You & Your Family

Forgive, yes. Forget …?

Mar 2010    

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HOW OFTEN HAVE WE HEARD THE EXPRESSION, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget”? Perhaps we too have said this on an occasion or two, and there is some truth in this sentiment. Forgiving is an act of the will, whilst forgetting is not within our control. You cannot will yourself to forget.

For many, forgetfulness is an inconvenience, such as when we forget a name, telephone number or where we left our keys. But for a few, not being able to forget is a curse. is is true for the wife who complained that her husband would question her relentlessly and continually about her previous sexual encounters with her boyfriends. The fact that she has strenuously denied them, the fact that these were relationships before their marriage, and the fact that this was about alleged events more than 30 years ago, all had not stopped her husband from repeating these groundless allegations.

Such memories have a corrosive effect on those who hold them. They may be recycled, recalled back to the present and in such instances, be re-lived. If the memory is painful, remembering them can be re-traumatising. Some memories can also be hurtful to others. They form part of the lens through which we view others. us for the husband mentioned earlier, his regular accusations paints his wife as a loose woman in his eyes. His memory, not of an incident but of an accusation, repeated and repeated, begins to take a life and reality all of its own and threatens to tear his marriage apart. How do we as believers deal with difficult memories? Is it consistent for us to say, “I can forgive you but I cannot forget what you did” to someone who may have wronged us?

I recall here the many Christian couples who struggle with infidelity and where the aggrieved spouse is faced with the difficult task to forgive. In some instances, when the unfaithful spouse confesses his infidelity, he expects his wife to forgive him. He also expects her forgiveness to mean that she will not discuss or ask any questions about his extra-marital affair. After all, did she not offer her forgiveness?

As a family and marital therapist, I believe that forgiveness and memory should be handled appropriately. Forgiveness allows relationships to recover. Forgiveness is the surrendering of our right to be angry and our right for recompense. Its focus is not on the past but on the future; not on our feelings but on the importance of our relationship with those who have hurt us.

Memory is the conscious effort we make to acknowledge the importance of the event, no matter how painful it might be. Memories allow us to learn difficult lessons. However, when the memory serves no more useful purpose, we need to let it go. We do this by refusing to dwell on it. We do this by having and remembering happier memories.

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