How Forgiving Your Ex Can Help You Recover From a Breakup

Forgiveness isn't always simple, but it's worth the effort for your own healing and happiness.
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Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC
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Forgiveness isn't always simple, but it's worth the effort for your own healing and happiness.

True forgiveness is one of the most potent and powerful tools a person has to live a fulfilling life. The act of forgiving goes beyond helping a person to heal—it is the ultimate act of reclaiming one’s own well-being.

Forgiveness can be especially tough in a breakup. In many cases, we were hurt by our partner long before the actual breakup—in fact, a buildup of hurt is often what caused the breakup to begin with. We often feel betrayed, injured, discarded, disgraced, embarrassed, and generally hurt by the end of a relationship. Sometimes we can reflect and see a direct reason for this, and other times we are left simply wondering why on earth we have experienced such pain.

But in the end, what's done is done. What we are left with is the choice of how to move on—and the best way to do that is to forgive.

Forgiveness is a dynamic process that refines and reforms the person who is forgiving, and can be just as cathartic for the person being forgiven. But forgiveness doesn’t always feel like a rush of relief. It’s a messy process that usually requires us to do most, if not all, of the dirty work. And that makes it difficult to discern what true forgiveness is and when we have actually achieved it. To make matters worse, there are common misconceptions about breakups—like our exes don't deserve our forgiveness or that forgiveness let's him "off the hook"—that can leave us feeling like forgiveness is beyond our reach.

The act of forgiveness is extremely personal and does not have any one “look” or “way” to accomplish it. Some may want to walk this path alone while others may need the support of family, friends, and/or professionals. All of this is perfectly normal and expected. It might only take a matter of minutes or hours for one person to forgive, while for others it could take years—and that's OK.

As you embark on the road to forgiveness, you'll probably have a lot of questions. Find clarity—and ultimately closure—with these helpful answers below.

He can’t or won’t say, “I’m sorry.” Does this mean I will never have closure?

No, not at all. Keep in mind that it only takes one person to forgive: you. You may forgive someone in your heart without even telling the other person you are doing so. It is not necessary to verbalize your forgiveness to the other person, especially in events of violent crime or serious abuse. Forgiveness is about your internal dialogue, your personal recovery, and your own heart and soul. Forgiveness is truly about your own life experience and your own set of values regardless of the harming party. You may never hear those coveted words, “I’m sorry,” but you can chose to move forward regardless.

Does forgiving really mean I have to forget?

For minor things, perhaps. But there is much to learn from any experience, positive or negative. So perhaps instead of forgive and forget, a better mantra is forgive and grow. Remember only the parts of the experience that teach you important life lessons about how you wish to be treated in a relationship and how you are meant to treat others in this world.

Do we need to be friends?

It's important to know: Forgiving someone does not mean you need to stay in contact with them or be friends. It is enough to forgive and move on. If someone has hurt you, it’s fine to steer clear of him or her. If that is impossible due to social circles, then surround yourself with close friends and do your best to avoid contact if it makes you uncomfortable.

The act of forgiving someone for harming you (emotionally, physically, or otherwise) moves you from a feeling of being victimized, to a feeling of being in charge of your own emotion, situation, and physicality. Forgiveness cannot erase the hurt of a breakup or the events leading up to it, but in it there is freedom, expansion, and air to breathe. When it comes to forgiveness, whether it’s a lover, a friend, or a family member, the one who forgives will always come out the stronger, wiser one.

As John Lennon once said, “Everything will be OK in the end. If it's not OK, then it's not the end.” Using forgiveness as a strategic tool to heal your heart means that in the end, regardless of how long it takes, everything can and will be alright.