Forgiving Your Ex Is Overrated

Don’t get me wrong. It is admirable that any man or woman deeply hurt by the actions of their former partner willingly absolves that ex-partner’s offenses. In practice, forgiving unremarkable transgressions is a challenge for most of us; however, forgiving crimes committed in the context of love can take strength immeasurable. No matter, society bombards us with advice proclaiming the power of forgiveness. We are told only the weak refuse to forgive, that not forgiving negatively affects our happiness, or unless we forgive we are not able to move on.

I know many so-called enlightened women who have taken this advice to heart, declaring they no longer carry hurt or resentment from their divorces. Similarly, a man I once knew wasted no time committing to a new woman once the previous woman had given him the boot. Maybe you’ve encountered these men and women, too? They move forward at lightning speed, easily reattaching without bringing along baggage into new relationships. At least, that is what they claim.

Why wouldn’t they? Popular culture overwhelms us with images of the scorned woman, the crazy ex-wife, and the bitter divorcee. Men also are victims: a man harboring hurts from an ex-love is weak, whipped or has questionable masculinity. Dating gurus warn of talking about your ex with a potential love, lest you wish to appear stuck in the past or unable to have a healthy relationship. Who wants to be burdened with these labels? So, to avoid being branded as unhealthy, most of us live under a forgiveness façade, pretending to be the merciful individuals society demands us to be. Realistically, our efforts to forgive are merely attempts to forget, which do nothing for our happiness, much less our mental and emotional health.

When we deceitfully forgive our exes, we punish ourselves for not being able to do what onlookers feel we should do. This self-punishment is much worse than the crime because we toxically compare ourselves to others. Or, if we are able to forgive, we neglect to do the additional required work to heal the injuries we suffered during the divorce. It is when we deny these wounds that they turn into cancers that prevent us from having positive relationships.

Focusing on other people – either the ex we try to forgive or those who have seemingly forgiven their exes with ease – diminishes us. And, it prolongs our association with the person who may have caused our hurt. If our goal is to move beyond the pain of marital crimes and promote our well-being, we do so with the power we possess. Focusing on ourselves, not our exes, after a difficult break-up affords us the best opportunity to move forward.

After my divorce, and after months of trying and failing to forgive, I gave up. Ten years after my divorce, I still haven’t pardoned my ex-husband. But, I have healed and forgiven myself, which I believe is more important.

How did I do it? I shifted my attention away from my former spouse and his actions and focused on me. I accepted the changes triggered by the alchemy of failed relationships and became self-nurturing and self-reflective. I found many wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise, that would undoubtedly interfere with my ability to relate to future partners. Some absolutely contributed to my rocky marriage. No longer stuck in the weeds of ex-spouse forgiveness, and seeking help when necessary, I began my journey forward.

I learned that the person who deserves clemency the most is me. I began working to forgive myself for mistakes made in my marriage, making excuses for my behaviors, ignoring my gut, wanting to be loved at any cost, letting fear dictate my actions, believing I am unlovable, feeling like a failure, and feeling shame for being divorced. No, it wasn’t easy; in truth, it was downright challenging. But, the time I invested exonerating myself reaped great rewards. In fact, self-forgiveness not only brought back my happiness, it banished blame and the agony of my divorce, and, most importantly, freed me from the actions of my ex.

So, if you haven’t been able to forgive your ex, stop trying! Let yourself off the hook and look in the mirror instead. Try to remember who you once were and accept who you are becoming. Take inventory of changes, both good and bad, keeping those that serve you and understanding those that don’t. Acknowledging and examining the changes resulting from your broken heart, and what you can learn about yourself because of them, is the surest way to heal and leave resentment, anger, and that ex of yours behind.

Partners may come and go; you must live with yourself no matter your relationship status. Forgive yourself because forgiving your ex is overrated.

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About the Author | Rebecca Neville

After a painful divorce, I sought advice and help from many accomplished women. Learning their stories gave me the courage to rewrite my own. Today, I'm a recent graduate of Georgetown University who wishes to share her story with the hope that even just one woman who finds herself in a low place can gain hope and begin to write herself happy.

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15 comments to "Forgiving Your Ex Is Overrated"

  • I have often struggled with forgiveness to and the much revered concept of “letting go.” Recently though I read something that really resonated with me about not focusing on letting go of something, but instead focusing on what you want to let into your life. As you move towards the things you want to let in, the hurts you want to let go of will gradually fade into the background.

  • After 24 years and the last 2 being hell with my ex I need to let go!
    She doesn’t take responsibility for the hell she put me through and I’m finally realizing that she never will.
    I’m in a new relationship with a woman that’s totally different from her and she understands my anger towards my ex as she to went through hell with her ex.
    It’s time to live again and realize that my revenge will be that I’m doing great and l have moved on!

  • Liz

    Thank you. For me, forgiveness appears when I’m not looking for it but am honestly putting energy into self-care and kindness-to myself and to anyone.
    Feelings won’t be pushed away. They just stand down until later, asking to be experienced and acknowledged. My feelings don’t define, they guide when I am willing.
    Much love & light.

  • RRDLR2

    Thanks so much for this, I am having difficulty both forgiving my ex and myself.
    Thanks for giving me clarity about who should be the priority.
    Instead of resenting her for not taking responsibility for her part in our marriage’s failure, I need to focus on the lesson learned on my side and realize that this as much an opportunity as it is a tragedy.

  • Lilly

    Well written and so incredibly true. I have no desire to forgive and I haven’t experienced another person who felt the same! I appreciate the honest words. I don’t want to hear anymore crap about forgiving someone who stole so much from my life. It has never felt right. I agree and feel like reading this has brought me to the tail end of a painful and beautiful journey. I only want to be true to myself.

  • Renee Cassidy

    Thank you for this article!! This is the first helpful thing that I have read about forgiveness. I don’t want to forgive my ex husband and the woman he left our family for at all. I feel pressure from culture, church, and psychology to forgive and let go. I only want to ‘forgive myself for not being able to forgive’. Trying to forgive them just keeps me focused on the years of hurt, disappointment, and betrayal. I really only want justice. Putting the focus on ourselves is a much better solution. I need forgiveness for the poor choices I have made. I need the love that I have yearned for all along. I need to build a life worth living. I will NEVER get these things from the man I was married to or any other person. I need to expect nothing from the people I cannot forgive. By focusing on myself and my healing, I have control and power. I will remember your advise when the hateful and unforgiving thoughts come. I will refocus my attention to myself, self care, self-love, goal setting, gratitude, and hope.

  • Lan

    Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you so much for this article. Recently, after being two years in an amazing realtionship with a beautiful and loving man, I made a shocking realization that I still hate my ex, and that’s not my previous boyfriend. The only ex I deeply hate is my very first boyfriend who just dated me to take away my virginity and left afterwards still promising he will come back and I was waiting… 3 years… He started a youtube chanel and is quite popular, he is also in an amazing relationship (at least on the photos) and looks really happy. Seeing that I have realized I really truly hate him for moving on so easily and lightely, like he haven’t done anything wrong and portraing his image online like he is the nicest person out there. It hurt me to realize I have spent 2 days now in a constant thought of him not really focusing on my loving partner. And than I realized it has to end, it has been already 5 years! During this 5 years I read so much on forgiveness not resonating with a single word. Your article gave me hope and inspiration. Thank you very much. Wish you well!

  • Dirk

    Screw forgiveness, many acts are unforgivable and nobody should try to pretend like it never even happened. Skip the funeral when it’s time, would you go to one for somebody who you don’t love or respect anymore?

  • Helen

    Make your ex pay child support and than let him work on issue of forgiving you.

    I do not see the difference between forgiving and letting him go and not forgiving and letting him go.
    I have left my ex-husband – I did not have a choice- he physically and emotionally abused me and staying was a life threat.
    And I moved on with my life – struggling to support my child on my own because he was so aggressive that it was easier for me to loose everything and just let him be. In 15 years – he enjoyed his life, travelled, lived a lavish life because he did not pay child support, got away without any punishment for his physical abuse and is successful and respected now in his life.
    My child grew up without a father and I do not have any hope to win any child support case to pay for his education – ex- has about 10 lawyers in his pocket, and blocks any attempt to resolve issue in the court, he has plenty of money for that.
    I suggest that women need to be strong and should not think about your feelings but think about interests of our children first of all. While women get concerned with emotional issues, men aggressively fight for not paying child support on all levels and win. As a result our children do not have what they deserve and we struggle emotionally because of this.
    I think it is much easer to move on with your life ones you have a fair resolution of your past marriage and he pays child support. Let him than try to forgive you.

  • Yvonne

    At laaaaaast! (think Etta James) – Someone who understands that he does not deserve my forgiveness. It has been 20 years, and I maintain my stance. I will NEVER forgive him or her. But, at least now I undeestand what I always believed was instinctually correct – Focusing on my happiness doesn’t mean I’m obligated to forgive him or anyone else who hurt me. And, not forgiving, contrary to conventional wis…no, make that ridiculousness, doesn’t diminish my happiness, or my pursuit if it, one iota. In fact, straining to forgive has only served to destroy me.

    So, THANK YOU soooooooo very much for this. I will make declarations of disgust at their very existence with impunity from now on – if I choose. Not forgiving my enemy, does not make me a bad person.

  • Dale

    I divorced my pathological narcissist, psychopath wife 30 years ago.
    By the grace of God I was awarded custody of my then 4 year old son
    and retained ownership of my home.
    She was married in my presence and single when not for 9 years,
    I did not discover the truth until year 9.
    Her co workers, bosses, my own cousin, my friends. None were off limits for her.
    6 months after I divorced her she asked if I would marry her again!
    I recently ended a 35 yr friendship due to her insisting I forgive my ex wife.
    Details aside, my health is ruined due to stress of what I discovered.
    I am happy in spite of the above and I will never forgive her. Husband #2 is experiencing  same.

  • Charles

    The day we signed the papers in 2019, I could barely choke the words out, but I said to my ex-wife “I forgive you.” I really didn’t, but thought it was what I supposed to say, and if I said the words, it would become reality. It never did, of course. I hear so much ridiculous psycho-babble about “forgiveness,” but maybe a better word would just be “acceptance.” Later I would discover why my ex pushed so quickly for our divorce to be settled (less than five months). She had been hiding money from me, keeping a secret credit card, and plotting her escape financially. When I was hit with the marriage ending, the blindsided cliche,’ I was unprepared emotionally, mentally and financially. It was like a shock and awe attack on her part. Hell no, I don’t forgive her. But I am concerned that I’m still angry. I hate her, but she’s indifferent about me. I want to get to that stage. But how? I get tired of hearing how I’m just supposed to be cool with all this. I want to move forward, to forget about her, and focus on my future – which looks really great, by the way. I’m engaged to an amazing woman, But it’s like I keep that aspect of my life separate from my past. Thoughts or help from anyone is greatly appreciated.

  • Philip

    I have moved on after 10 years. Life is pretty good now. I was in so much pain after she left after being with her for 30 years. You think it is the end of your life—it is not. I worked out no drugs and went through about 13 women from very short to a 8 year relationship that just ended. After 3 months I am with another a woman( I like relationships and I am a transformed person so much more woke- you learn that from pain) that I really enjoy being with now. Hopefully the last!!! It has been challenging losing my family. Suddenly you are not part of a family after 30 years after the ex runs off with another guy and marries him. Personally I have no feelings for anyone in the family but still resent my ex, but nothing else, I don’t wish her or anyone else harm, just resentment being so stupid, always waiting for her, supporting everyone, becoming complacent, etc, etc. Life is what it is and now I accept everything that happens-the stoics.
    I stopped the monkey brain voice always talking about the past. I have to say I am pretty happy again life is exciting again. For anyone going through divorce be tough and talk to as many people as you can , go to counseling and move forward. So difficult but you must to survive.