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|Case Studies - Page 5|
I concur with the authors that forgiveness is a powerful concept, and I agree that it involves acknowledging and communicating a hurt, letting go of blame, reevaluating "unenforceable rules," and recognizing that you married the individual you married, not the one you wish you'd married or thought you'd married.
However, I'm skeptical about the value of basing an entire therapy approach on a single concept, even one as potent as forgiveness. When you stretch a construct beyond its range of convenience, it tends to become a catch-all for every conceivable clinical operation. Thus, in reading about Don and Sara, I found myself wondering if anything was really new here. For instance, wouldn't most competent therapists work to help partners "develop more flexible ways of thinking about their relationship" or invite them to reexamine their commitments to one another?
I was surprised that the authors placed their initial focus on having Sara and Don calm themselves by practicing stress-reduction and breathing exercises. My own preference would be to meet with them separately for at least a few sessions. This automatically circumvents the emotional restimulation that a joint session can produce, and at the same time underscores the crucial message that forgiving is an individual's free choice, not a communal agreement or a quid pro quo. Any implication that forgiving is the right, logical, or healthy thing to do shifts attention away from personal responsibility—the all-important issue, which, to me, constitutes the essence of the forgiveness process. I'd want both Sara and Don to decide when and whether to forgive, without even the subtle pressure of their sitting side by side.
I was puzzled by the authors' implication that Don needed to get over feeling that he had "a right" to Sara's fidelity. Isn't fidelity one of the few actual entitlements of the traditional marriage contract? Though Sara's love isn't an entitlement, he's surely on solid ground to consider fidelity
I fully agree with the authors that the person for whom you do the forgiving is yourself, not the other individual; however, I find their definition of the process as "making peace" much too vague. I prefer psychiatrist Ron Smothermon's equally succinct definition of forgiving from Winning through Enlightenment: Mastery of Life: "giving up forever all claim for revenge." The word forever highlights the fact that true forgiveness is unconditional. You don't get to take it back just because, let's say, the person transgresses again. Ultimately, you may decide that you have to divorce him or her, but there's no incongruity in starting divorce proceedings against someone you've fully forgiven.
Finally, I oppose the idea of dissecting the process of forgiveness into a series of how-to skills to be taught and practiced at mental health workshops. At root, forgiving someone is a matter of making a declaration that you're unwilling to waste any more of your energy keeping a particular grudge going. Forgiving is often a difficult and pivotal life decision, but let's not turn the process into something mysterious or complicated.