It’s been ten years since I first set out to forgive my wife. At that time, we were in a 13-year relationship. Then she decided to leave me. I was left in the dark, I didn’t understand why she left.

My journey has been like a roller-coaster quest to learn more about myself and how life works.

If I were to tell my younger self some lessons I learned that could possibly help him cope with the break-up, here is what I’d share:

1) Do everything you know to save your marriage.
You owe it to yourself to do everything you know to make things work. Dialogue with your partner. Negotiate. Find ways to make things work. Change yourself, change within. Go to counseling. Read books. Seek advice. Anything and everything to make your marriage work. Go for everything so there is no space for regret.

2) You don’t need to understand everything.
I was using logic to solve many of my marital problems. I was using “If this, then that” logic, asking for explanations. Maybe if I gave her what I thought she wanted, maybe she would respond with what I hoped we could do together. At a certain point in struggling to find answers, I got too tired just trying to understand, especially since she blocked me out, she barely spoke to me. And I allowed myself to not need to understand.

3) You can forgive even if you don’t understand.
I knew that I needed to forgive. But I thought it required an understanding of why she left me. It turned out, I could forgive even if I didn’t understand. Those are two completely different things. Wanting to understand comes from ego. If you release the need to understand, you’ll have more energy to do more productive things … like to forgive.

4) Own up to your contribution to the breakup.
This was probably among the first things I did. I looked inward and questioned myself: “What did I do contribute to this breakup?” When I found the answers, I owned up to my mistakes and made changes within me. I learned that I had no control over my wife. I had control only over myself. By admitting my contribution to the breakup, I empowered myself to make a change.

5) Apologize.
There is something about apologizing. It may be healing for the person receiving your apology. More importantly, it is healing for you. When you come from a place of love, your apology will do good things for you. That is when the changes within happen.

6) Forgiveness comes in cycles.
Here’s what I learned about forgiveness: doesn’t always happen in one big dose. Sometimes it’s with one small step. Celebrate it! Then open yourself up for your next opportunity to forgive, maybe in a different way or in a different level. And each time you forgive, celebrate it a step forward.

There were many times in my forgiveness journey that I still reverted back to hatred, to anger to disappointment. When I learned about lies or betrayal, I would feel the pain and anger. And then I would need to muster enough strength to forgive again. And again.

With enough practice, we can forgive in small ways first and build up to forgive in big ways later. The great thing is that every cycle of forgiveness is made easier by each previous experience of forgiveness.

7) Forgiveness comes with practice.
Could you forgive that motorist who cut you on the highway? Could you forgive that waiter who forgot one item in your order? Could you forgive the delivery boy who arrived late? If you could, say these words out loud to yourself: “I forgive him.” Do this practice for yourself. If you can’t forgive in small ways, you won’t forgive in big ways.

8) When you forgive, you open your heart to kindness and love around you.
When you don’t forgive, it’s like carrying around a bag of trash. You’ll always bring along the stench of resentment wherever you go. And it will prevent you from smelling the flowers around you. When you forgive, you let go of your garbage, enough to allow you to receive the kindness and love from the people around you.

9) Authenticity is key
It’s okay to be not okay. You need to be good to yourself, be authentic to yourself. You can’t hide your feelings under a rug for too long. After my wife left me, I opened myself up to new relationships. And in each of those relationships, I was always honest about where I was in my healing. I never lied about my status. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could be myself.

10) Not by your own strength
My biggest lesson of forgiveness happened when I learned that my wife was pregnant — and the baby was not mine. I thought I would destroy her with my vile words. But when she answered the phone, all I had were words of kindness, forgiveness, and love. After more than two hours of a friendly conversation on the phone, I hung-up. And I broke down, crying.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t understand how I could give so much love and forgiveness to the person who had hurt me the most.

Many years later, I learned of this word: Grace. The undeserved favor of God. I realized that the depth of my forgiveness on that fateful day was not by my own strength but by the Grace from above.

And every step of my journey was preparing me for that big outpouring of forgiveness. Forgiveness was not by me, it was through me.

As I look back at the past ten years, it’s been a continuing journey of self-discovery. May these ten lessons be a blessing to anyone else taking this journey of forgiveness and healing.

Everything I’ve learned in my ten-year journey of forgiveness I now apply in my current marriage. I change what I need to change. I am quick to apologize. I am quick to forgive. And that keeps our marriage filled with love, growth, and happiness.


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This article first appeared on The Good Men Project.

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