. You may have years of hurt and resentment to revisit and move beyond. Whether you’re doing it for yourself or as part of a reconciliation process, getting support from a trusted therapist or divorce coach can help you better understand and navigate the emotional terrain of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

The legal issues of divorce are only a small part of the entirety of your divorce. At Hello Divorce, we exist to support you before, during, and after your divorce with legal plans, professional services, and a library of extensive resources so you can move through your divorce and into the future with courage and optimism.