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May 20 2010

The All Important Difference between Forgiving and Trusting

Published by at 4:22 am under Knowing Relationships BLOG

“He cheated on me. I forgave him. Then he cheated on me again and I forgave him again and then he cheated on me and I can’t forgive him anymore.”


People confuse forgiving someone with trusting someone. You can forgive someone without trusting them. You can trust someone without forgiving them.

A forgiving person is someone who calms down quickly. It is always a shock when someone you trust and care for does something mean or hurtful to you. Your first tendency is either to run away or hurt them back. Somehow or other, you have to absorb the shock and resist the temptation to just react. You need time to think and calm down.

One time, almost 25 years ago, I started to rage at my youngest son. He was ten. His older sister stepped between us and slapped me in the face. She was protecting him.

Time stopped. I don’t know which of us was more shocked. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I didn’t know what to do. The temptation to slap her back wasn’t all that great, thank goodness. But at the same time, I knew that I had to do something. I said to her, “This is important. I need time to think. I want you to be grounded until you and I talk about this. Not today, though, and maybe not tomorrow.” I think that was the first time I understood forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a shock absorber. A car has a two layer system for dealing with the bumps in the road. First there are the springs. Springs aren’t enough. When a car hits a bump the springs absorb the bump all right but, if it weren’t for the shock absorbers, the car would bounce up and down, up and down, up and down so much that you couldn’t steer. The job of the shock absorbers is to make the car calm down so you can control it.

In order to be forgiving, you have to have two layer system. One layer takes the hit. Ouch! The second layer says, “Calm down. Don’t just react. Stop and think. Decide what action you want to take.”

All this is different from Trust. The forgiving person handles trust this way: “If you’ve done something to hurt me, I will forgive you. Which is to say, I’m not going to go after you and make you pay for what you did. But I am going to change my mind about what I can comfortably expect from you.” Forgiveness is about the past; trust, about the future

How often do you forgive someone? As often as necessary, seventy time seven it says in Scripture.

But aren’t you leaving yourself vulnerable to being hurt again and again and again? No. Because forgiveness is not about safety. Those matters are referred to the Trust department.

Trust is like a credit rating. You can blow it and you can build it up again. It is based the history of your actions. History predicts the future. What can you comfortably expect of this person in the future? It’s not a personal matter.

The discipline of forgiveness makes not personal. Forgiveness sets aside the wishful thinking and the fearful thinking, the bouncing back and forth. It makes the question simpler: what can you comfortably and confidently expect in the future?

Trust can be about all sorts of important relationship issues: Will they cheat on me? Will they listen? Will they criticize me? Will they pressure me to act differently? Will they try to take advantage of me? Will they be able to hear my complaints?

We build a profile of trustworthiness for our potential partners. This profile becomes one of the supporting pillars of an intimate relationship. How safe is this relationship? How much can I relax into it? How much can I be just plain, old me? These are important, vitally important questions. Forgiveness, the ability to think clearly despite shocking news, helps you answer those questions.

by Philip Belove, Ed.D.

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