He hurt you and made you really angry. Now he wants you to pardon him for his behavior. You also want to forgive him so your relationship can feel good again. The Mayo Clinic claims that forgiveness is important for personal and relationship health. But you may be afraid he will just repeat his behavior and hurt you again. Accepting an apology is not simply saying, "I forgive you." It is a process.
Make sure his apology is sincere and meaningful. In his 2011 article “How to Make an Adept, Sincere Apology,” psychologist John Grohol recommends that the person asking forgiveness should adequately explain why his behavior or words were hurtful. He should not “apologize” for how you feel because he is not responsible for your emotions, only for his behaviors. When he can tell you in his own words why you were hurt by what he did, you know he understood. If he does not rationalize or try to justify his behavior, you know he is taking responsibility for it.
Consider your boyfriend’s side of the story. It is possible that his actions were based on a misunderstanding that would make forgiveness so much easier. For example, if you kept telling him that birthdays are unimportant to you, then neglecting to buy you a gift or take you out to dinner is not really a failure on his part.
Discuss ways to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. Decide together what changes would ensure that he does not hurt you in the same way again. Perhaps you need him to promise not to make jokes about you in public, or to tell you what is bothering him instead of ignoring you for days on end. If the behavior was based on a misunderstanding, explore ways to improve your communication skills so you are sending and receiving messages accurately.
Compliment him when he gets it right! When your boyfriend follows through on his promises, tell him you noticed and praise him for it. People thrive on positive feedback. That will keep him looking for more ways to please you.
- It can take some time for your boyfriend to understand what was hurtful in his behavior and for you to come to a mutual understanding regarding future behaviors. It will not be a one-time conversation.
- In the 2009 article “Making Forgiveness Possible,” psychologist Suzanne Phillips warns that if your safety is compromised, forgiveness might not be the appropriate way to go. If your boyfriend is abusive, then he needs professional help, and you need to keep yourself safe until he gets it.
With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.
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