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|Case Studies - Page 4|
For weeks, Don and Sara worked to put aside their rigid rules for each other and develop more flexible ways of thinking about their relationship. Eventually, he dug beneath his feeling that he had a right to her fidelity and reached his deeper wish for her to love him genuinely. When at last he expressed his yearning for her love without insisting upon his marital rights, his voice cracked. "All I ever really wanted was for you to love me," he said, bowing his head. Sara's smile showed real tenderness at his willingness to admit his vulnerability. Forgiveness therapists are on the lookout for this kind of moment to help the couple ask themselves, "Where did this feeling come from? Is it possible to get back there?"
Beneath this couple's anger were deeper and stronger feelings of mutual admiration, affection, and loyalty. Don still felt fiercely protective of Sara, while she admired his work ethic and drive: it was the determination of both—to work hard, rise from humble beginnings, and make a good life—that had initially drawn them together. In widening their perspectives beyond the cramped space of mutual grievance, they developed compassion for each other's mistakes and began to accept the reality that they'd each married a flawed, but good, human being.
We constantly remind clients that they're capable of many responses to being wounded, and the goal is to find the one that gives them what they most deeply want. We call this deep want the "positive intention." Sara and Don needed to find and articulate their positive intention and use it to change their relationship story. In one session, their therapist asked them to think of the deepest positive reason they married each other and to make it personal and specific. They were then asked if that deep loving reason was still true and, if so, whether it wasn't time to tell a story about that intention, rather than about how each had failed. Don saw that he'd been hurt badly by Sara precisely because he'd loved and admired her so deeply; he couldn't imagine himself being with another woman. His positive intention was to express that sense of love and commitment directly, authentically, and without qualifications; but to do that and continue nourishing these feelings, he had to forgive her and move on. In turn, Sara's positive intention was to create a marriage so strong that anything could be forgiven—the kind of marriage her parents had not had, but which she deeply wanted with Don. To make good on this positive intention, Sara realized that the first major step she must take was to forgive Don for his continuing blame and negativity toward her.
Forgiveness isn't a free pass to any and all bad behavior; it doesn't condone unkindness, infidelity, neglect, or disrespect, or require one to return to an abusive relationship or be a doormat. Research shows that these are some of the commonest misconceptions about forgiveness. But forgiveness or making peace with the various ways life has disappointed us can free us from being stuck in hurt and blame and help us become better and happier partners and people. The simple truth is that when we practice harshness toward our partner, we become good at being harsh. When we practice forgiveness, we become good at forgiveness—which fundamentally means learning to love and accept the imperfect people in our lives and allowing them to love and accept us.