43. No Apology Necessary

43. No Apology Necessary

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

No Apology Necessary

Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.

~Moshe Dayan

“How can I forgive someone who refuses to apologize for what he did?” The woman looked around the room as many of us nodded in agreement. One of those bobbing heads belonged to me.

I was sitting in a church basement in a class called Divorce Care. The class was designed to help people get over one of the most hurtful experiences a person can go through, but so far it hadn’t helped me all that much.

A few months before, my ten-year marriage had ended with the stereotypical “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” This bombshell was dropped in a telephone call on a Tuesday morning, four days before Christmas.

It was positively brutal. And when friends began telling me they’d seen my husband out to dinner with another woman, my pain turned into anger.

I’d tried to force him to admit he’d cheated on me, but he insisted he’d met her a few weeks after our split. I didn’t believe him. “Don’t you even feel bad for what you did to me?” I’d ask. “Don’t you think you owe me an apology?”

“You want an apology?” he’d answered. “Okay, here goes: I’m really sorry that you failed to make me happy in our marriage. I’m sorry that your constant concern for our children and negligence toward me made me feel like a fifth wheel in my own home. I’m sorry that you are a poor excuse for a wife and you left me no choice but to leave you.”

“Just because a sentence begins with the words ‘I’m sorry’ does not make it an apology,” I said, barely hanging onto my composure.

“Well, I’m sorry that you aren’t willing to take responsibility for the failure of our marriage,” he said. “Because it is your fault.”

I hung up and dissolved into tears.

To this day, those words are the only “apology” I’ve ever been given for ending a ten-year marriage that produced two children. My fatal mistake, it seemed, had been loving my children too much.

And now I sat in a church basement listening to Matt, the leader of the Divorce Care class, tell the wounded souls that they needed to forgive the person who’d hurt them the most.

How? How was I supposed to forgive someone who refused to apologize?

“Forgiveness isn’t about the other person,” Matt said. “It’s about you.”

“But he’s never apologized for what he did to me,” Kim, the lady with the original question, said.

“Does your ex-husband care if you’re angry with him?” Matt asked her.

Kim folded her arms across her chest. “No, he’s too busy taking his new girlfriend out on the town.”

I could relate to that.

“How long have you been divorced?”

“Five years.”

“And how long after your divorce did your ex-husband move on with his life?”

Kim snorted. “About seven minutes.”

“And how long did it take you to move on?”

“I still haven’t,” Kim answered quietly. “That’s why I’m here.”

“What steps have you taken to get past your divorce and move on with your life?”

Kim shrugged. “I can’t move on because I’m still so angry at my ex-husband. He has never apologized for what he did.”

“We’ve already established that your ex doesn’t care that you’re mad at him. So, Kim, who is your anger hurting?”

We all knew the answer to Matt’s question. Hating our ex-spouses had very little impact, if any, on their lives. We were the ones affected.

I looked at Kim and could easily imagine myself in her shoes. Our stories were similar. We’d both been completely crushed by what had happened to us. But five years later, she was still angry and hurting. I didn’t want to end up like that.

“Matt, we all see your point,” I said. “We realize that our anger is hurting us and holding us back. We want to let go of it, but we don’t know how. We are taught as children that when someone says, ‘I’m sorry,’ the proper response is ‘I forgive you.’ But how do we forgive when we’ve never received an apology?”

Matt thought for a minute. “The answer is as simple and as complicated as this: You’ve got to decide that an apology is not necessary. You may never get one, and if you keep waiting for something that never comes, you’ll never be able to move on.”

“But he doesn’t deserve my forgiveness,” Kim said tearfully.

“He might not deserve it, but you do, Kim, and so do I,” I said, also fighting tears. “We deserve to move on with our lives and be happy again. We deserve to let go of the anger and pain.”

“But he didn’t apologize….” she said.

I shrugged. “Mine didn’t either. But Matt is right. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Forgiveness is about us. It’s a way to free ourselves from the past.”

“I don’t want to talk to him,” Kim said.

“You don’t have to,” Matt said. “You don’t have to tell him you’ve forgiven him because you aren’t doing it for him. You’re doing it for you.”

Kim thought for a minute and then nodded. “I’ve hated him for so long, and it’s taken so much emotional energy to feel this way. I think it’s time to let go of it.”

Matt nodded. “Good for you.” He smiled at me and added, “Good for both of you.”

And while forgiving my ex-husband didn’t happen overnight, it did happen. Over time, I was able to let go of my anger toward him and even remember the good times we’d shared.

He still hasn’t apologized for his part in what happened, but I no longer need him to. I didn’t forgive him so he’d feel better. I did it so I’d feel better.

I let go of the past and moved on toward a happier future.

And I’ll never be sorry for that.

~Anne Jones

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