Couples tend to focus on emotional and physical aspects when it comes to fostering and nurturing intimacy. It is important to acknowledge the broad scope of intimacy and to explore the varied forms that contribute to sustaining a healthy fulfilling relationship. Forgiveness and intimacy are just two of many. Forgiveness intimacy is far deeper than apologizing to one another and promising not to do “that” again.
What is forgiveness intimacy?
It is best described as a couple recognizing a wound in the relationship, understanding the impact of the injury, and identifying positive take-aways from the experience that will help them to grow moving forward.
If those elements are not explored, a simple “I’m sorry” can prove fruitless and may block you from being able to let go of resentment and lingering anger from a past transgression.
Lessons learned from patients
As a Marriage Family Therapist, I have worked with many couples who have chosen to forgive and genuinely want to leave the past in the past. They have unpacked the pain caused in the relationship, taken ownership, and apologized. Even so, it is an everyday struggle that they are still relating to their partner through the lens of the past, even with visible progress and positive change.
For example –
Mike was consistently late at the beginning of his relationship with Tamara. He would be at least 15-20 minutes late to dates and plans, causing significant conflict as well as anxiety and frustration for Tamara.
She considered his tardiness as an example of his lack of respect towards her and her anxiety would spike with every minute of waiting. Mike and Tamara came to identify that Mike’s lateness impacts many other contexts of his life and he really needed to work on time management as a whole.
It is important to be specific about old meanings and new (accurate) meanings attached to your partner and the relationship.
Old narratives that came up for Tamara were something like, “He doesn’t care how long I’m waiting for him,” or, “He doesn’t respect my time. He is inconsiderate and selfish”, and so on.
Accurate new narratives of Tamara
The new narratives taken from Tamara goes like, “Mike needs to improve his time management in general and he owns that,” or, “We both understand the impact of this on the relationship and Mike is actively working on addressing this, and his timeliness is improving overall.”
There can be significant progress made by Mike like being on time becoming more of the “norm.” But ever so often, if he’s even 5 minutes late, Tamara may begin to relate to him through the lens of the past: “He doesn’t respect my time. He doesn’t care about me” races through her mind escalating her anxiety.
If Tamara can catch these thoughts, and not automatically latch on to them as “truth,” then that is half the battle. The goal is not to “never have these thoughts or feelings.” The goal is to be curious and aware when they arise.
Solution to this general problem – nurture forgiveness intimacy
By recognizing the resurfacing of old thoughts and exploring if they may be misplaced in the present, forgiveness intimacy can be nurtured and strengthened. These “reminders” of a past negative story can bring up raw emotions that are more relevant to the past but feel completely accurate at the moment.
Sharing your vulnerability can be incredibly helpful and even allow you and your partner to connect at that moment. Rather than yelling and criticizing Mike when he’s 10 minutes late, Tamara could say, “I’m feeling pretty anxious like I used to feel when you were previously late. I’m trying not to take it personally or attack you, but I am having a hard time even though you’ve been working hard on timeliness.”
Three significant benefits of nurturing forgiveness intimacy
- It gives Mike a chance to validate Tamara’s feelings (without him being “at fault”)
- It provides a safe space for Mike to give her emotional support (without her being the “victim”)
- It also acknowledges that progress has been made and allows the couple to connect through a challenging moment together.
This gives the couple a greater chance of leaving the blaming and attacking behind where it belongs. The best part is that forgiveness intimacy is not something that you have to battle alone or that falls onto one person’s shoulders.
Putting the past in proper perspective as a team is a key.
What pair of frames are you looking at the situation through?
Help each other out if you seem to have misplaced the new glasses that help you to see, love and relate to each other in the present. Working together to acknowledge these moments and recognizing the gift of forgiveness to your relationship will heal old wounds and allow you to move past the hiccups hand-in-hand.