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How to forgive your ex — and move on

How to forgive your ex — and move on

By Margot Carmichael Lester

We’ve all had our hearts hurt (maybe even broken). But carrying around that old hurt doesn’t help in our quest to find a new love. In fact, it can keep us from that very thing. So why not just forgive yourself (and your ex) already? It’s a solid step forward in our journey to love.

“Blaming someone else for your pain is a downward-spiraling cycle,” says Susanne Alexander, author of All-in-One Marriage Prep. “What ends relationships is usually a complex mix of actions, reactions, and miscommunications on both sides. Holding onto bitterness robs you of joy in your daily life and the opportunity of recognizing what new doors are opening as old ones close.”

But why should we forgive the mean old so-and-so who breaks our heart? Alexander is clear: “Forgiveness isn’t saying that what the person did was OK. It simply turns the person over to God or the universe or some power greater than you to handle instead.”
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Here’s how to do just that:

1. Be patient with yourself. “The end of a relationship is, in a sense, a death experience,” explains Patricia Campbell Carlson, former executive director of A Network for Grateful Living. “If we can be patient with ourselves and allow these grief feelings to come up, bearing in mind that they rise and recede in waves and will not last forever, we eventually come to a more accepting, forgiving shore.”

2. Let go of any resentment. “The more you hold onto resentment toward a former partner, the more you will be stuck in the past instead of creating a new future for yourself,” Alexander notes. “If you practice prayer or meditation, these can assist you in detaching your emotions from the person and the circumstances. Then you can begin asking for help in going forward without the burdens of the past weighing you down.”

3. Learn from your experience. “It will help you to move out of grieving and into gratitude if you look for what you gained from the relationship and the ways in which the two of you were incompatible,” Alexander counsels. “Identifying where the relationship did not work well is vital so that you can make different (and obviously, better) choices in the future.”

4. Forgive your ex (and yourself) for anything that happened in the past. If you can accept the fact that the only person being hurt by holding onto the pain is actually you, forgiving your ex (and yourself for your part in the relationship’s demise) can provide a sense of relief and healing you may not have otherwise thought would be possible.

5. Be grateful for the experience and what you’ve learned from it. “We can be grateful that our hearts feel as powerfully as they do, even amidst feelings of sadness, longing, and need,” Carlson notes. “If we can recognize our own perspective, we will be more open as well to our ex-partner’s point of view. We may discover an understanding of why someone hurt us, because we recognize in ourselves that same capacity to inflict hurt on others. We may even discover an inner stability we never knew we had that goes deeper than all the shifting feelings we have about a failed relationship.”

“Life is a constant series of learning lessons and opportunities for personal growth,” Alexander notes. “Whatever occurs is yet another opportunity to learn, grow and change. Whatever you end up learning from this incident will serve you well in the future. Accepting what occurred in the relationship will free you to move forward emotionally.”

Adds Carlson: “We learn through this painful act of forgiving an ex — which is like trying to open a tightly clenched fist — how to forgive in smaller ways all throughout our future relationships, which leads to healthy communication habits. Even though it’s incredibly hard to learn true forgiveness, for our own sakes, it’s also the most healing thing we can possibly do.”

Margot Carmichael Lester is a writer living and working in Carrboro, NC. She is the co-author of Be a Writer: Your Guide to the Writing Life and The Real Life Guide to Starting Your Career.