Dr. Fred Luskin is a bona fide forgiveness expert. He has dedicated his career to revealing the link between forgiveness and our psychological, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing as Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project and bestselling author of Forgive for Good. We caught up with him to talk about forgiveness and romantic relationships.
WHY HE BEGAN STUDYING FORGIVENESS
“A very close friend betrayed me and I struggled for years to let it go. I was angry and full of mistrust and the pain went on for years. Until finding the word forgiveness I was stuck in anger and despair and was alienating my wife. I complained a lot and felt victimized. He had certainly done wrong, but I was stuck in a pit. Then, I found the word to forgive around the time I started work on my doctorate at Stanford.
“I used what worked for me as the basis for my dissertation and the successful resolution of that work launched the Stanford Forgiveness Projects. The successful dissertation project allowed us to get a larger grant which replicated the research on a much larger scale. Then when Bill Clinton had his affair with Monica Lewinsky we got a good deal of publicity because forgiveness was a hot topic for a while and we had research showing it could be health-enhancing.”
ON HIS 9 STEPS TO FORGIVE
“This has been a very useful framework for making me better able to handle life’s inevitable difficulties. The simple reminders to calm down, affirm that I am not the center of the universe, remember to smell the coffee and stop talking like a victim underlie most effective strategies.”
“When they are practiced regularly they rewire the brain and become easier to practice. I am a gentler person and one who is more willing to say and do kind things because of the regular teaching and practice of these steps. The teaching of forgiveness helps me because it reminds me over and over again how to react to difficulty with skill and compassion.”
“Step 1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK.”
“Step 2. Make a commitment to yourself to feel better.”
“Step 3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who upset you or condoning the action.”
“Step 4. Get the right perspective on what is happening.”
“Step 5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response.”
“Step 6. Give up expecting things from your life or from other people that they do not choose to give you.”
“Step 7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.”
“Step 8. Remember that a life well-lived is your best revenge.”
“Step 9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.”
More on these steps.
WHAT HE’S LEARNED ABOUT PARTNERSHIPS
“That each person is a vulnerable mess and needs help and care including me. That each person comes with a unique set of difficulties based on biology, past experience, and current stresses. That each person will continue to display their difficult qualities and it is each partner’s responsibility to try to be tender with those qualities. That ultimately I am choosing the partner that I can live with; that includes their flaws, wounds, difficult aspects of personality.”
“That the romantic relationship is the place for old wounds to be healed and for each partner to feel safe enough to share. That requires a lot of listening and a lot of talking and I learned I have to make the decision to engage on a daily basis. The acknowledgment that I made a choice of partner and choice to every day engage leads to taking responsibility for myself and forgiveness of both of us.”
“Whenever possible be kind. This sums up relationships. It’s hard… and it requires us to bring our best self to the table. Where else is there to go than to search for and give love? Our brains are wired for connection with other human beings. Our hearts are designed to join with others and our souls crave the broadening of caring for others.”
HIS FAVORITE SONG ABOUT HEARTBREAK
The Heart of the Matter by Don Henley