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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


When you forgive, you in no way change the past- but you sure do change the future.

- Bernard Meltzer

For a marriage or any relationship to be healthy and growing, forgiveness is not an option. It is essential. Without forgiveness the relationship does not have much of a chance to grow or move beyond the damaging event.

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When we choose to forgive, we are taking charge of our wound and refusing to remain a victim. It is a concrete step of assuming responsibility for our healing. By forgiving we are lifted above the temptation of repaying wrong for wrong.

Forgiveness is an act of grace. Grace is a beautiful word because it brings unconditional love into the picture. It doesn't demand that another person or ourselves have to be perfect. Grace allows others to have clay feet – to be human with all their vulnerabilities, immaturity and baggage.

People with clay feet stumble, make mistakes, make wrong choices, fall short of commitments, and disappoint others and self. Sometimes they do destructive things not because they are cruel, rather they make these bad choices out of their unmet needs, wounds, and sometimes out of stupidity.

When we forgive with grace, we are offering to those who injured us an opportunity to learn and change from their mistakes. Grace doesn't label or freeze others to a wrongful act nor does it let the wrong say everything about who they are. It doesn't give up on others even when they give up on themselves. It believes in others even when they do not believe in themselves.

Grace has been described as "in spite of love." In spite of the destructive actions of others, grace seeks healing and reconciliation. In short, grace is larger than the wrong that has been inflicted. It is not controlled by destructive behavior but by what is most loving. Grace gives to others what they need, instead of what they deserve.

The following statement is probably true for most of us: the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. We have to live with our mistakes and the wounds we have inflicted on others. Not only is it important to practice grace forgiveness with others but with ourselves as well. Blaming and beating up ourselves can make us more vulnerable to doing the very thing we feel bad about!

Grace is not taking our wrongs lightly by thinking that anything we do is okay. Grace involves taking seriously the wrong we have done and being accountable, and there comes a time when we need to heal and move on. Grace allows us to do that.

Forgiveness is one effective tool we have for taking charge of how wounds impact our lives. In this way our wounds are not in charge of us nor do they determine how we feel and act.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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