Women who have experienced abuse are often pressured to forgive their partners. When they feel unable to do this, they sometimes think there is something “wrong” with them or that they are not good people. But lots of times forgiveness is not the right or appropriate thing to do in a given situation.If the man has more power than the woman and he has shown a willingness to continue to harm her in any way, the issue is not forgiveness, it is safety.
Think about it this way, if you saw a big bully and a little kid in a playground and the bully was beating on the little kid, would your first concern be to get the little kid to forgive the bully? No! Of course not. Your first concern would be safety for the little kid. You would want to create some distance between the bully and the little kid and you would make sure the little kid was okay. Women who are being abused are like the little kid in this scenerio. They have been rendered powerless by their partners. The abusive person is like the big bully. This is not just concerning physical abuse. Women are often rendered powerless because of social or financial abuse.
Sometimes, for some women, it does become the “right time” to forgive their partner but in my experience that is always really far, far along in the journey. If that time comes, it comes when the woman is no longer in any danger of being harmed and she has had a chance to heal and rebuild. I never encourage women to forgive their partners, but sometimes women themselves decide it is important for them to do at the end of a long process of healing.
You might think about it like a board game. Forgiveness is one of the very last squares on the board. There are many, many other squares that woman will walk through first.
And if in this life-time, there is no end to the abuse for the woman. If the man continues, throughout his life, to cause the woman pain – through children and grandchildren and finances- then maybe the time for forgiveness never comes. Or if the man never confesses to what he has done and no justice ever comes for the women, maybe the time for forgiveness never comes either. Over the years I have known many women who have come to peace with the fact that they will never be able to forgive their partner. If these women are women of faith, they sometimes “let go” of some of the pain of the abuse by handing the problem over to God. In a way, they say to God, “I can’t be burdened by this man any more. I hand him over to you.” This sometimes gives women a measure of peace. (This is, by the way, a form of forgiveness.)
(This blog is part of a series on forgiveness. If you appreciate it, you might like to read the rest of the series by searching “forgiveness”.)