- Ada, Oklahoma

January 15, 2014

Can we recover?

Dr. Jerry N. Duncan Guest Columnist

Ada — I want to do a series on recovering damaged relationships. As many of you may know, I moved here from Tulsa. Tulsa has had the sad distinction of being the divorce capitol of Oklahoma. It has been reported as having the highest divorce rate of any city in the nation — second only to Las Vegas. It has reported a divorce rate of 123 percent. The average for our nation as a whole is about 50 percent.

How do you successfully recover a relationship that has been damaged by years of abuse, neglect, or betrayal? To begin with. you must have two people who are absolutely committed to recovering. They both must be certain that they want the relationship, and they both must be willing to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work. Without this certainty, and without this absolute commitment, it will be impossible to do the hard work necessary for recovery. 

Last week we discussed the power of one person to create change in a system. That principle is still true. I just have not seen a marriage be able to recover from recent or longstanding  trauma without both partners working incredibly hard.    

Once everyone is on board with an absolute commitment to the relationship and the hard work ahead, the first task to begin is the healing of old hurts. Without the healing of hurts from the past, it is difficult to have the energy for recovery you need in the present.

Lewis Smedes in Forgive and Forget has done the best job to date in explaining the practical concepts of forgiveness, and the concrete how-to of forgiving someone else. He identifies four principles and one very specific technique for forgiving someone else. All of these principles and the practical technique of forgiveness can be found in reading only the first three chapters of his book. 

The first principle is that forgiveness is for you — not the other person. To not forgive leaves you not only with a betrayed and damaged heart, but you begin to damage your own heart with additional resentment and bitterness. 

A bitterness and resentment you may be able to hide from others on the outside, but a contamination and hardening of a heart you have to carry with you for the rest of your days. This is the kind of pain that does not heal with time. In fact, it is a pain that will get worse with time unless it is forgiven.

Principle two is that forgiveness does not require trust or reconciliation. Trust is a separate issue. Do not make forgiving contingent on trusting your betrayer. Rebuilding trust requires the effort of both parties, and it can take a long time. Fortunately, forgiving is something you can do on your own, and do at your own pace. Rebuilding trust is what we will discuss next week. 

Principle three is that forgiveness is a process, not a one-time act. You learn how to do it, and you continue it until you can think about the hurt done to you and still genuinely wish the other person well.

Principle four is that forgiveness is something you do. There actually is a “technique” of forgiveness. You literally say to yourself over and over, “The person who hurt me is weak and fallible. And, although what they did to me was despicable and horrible, who he/she is, is someone deeply and incredibly loved by God.” And, one pebble of bitterness goes away. The more you do it the faster the pile of pebbles disappears.

Ready to start?