My husband does not forgive or forget past hurts. What can I do?

March 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Articles, What's Troubling You

Ask Venus a QuestionQ:  My husband does not forgive/forget past hurts.  What can I do? – Estela

A:  It hurts when the one you love seems unable to forgive your past mistakes.  Unforgiveness can keep your relationship stuck:  You can’t go back and change the past, and you can’t move forward without letting it go.

Even if you’ve apologized, it is possible that your husband doesn’t feel completely heard.  He may keep re-explaining how hurt he was, because he’s just not sure you get it.

Active Listening is one way to assure him that you really get his point of view.  TRY THIS:
1. ASK – Sit facing him.  Ask him, “Sweetheart, please tell me again about this incident from your point of view.  Tell me exactly what I did, and what you felt and thought.” 

Watch him and listen intently.  Really work hard to understand how this incident felt and looked from his perspective. 

Don’t argue against him in your head.  Don’t defend or explain yourself.  JUST LISTEN.   (It may help to imagine he’s talking about someone else, not you.) 

2. REPEAT – When he’s done, repeat back what you understand to be the most important points he made.  USE HIS WORDS – Don’t paraphrase.

3. CLARIFY – Ask, “Did I get it?”  This step is crucial.  For him to feel thoroughly heard, he must trust that you understand everything about this situation that was important to him.

Let him repeat the whole thing again if necessary.  This may help him to finally get it off his chest.
4. MORE – Once he agrees that you’ve repeated everything correctly, ask, “Is there anything else you want me to know?”  This may help him to check his pain bucket and be sure it’s empty.

5. THANK – Thank him for sharing himself so honestly.  Instead of rushing to apologize or explain your side, just receive what he said.  Give him at least 24 hours to just savor the experience of being heard.

If you like, you can ask him, after a day or so, if he could repeat the Actively Listen to you while you share your perspective.

One last point:  Just like physical wounds, deeper ones take longer to heal.  Give him time to heal, but, meanwhile YOU forgive YOURSELF.  You can’t make him let it go.  But he also can’t make you feel guilty without your permission.  At some point, his hurt is more about him than about you. 

Have a question that you’d like to Ask Venus?  Click here to ask your question.

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2 Responses to “My husband does not forgive or forget past hurts. What can I do?”
  1. Desiree says:

    I’m dealing with a husband right now who is having a hard time getting over things that I’ve said to him. Words hurt more than a blow to the jaw. And its even harder for us because it took me so long to come out of the denial that i was in that he was truly unhappy about things that have been said between us. i don’t want to give up but as the days go by and i feel the distance between us, even when making love i feel it. I feel it when i rollover at night to caress him only to find that he is awake, in his office, talking to people (female)on Facebook or giving himself a hand while watching porn. i feel like I’ve lost all his attention and all his sweetness. There is this wall between us right now and i cant help but feel that hes more comfortable, more happy, more wanting to keep that wall up. I know hes mad and hurt but I’m just ready for him to get over it so we can move on. But we cant move on till he gets over it.

  2. Venus Taylor says:

    Oh sweetheart. My heart hurts as I read this. Your pain is so huge.

    The Wall: To dismantle the wall that has built up between you two will take time, patience, and work. I coach couples through exactly this kind of situation. It is best done with outside support, but the right support is hard to find. Email me at and we can schedule a free 30-min consultation, so you can decide if relationship coaching sounds right for you.

    Meanwhile, here’s what I can share in this limited space: See if you can get him to tell you what he’s feeling. The wall that’s built up is mostly on his side. If he gets the chance to take each of those bricks of stored up pain, and share them with you without judgment or defense, he will most likely start to soften.

    Sweetheart, this is where your inner work will happen, for you will have to make this a one-way conversation. HE needs to be heard. He needs to know that you completely get how deeply he has been hurt by your words. This would require you to not explain, defend, or contradict anything he says about how he feels or what he experienced with you.

    Your job would be to let him get it out, receive it, thank him for sharing. You may also simply repeat back to him what he said, so he’s clear that you are hearing him. You may be able to work in an, “I’m sorry,” but not more than that. Let his feelings and experiences fill the room and hang there. Let them just be, don’t try to fix them.

    Be strong. What he’s talking about is in the past. It cannot hurt you. The intensity of his pent up feelings will not destroy you. Remember, he’s talking about HIMSELF and what HE felt. Even if he’s talking about what you did, he’s not talking about YOU. Especially not the new you, because you’ve said yourself, you were in denial back then. You were a different person back then. Use this opportunity to learn about who you were and the effect you had on him. But don’t take offense, because that’s not you anymore. That was a completely different person.

    See if you can schedule these healing talks once a week. Tell him that you simply want to hear him tell you how hurt and angry he’s been about what you said in the past. You want to completely understand his side of the story. You don’t intend to answer back with your side at all. Just listen.

    Start each healing talk by asking, “Tell me about an incident where I said something that upset you?” Follow with questions like, “What happened, exactly? What did you do? What did I say? What did you feel after I said it? What were you thinking about me after I said it? What did you assume that I meant? What did you want most in that moment? On a scale of 1-to-10, how upset were you? Was there a time when you were little that you ever felt that same way? What happened back then?”

    When he’s done, you can ask, “Is it ok if I tell you what I heard, just to be sure I got it?” Then say back what you heard – in HIS words. Ask, “Did I miss anything? Is there anything you wanted me to hear that I left out?” Let him restate what you missed. Then you restate it.

    End by saying, “Thank you for sharing that. It might have been hard for you to say. It was definitely hard for me to hear. But I love you, and I’m so sorry that I hurt you that I really need to understand the depth of your pain to make sure I never hurt you like that again.” Let him know you’re looking forward to hearing about a different incident (or the same one) next week.

    He might think it’s crazy. You might think it’s crazy. But those bricks can only dissolve if he feels heard. Like you said, “We can’t move on till he gets over it.” This is the biggest way to help with that.

    Love and peace to you, Desiree,

    p.s. If you want help with this, just email me.

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