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The Romantic Power of Forgiveness

How can you tell if you are still holding onto old hurts and baggage? Here are three clues to watch out for …

Forgiveness is probably not a word that comes readily to mind when you think of dating. After all, dating is about getting acquainted with people who don’t yet need your forgiveness, right? To offend someone that badly usually takes time.

Still, one of the best ways to improve your present relationships is by dealing with unresolved issues in past ones. The idea is not to hand out free passes to people who’ve harmed you; the intent is to free yourself from the exhausting and romance-inhibiting effects of unforgiveness. It is hard work to keep your defenses at red alert over old transgressions. That’s valuable energy you should be spending on a fresh start with someone who hasn’t hurt you and isn’t to blame for your painful wounds.

Someone once said, “If you are still running a tab on former lovers for all they ‘owe’ you, you’re the one getting stuck with the bill.” That’s true, and it affects you in lots of ways. Among them is the fact that unfinished business with past partners puts a real damper on your chances of success with a new one.

So how can you tell if you are lugging around heavy baggage? Here are three clues to watch for:

1. Hair-trigger defensiveness.
After someone treated you badly, you may have vowed never to let it happen again. You look back and wonder why you put up with so much for so long. Consequently, in the present you are likely to be hypersensitive to every little hint that you are in for a repeat performance with someone new. Ordinary carelessness on their part becomes cause for alarm—and for a punishing counterstrike. When someone you are dating has irritated you in some way, stop and take your pulse. Is your response proportionate, or supercharged with old emotion?

2. Your “ex” is a frequent topic of conversation.
When innocent small talk in a new relationship suddenly turns to “trash talk” about a former lover, beware: You are entering the danger zone. Under the guise of sharing details about your past, you are actually lifting the lid on a stew of simmering anger and pain for your date to see—usually not a very attractive sight. Better to forgive, let go, and cool down so you’re ready when the chance comes to move on.

3. You bail out at the slightest sign of similarity.
What if someone you are dating now frequents the same coffee shop as a disgraced former lover? Perhaps he or she drives the same kind of car, has the same weakness for chocolate, and the same taste in music. What does this mean? Probably nothing. But if these things get on your nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard, it may be evidence you haven’t yet let go of yesterday’s pain, and it is obstructing today’s potential for happiness and romance.

Forgiveness is rarely easy—and the bigger the hurt, the harder it is to forgive. But releasing someone who wronged you and choosing to move on will reap romantic rewards in the future.