There has been a mixture of all kinds of hurt in a long term dating relationship and trying to extend grace and to have true forgiveness after the hurt. What are some good ways to do that in a healthy way without being walked all over?
Dr. Zoe Answered:
You may not like this answer, and some may not agree, but dating shouldn’t be this hard. You are in a long-term relationship, which I assume is at least a couple of years. He has hurt you many times. You indicate that you feel that he may take advantage of your extension of grace and forgiveness towards him. What I’m wondering is why you haven’t ended it?
It sounds to me like you are committed to this relationship as if it were a marriage, but it is not. A marital relationship should be full of forgiveness, grace and hard work even when your relationship is not the picture of health. But a non-marital relationship should be let go when you recognize that it isn’t healthy for you.
Many women make the crucial mistake of giving too much of themselves when the relationship doesn’t support it. Women should behave very differently in a dating relationship, versus an exclusive relationship, versus an engaged relationship and a married relationship. Some women show up as if they are all the same.
One of the main purposes of dating is to figure out if you are compatible with someone, if you can tolerate their junk (yes, we all have trunks with at least something in it), and if you can be healthy in the relationship long term. I’m not saying that we don’t have to extend forgiveness and grace in all our relationships. We do, but forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to continue to accept bad behavior.
Please note—I am not attached to an archaic mode of thinking that says that all women should want to get married. If your goal is not to marry, much love and respect for your decision—and the same for the woman who wants to marry. You do you, ladies! But regardless, you still deserve to be in a healthy relationship. If your goal is to marry, you may want to think twice about starting a marriage on a rocky foundation of hurt, unforgiveness, and distrust.
If I’m way off base with this and he has significantly changed, there are ways that you can healthily extend grace and forgiveness in your relationship. The key is boundaries. All healthy relationships have boundaries.
You are likely feeling reticent to forgive because you feel that you are condoning the behavior, sending a message that he could do it again. You might not feel a strong sense of remorse on his part. You need to listen to the little voice telling you that you can’t trust him. Think back. That voice is usually a sharp cookie.
So how do you forgive and protect yourself at the same time?
You’ve got to manage your expectations and remember that forgiveness is for you—not him.
People eventually show us who they are. When they do, believe them! Most bad behavior is not personal at all, though. Instead, is driven by issues, formed very early—usually in childhood.
When you are not taking bad behavior personally, it’s hard to feel hurt by it. You can extend all kinds of grace because you aren’t expecting him to be someone that he isn’t.
Who is he currently? Ask yourself this question and then write down five positive characteristics and five negative characteristics. Take a good, hard look at your list and remind yourself that you are not going to change him. Your job, if you want the position, is to accept him as he is (Gulp! Yep, that’s the mandate of love).
All behavior makes sense in its context, which means that right or wrong, his behavior can be understood if you see it through the lens of his world. Ask questions that can help you understand why he made the choices that he did. Try to put yourself in his shoes. This can make it easier to forgive.
Forgiveness is important, but it’s a waste of hard work without boundaries. He’s got to know that just because you forgive him doesn’t mean that you will tolerate any further bad behavior. This is not a lack of grace, but rather an act of self-love. We teach others how to treat us.
When our boundaries are firm, we rely less on the behavior of others and more on our ability to self-care. When our boundaries are firm, we experience more freedom and less fear of relationships. You don’t need to fear that he will walk all over you if you already know that you won’t allow it.
If he knows that you will not be in a relationship with him if he treats you a certain way, he will either adjust his behavior or not. Both behaviors send a clear message of how much he values the relationship.
You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace
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You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: When to Leave an Unhealthy Relationship with Your Man – with Dr. Zoe Shaw – 024
You may also enjoy listening to Dating? What to Look for in a Man – 073