Dear Rachel,

I have been married for five years. We got married very young, and, to be honest, we were both very immature. About three years ago my husband was going through a very hard time, and he was very mean to me. There was no physical abuse, or mental abuse; I would probably call it more like an extreme insensitivity to my needs. I had just had our first baby (for which we were totally not prepared), and I was suffering from postpartum depression. He didn’t really seem to care. He remained focused on his life, work and school, and he would tell me to just get my act together, or ignore me.

Well, after having a couple of very rocky years, with me wanting a divorce many times, things seem to have stabilized. We went for counseling, and while the therapist was not the most helpful, we seem to be back on track. He has truly changed, and I see this, as recently I suffered a miscarriage, and he was there for me 100%. I felt like he cared, and that he wanted to do whatever he could for me. My problem is that I just can’t get past the past. I really don’t think that I have fully forgiven him for those bad times. Why is this so hard for me? Should I forgive him? Should I move on and let bygones be bygones?

Stuck in the Past

Dear Stuck in the Past,

The question that you are presenting is a very valid one, and one that comes up in therapy many times. You have already tackled the first step, in being able to identify your feelings. This will make it easier to direct the answer to your question.

For me, I see marriages as a journey, with the drivers in that journey being the married couple. In marriages, as in all journeys, there are setbacks and detours along the way. It is normal to have rough patches. Unfortunately, sometimes people do not have the emotional maturity or the reserves to handle these rough patches. The unfortunate outcome of this is that sometimes people respond to these rough patches in a less-than-desirable manner (to put it mildly). But, coming back to our journey metaphor, people can change and situations can change, and very often, people get back on track. It is inspiring to hear that you have both taken steps to change for the better. Even more important is that you are able to recognize these changes in him.

Change is not always in a uniformly forward direction. All people have setbacksChange is not always in a uniformly forward direction. All people have setbacks. Yet it is critical to realize that oftentimes, these regressions are exactly what sets the stage for further growth. The pain that accompanies the regression can propel us to work harder in the future. It is impossible for anyone to understand all the factors involved in another person’s internal struggle (even your spouse). As a result, I believe that it is unfair to judge another person in this way.

At this point in your relationship, I think that the best indicator of your husband’s level of commitment to the relationship is in his current actions. As you yourself said, he is trying very hard to improve, and he has been a loving and reassuring partner after your recent loss. This strongly indicates how much he values you and your relationship, and is a good harbinger for your future together.

Understandably, it is hard to simply forget the emotionally challenging times in your marriage. Emotions play a heavy role in the decision-making and thought processes of women—much more so than men. Emotional responses are ingrained in our psychological makeup, to the extent that they heavily influence our everyday psyche. Often, this quality can be very beneficial. For example, the shame of a previously embarrassing situation will keep you from engaging in that circumstance again. Not only is this not harmful, it is even beneficial for a person’s survival. To be stuck in a repetitive, embarrassing situation would certainly not be productive. Since you seem to be very in touch with your emotions, it is understandable why you still feel so connected to your feelings of hurt.

I believe that it is critical for the future of your relationship that you find within yourself the ability to forgive your husband. Here I am intentionally using the word “forgive” as opposed to “forget,” and I will explain why. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s just a part of human nature, and we all deserve the right to be forgiven for mistakes that we make—especially ones for which we are truly sorry.

On the other hand, we do not want to completely forget previous negative behavior, so we can be vigilant about the possibility that it might resurface. If you see this begin to occur in the future, I would encourage you to seek professional marriage counseling before things reach a crisis point. You can use this past negative experience as an alarm of sorts, to warn you of another potential crisis. This is an important component of our ability to use change as a powerful, positive force in our lives. Previous negative situations can be used as a rallying call to not fall into the same behavior pattern that has caused so much pain in the past.

I know that it is difficult to forgive without forgettingI know that it is difficult to forgive without forgetting; it can feel like an emotional in-between world. But the benefits are immeasurable.

Judaism strongly believes in the ability of people to change for the good, or doing teshuvah (roughly translated as “repentance”). It understands that people make mistakes and do their best to correct them. As it says in Proverbs, “A tzaddik (righteous person) will fall seven times and get up.” There is a concept in Jewish philosophy that the tzaddik’s eventual rise is because of, not despite, his past failures.

I am sure that you would want to be forgiven if the roles were reversed. If, however, you continue to have difficulty getting over your feelings of resentment, then you should consider entering a course of personal counseling to help you figure out what is really keeping you from moving on.

Your relationship should go “from strength to strength,” and should be a great source of enjoyment for both of you for many years to come!