Why Healing from Intimacy Gone Wrong Requires Forgiveness

Two individuals holding hands and talking. Healing requires forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a big deal. Your head knows Jesus forgives you, but your heart still wonders, especially when you keep on sinning. And can you forgive yourself? You also know you’re “supposed” to forgive those who hurt you; Jesus said so. But that seems impossible. And when someone offers you forgiveness, can you accept it? Healing from intimacy gone wrong requires forgiveness, but how?

At some point, perhaps at many points, in your journey toward wholeness you will have to face the matter of forgiveness. This topic has often been misunderstood. Many people believe forgiveness means something like, “It’s OK. It didn’t really matter.” But it DID matter! That’s why forgiveness is the only way to be set free. Or you may think forgiveness is a feeling and you’re just not feeling it.

Forgiveness is hard, perhaps especially around intimacy gone wrong. “Stuff” happens to every human being, to some more deeply than to others. You’ve been wounded. You’ve also wounded others. Yes, you’ve been sinned against. And you’ve sinned. Shame, pain, self-protection, and self-medication are natural human responses to all this mess.

But you’re reading this because you don’t want to stay there. You’re on a journey to wholeness. Part of you knows forgiveness is important in this journey, but you may be feeling stuck. Healing from intimacy gone wrong requires forgiveness, and here’s what that looks like.

What Happened?

Forgiveness starts with embracing the full impact of the harm you encountered in your story. Your uncle or your mother abused you, or showed you porn. Your youth pastor, music teacher, or athletic coach sexualized their relationship with you. Your parents shut you down when you tried to ask questions. Your husband used Scripture as a weapon to demand demeaning sex.

Your brain needs to wrestle with “This happened to me, and this is how I was affected.” In doing so, remember to look at your story with both honesty and compassion, as Jesus does.

The harm you’ve done to others also requires forgiveness. It’s hard to look at this without embracing the mountain of shame the enemy loves to heap on you. But you didn’t wake up one day and logically decide to harm someone. But you did harm them. If you are in relationship with that person it can help to ask, “How did my behavior impact you?” No minimizing or shifting blame; just hearing the impact of what transpired.

Again, honesty and compassion. You may or may not get compassion from that other person. If you do, wonderful! But that’s not the point. You’ll need to exercise wisdom in whether or not to have those kinds of conversations. If you do have such conversations, hearing the impact on them of what transpired is offering them compassion and empathy.

Letting it Go

For all the pain you’ve accumulated, the next step is deciding to let it go. Feelings of forgiveness may be slow and take time to catch up to your decision. It’s making the conscious choice to release the other person from what they did. You look at the dagger in your own soul, take it out, and instead of then using it to stab the one who harmed you, you hand the dagger to Jesus.[1] You walk away from what that person(s) did and choose to not let it continue to wound you.

Oh, this can be hard! Healing is a yet-to-come step in the process, but that can’t begin until you choose to release your grip. This step of choosing to let it go does not mean “it’s OK.” But it is opening the padlock on the chain that’s kept you bound in pain.

There’s a critically important distinction between forgiveness and trust. You can forgive someone regardless of whether they acknowledge the harm or are even still alive. Forgiveness depends only on you – and God.

Trust, re-engaging in a relationship with the one who harmed you, requires both parties to do their own work. And it requires some measure of evidence that the future might be different from the past. Forgiveness does not require you place yourself in a position to be harmed again. You can forgive someone without trusting them again. Trust is about the future, and it’s a different decision than the choice to forgive.

Coming to Feel Forgiven

Then there’s the stuff you’ve done, how you’ve sinned in response to being sinned against.

Seeking forgiveness from those you may have harmed is painful also. They may or may not be willing, right now, to extend you that forgiveness. What you can do is own your role in the harm, apologize without excuse, and with deep humility say, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” Trying to force the other person to respond in kind won’t work; asking for forgiveness in many ways places you at their mercy. You may need to walk away and give them time.

And there’s the internal experience of forgiveness. Feeling forgiven by God may seem impossible. Your head “knows”, but your heart still struggles.

At 17 Freda became sexually involved with her boyfriend and soon had her heart broken. For the next several years her sexual promiscuity was legendary among her friends. Becoming a Christian, getting married, and having children changed her life. But Freda’s ongoing guilt and shame from her early sexual behaviors were hampering her intimacy with her husband.

Over time Freda was able to invite Jesus into her difficult story. She felt Him being with her in all the hurts she’d experienced growing up, and when she had used sex to try to fill her empty soul. She became able to move from intellectually believing she was forgiven to feeling in her soul completely forgiven by God. Her left brain and right brain became more integrated, and her connection with her husband both emotionally and physically became much more enjoyable.

The Freedom of Forgiveness

Feeling forgiven or feeling that you’ve forgiven someone who hurt you is a process. It’s OK to take time with this, and when the wounds are deep sometimes you need to revisit forgiveness repeatedly.

You can say, “I’m making the decision to let it go even though I don’t feel it yet. I’m choosing to believe God forgives me even though I don’t yet feel forgiven. And I will be honest about my feelings as I keep walking.”

I wish for you the freedom of forgiveness.

Your Turn: Do you agree that healing requires forgiveness? What has forgiveness meant to you? Have you confused forgiveness and trust? Are you feeling forgiven by God? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Want more? In the podcast this week Bob and Dannah Gresh talk about their journey to recover goodness and experience God’s redemption after many years of pain and broken trust.

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[1] I’m grateful to Laurie Krieg for this visual picture of forgiveness.