By the time we’ve reached midlife, we’ve experienced all kinds of things in our relationships, some good, some bad. It’s great to think back on the positive experiences once in a while, maybe even relive them from time to time.
For the negative experiences, that’s not such a good idea.
And the more serious the situation, the harder it is to not think about it. Maybe you’ve had to deal with an infidelity or some other kind of betrayal by your partner. If so, its lingering effects may very well be interfering with your ability to fully embrace your partner in a healthy—and even in a literal—way.
If you’re harboring resentment or anger over some past wrong, you need to address it. As my colleague psychotherapist and relationship coach Mary Jo Rapini has said, “When your relationship struggles with resentment, it can feel like you are sleeping with the enemy. The resentment is felt deeply by one of the partners, and although it is rarely discussed openly, the tension can be felt by anyone close to the couple.”
So how do you let go of it? Well, it’s forgiveness. Dr. Fred Luskin, a psychologist affiliated with Stanford University, has made the study of forgiveness his life’s work; he’s written several books on it. The first, Forgive for Good, is based on the successful workshops he conducts using a step-by-step process to teach people how to forgive.
His second book, Forgive for Love, was written specifically for husbands and wives, and came about, he explains, because so many of his workshop participants were women trying to forgive current or ex-husbands.
Dr. Luskin has done studies that show harboring feelings of resentment and anger is not good for us physically or emotionally. It means we’re in a constant state of stress and negativity. In lectures he often quotes Nelson Mandela: “Harboring resentment is liking drinking poison to kill your enemy.” In other words, it’s doing a lot more harm to you than it is to the person who hurt you.
His methods of letting go of anger are similar to stress management and include mind-over-matter techniques like visualization and focusing on positive thoughts rather than negative ones.
Mary Jo, too, advises those who are angry to “make a peace with your past. Tell whoever hurt you how you feel about what happened.” She also says that “letting go of your ego and learning to forgive your partner for their flaws and weaknesses—as well as forgiving yourself for holding on to that anger—are two of the biggest obstacles to overcome when working through resentment.”
Learning to forgive may not be easy, but it’s worth a try. In fact, it can be a life-changing experience. Because it’s never too late to take action. And you’ll feel much better when you do.