Forgive Your Ex And Forgive Yourself

Today I’m starting a very special series. Why is it special? It’s special because my guest is a gentleman called Carlos Phillips. This is only the second interview I’ve done with a man about life after divorce but when Carlos contacted me, I knew I had to grab this opportunity. Following his divorce, Carlos wrote a book, Healed Without Scars because as he says there are lots of books about life after divorce for women and there are lots of divorce books written by women but there are very few written by men or even targeted at men. He has also started the Healed Without Scars Ministries. So listen up …

Carlos had been married for seven years when he got divorced in 2000. He has two sons who were just six and two at the time. When I asked him what he saw as his greatest accomplishment in the ten years since his divorce, he didn’t say writing his book or starting his ministry or even being the primary custodial parent. For Carlos, his greatest accomplishment was learning about forgiveness. Here’s Carlos:

I believe honestly, when I look back at these ten years since the divorce was final, I think one of the most significant accomplishments has been really understanding and grasping the concept of complete forgiveness towards my ex spouse and anyone else who needs forgiveness. That’s really been a major accomplishment for me and my family.

Forgiveness I thought I had the forgiveness thing down. I really did, but later on, as the years went by I realized that I really still had quite a bit of animosity towards the whole situation and towards my ex wife. I didn’t realize that until certain situations would arise and I would find myself being angry all over again at her and the situation and the pain that the boys were going through. I had to get to a place of completely letting that go, completely forgiving her, completely forgiving myself, and moving on with life and realizing that these things happen, there’s no need to hold any grudges, it’s just trying to move forward.

I think the one thing that triggered my anger the most early on was the holidays. I remember especially the first holiday, that was the first time I hadn’t been with my sons, and so my sons were in one place and I was in another place and it was absolutely miserable to have to spend the holiday without them. So thinking back to everything that led up to me being alone for the holidays brought those feelings to the surface again and I realized then that I hadn’t completely forgiven her for that.

But it’s not just forgiving your ex-spouse. You have to let yourself go too. You have to forgive yourself. You’re only human, you make mistakes and once you are able to do that and say

“I did what I did based on who I was as that person at that time, but now that I know better, and now that I’m wiser, now that I know the consequences, I’m going to do better, I’m going to forgive myself”

It’s going to get easier to forgive others.

The Divorce Coach Says

I firmly believe that what Carlos says here is fundamental to being at peace with yourself after divorce. It’s not just about letting go of any resentment you feel towards your ex, it’s also about letting go of any resentment you feel towards yourself. It’s about accepting that divorce isn’t a failure.

For a long time after I was separated, I was very angry with myself, angry for avoiding our problem issues for so long, wondering if I had confronted them earlier if we would still be married. They were ‘what-ifs’ with no answers other than, ‘it would have been different.’ I also felt that I had failed at marriage. As I came to embrace a different perspective about divorce, it was easier for me to see that this is just part of my life’s journey. And just as Carlos says, that helped me to forgive myself. For me though, it was easier to forgive my ex for his part than it was to forgive myself.

Forgiveness however, is not easy and it’s not easy. In the next segment, Carlos talks about how he found complete forgiveness.

Have you forgiven your ex? Have you forgiven yourself? Which was harder for you?

Photo credit: cheerfulmonk


  • Missy June

    I am still in the process of forgiving my spouse, but having to work harder at forgiving myself. Like you, I’m coming to accept that the divorce is simply part of my journey, as it is and will be for my children. It has been shocking, painful, liberating and hope-inducing for me. I read your blog daily, thank you!

    • Mandy

      Hi Missy June – thanks for leaving a comment and thank you for visiting :) Is there anything in particular that has helped you forgive your spouse and yourself? I have something rattling around in my head that you can’t forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Sometimes I wonder if my ex has forgiven me for ending our marriage but I don’t have the courage to ask him.

  • Jack Adams

    It’s nice to see things from a man’s perspective. I agree that most things written about divorce are from a woman’s side of the coin.
    This is a very interesting topic about forgiveness. I look forward to reading more.
    I follow you on twitter and have enjoyed reading your stuff.

    • Mandy

      Hi Jack – thanks for leaving a comment – I’m glad to know I have some male readers. Hope you’ll comment on some more posts – would love to hear your thoughts.

  • T

    That is another reason why I began blogging. And another reason why I continue my spiritual journey. I knew I didn’t want to be a man-hater after my divorce. I knew I didn’t want to be someone who was resentful and bitter. That meant I had to let a lot go about our marriage and divorce. Even still, I’m working through things about that time in my life. Things still come up and I still forgive.

    I love this. That’s awesome, Carlos!

  • Melanie Mulhall


    How refreshing! Divorce and forgiveness on the same page. It is so easy to make ourselves victims when it comes to divorce and yet, nothing moves forward in any meaningful way until we can forgive ourselves and our exspouse. Divorce was, literally, half a lifetime ago for me. Since then, I remarried and became a widow. I miss my second husband. But I don’t think I could have had the lovely marriage with him I had if I had not forgiven myself and my first husband for many things.

    It may be trite, but it is true that forgiveness benefits the one forgiving as much or more than the one forgiven.

    Nice post.

    Melanie Mulhall

    • Mandy

      Hi Melanie – glad to see you rejoining us after your loss. I am so glad that Carlos talked about this. It’s really got me thinking about forgiveness and I don’t think you’re being trite at. I agree with you. The one forgiven may not even know that they’ve been forgiven but it is indeed very powerful and empowering to forgive.

  • thedivorceencouragist

    This is such an important message. I read in a book once that forgiveness is “for giving”. It’s really more of a benefit to the forgiver than the forgivee.

    And I’m excited to see a series featuring a man. In a heated debate earlier today, someone said that men are less emotional… I’m looking forward to this story and the male emotions involved.

    • Mandy

      I wouldn’t say that men are less emotional than women. I think they’ve been conditioned to express their emotions differently and that’s the root of many miscommunications….

  • Bill

    what is forgiveness? How do you know you are past it?

    • Mandy Walker

      That’s a good question. For me, it’s the absence of blame and accepting that what was, simply was. And when you get there, you’ll know.

      Anyone else got suggestions?

      • Jenn

        I have issues with forgiveness! Sometimes they are to blame as to the reason for divorce. My ex is a narcissists! I take responsibility for us “drifted apart” as he calls it because I started standing up for myself but I should of addressed our issues. He chose to get involved with another woman and walk out of a 25 year marriage like he was breaking up with a girlfriend. He chose to stay with her without attempting to work on our marriage. He chose to leave the family and have me finish raising our young adult children.
        He now chooses to take advantage to make this divorce as painful to me as possible!
        I have chosen the No Contact option which is the only way to heal from 25 years of narcissistic abuse. Narcissists are soulless people that I have chosen to protect my children and myself from this one.
        Forgiveness no I am sorry is not in the cards for me in this case because he is not sorry. He continues to try to justify what he has done with lies and twists to put the blame on me. The anger has gotten better much better

        • Jenn

          But forgiveness is for people that are sorry which he is not. He has this whole thing justified in his mind because he was not happy. Well I wasn’t happy either but I didn’t choose to cheat or leave.

          I am also sorry but I don’t believe in Karma because this happens all the time and these guys are happy. They don’t care that they leave a path of destruction because it is not their fault! The damage that they cause for their ex and their children is irreversible. But yet we are to forgive these mobsters and give them a free pass?

          • Keith

            Jenn, I totally hear you. I just got divorced last month and have custody of my two teenagers. Reading about your ex was really something. He sounds exactly like my ex-wife; exactly. She walked out on what would have been a 20 year marriage, cheated, stole from me and the kids, lied, you name it; but because she was not happy, it’s all justified in her mind. My son and daughter often cry about this situation. I have learned however, that forgiving is not for the person that hurt you, but for yourself. You are not giving him a pass, but you are giving yourself peace. I too am a believer in God and I believe that when you don’t forgive, not only will you have no peace and you’re ex will still have power over you, but also and more importantly, God will not forgive you of your wrong doings and faults if you don’t forgive others. I loved my ex-wife with all of my heart and yet she did the exact same thing to us that your ex did to you and your sons; and for the same so called justifications. She didn’t care that my kids were hurt by it, as was I. She was pursuing her happiness and that is all that mattered, and yet I have forgiven her and am teaching my children to do the same.


          • Mandy Walker

            Hi Keith, forgiving is hard especially when it involves not just you but your children as well. As you say though, forgiveness leads to peace and I’d much prefer to lead my life in peace than in anger and bitterness. Your kids are fortunate to have you to balance out their mother’s behavior.

          • Keith

            Hi Mandy,

            Thank you and I do try to balance it out. The hard part is hearing them say so many hateful things about her. Although she hurt all of us, and really said some very ugly things about and to me, I still do not want them to hate her. It is very tough because they were with her for 8 months away from me and got to see the real side of their mother. She can’t blame anything on me because I was not around during this time. Now that their eyes are open, they see the truth and are really hurt by what she has done. The good thing is that now that I have custody of them, we are closer than ever before.


          • Mandy Walker

            I really do admire your attitude. We don’t choose our parents or our siblings and they are what they are so getting to acceptance can be particularly helpful. The world is a lonely place without family.

        • Mandy Walker

          What I’ve learned about forgiveness is that the other person really plays no active part in it i.e. they don’t have to be sorry for what they’ve done and nor do they have to ask for forgiveness. To expect them to be involved is giving them or letting keep power over you. Forgiveness is a way of accepting, of letting go so you can be free to live your life without feeling bitter or angry or really expending any energy on that person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation either so your no contact strategy is within forgiveness and I do agree that no contact is best with a narcissist. One of my colleagues, Jack Lavino is a forgiveness expert and he says that forgiveness will allow the anger to go away and that feeling compassion for the other person is necessary part so one would have to understand that the narcissist had little choice or control over their behavior given their own background. It’s not easy and it does take time.

  • Brian

    Can you truly forgive the other person without interaction with them? I am finding that the hard part.

    • Mandy Walker

      I think that is the hard part, possibly the hardest part. I would suggest that you ask yourself why you need an interaction with the other party? What is it you are looking for from them? I think if you can forgive the other person without an interaction that is true forgiveness because it is unconditional, it comes with no acknowledge from them of the hurt and pain they caused or no accepting of responsibility from them.

      I also think that acknowledging your own part in what ever it is you need to forgive is also a big element. Can you acknowledge it and accept it or are you still wishing you’d behaved differently?


    Make the decision in your heart and will to forgive this is the first step. This is where I am just now. Residual feelings of resentment and hurt still lurking around but God will give you the will to carry on in the decision to forgive and deal with the residual angry feelings over time. God helps in the whole process, it is a process but the first initial step is making the DECISION to forgive regardless of how we feel and let GOD do the rest. GOD is faithful. LYDIA UK

    • Mandy Walker

      I’m not a believer but I completely agree with you that it’s important and beneficial to make a conscious decision that you will forgive or let go. Then when you get caught in a situation where you start to feel angry or resentful, you can remind yourself that that is not how you want to behave or feel.

  • Baa Layla

    I am a divorced father of two and struggle with forgiving my
    ex. I am having the opposite problem
    from Brian because I have two young boys (9 & 7) and have to interact with
    my ex. I would think if I did not
    interact with her, it would be easier to forgive. (And I am not saying anyone’s situation is
    easier than mine, each is different and painful.) My issue is she still continues to act in
    selfish, inconsiderate ways and hurts my boys and me each time. My ex had an affair with her (married) pastor
    and left me. The only reason she wanted
    joint custody was because she thought that was what the pastor wanted. I (believe) I have moved pass the affair but
    have trouble moving pass the selfish, inconsiderate actions each and every
    week. I have sought support and receive the
    same message, ‘don’t expect her to act in a different way and she won’t
    hurt/disappoint you’. While this is good
    advice, she amazes me how low she is able to go, how many ways she cannot ‘do’
    the right thing and the effect on the boys.
    I can’t tell or explain to them how selfish their mom is because I don’t
    want to talk bad about their mom. I
    still get angry each and every time. I believe
    when they are older, they will know who truly loved them, was there for them, who
    attended events with them. But right
    now, all I see is disappointment and saddest when they talk about their mother.

    When my ex hurts me, I can find forgiveness. When she hurts my children, I find it very
    hard to forgive.

    • Mandy Walker

      Dear Baa Layla,
      The advice you got about not expecting your ex to behave differently is correct because only she can decide to change her behavior and you have very little influence over that. Your job now is to the build the boundaries that will protect you from her hurtful actions and to teach your boys how to protect themselves. It might be helpful for your boys to meet with a psychologist to discuss some of the situations and for the psychologist to give them some strategies for handling her behavior.

      Her behavior may be rooted in her own upbringing and it’s important that your children understand that it isn’t their fault.

      While she isn’t the parent you would hope for, she is still their mother and perhaps you can work towards accepting that she’s doing the best parenting job she’s capable of. If you can accept her then you can help your boys accept her.

      P.S. I don’t understand how a church official can have an affair … it’s wrong on so many levels.

  • Daughter of Forgiveness


    I feel your pain b/c when I was 5 my father left my mother after 20 years and 3 children for a woman 16 years younger. My mother did not see it coming, but in fact my father, who was always been affectionate, had been straying for over 5 years. He had never expressed his dissatisfaction with the marriage until he met my future step mother 6 months before finally confessing his feelings and affairs to my mother.

    My mom was devastated for years. My mother is marvelous, caring, affectionate, generous, accepting, and I thank my lucky stars everyday for a mother who loves me so much, but her inability to accept what happened and let go pigeon-holed us children as victims of my father for over a decade after he left.

    It was not until she forgave that we children could move on and also until she could find happiness again.

    I love my mother. She is an angel and I don’t know if I could have recovered any more quickly than she did. I know it is not easy. But once she did not did it only did her life change, but also the lives of her children. We had the space and permission to be happy with the way things turned out.

    My father never apologized for leaving, not paying child support, nor for being absent in our lives – all of which hurt us deeply. However, once she forgave him it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t do – she was free.

    Her example of forgiveness also served as an example of how we children could have some relationship with our father. He had a lot of flaws, but he was always sweet and he encouraged his younger children to be close with us.

    By the time he died I would not say we were close, but I could enjoy the time we spent together and the extended family. Now that he has passed we are very close with my half-siblings, they come over for holidays and are welcomed at my mother’s family events. This means the world to me and I don’t think it would be possible if my mom hadn’t forgiven.

    You may never control your exes behavior, get him to apologize, or even to acknowledge your feelings, but you do have that power over yourself. As long as you are waiting for him to change to move on you will be stuck.

    Don’t do that to yourself. You know you deserve happiness. Don’t beat yourself up about not moving on quickly enough either, you have to feel what you feel. Just know that it is you who is going to change the situation when you are ready.

    I wish you the best.

    • Mandy Walker

      Dear Daughter of Forgiveness – thank you so much for sharing this and bringing the perspective of just how far-reaching forgiveness can be. I’m so glad that through your mother’s forgiveness of your father you were able to have a better relationship with him before he passed.

  • Allie

    It’s been nearly 2 years since my divorce was final, and I still struggle with guilt every single day. I couldn’t afford to stay in the town we lived in, and my kids were 11 and 15, and wanted to be in the house they grew up in, with their friends and family dog…and everything that’s familiar to them. I live about 35 minutes away, enough distance where they don’t want to visit, and it seems so far to them. It got really ugly at the end, and my ex made the kids feel as if they were taking sides if they saw me (parental alienation, as I’ve come to find out), so between the physical distance and my ex, I hardly ever see my kids. I see my daughter (youngest) from time to time. Lately when I see her, it seems as if she doesn’t even know me anymore…which honestly, she doesn’t. She’s no longer in my day to day life, and hasn’t been for 2 years. I haven’t seen my son since September. I have such intense guilt….I feel like I wrecked their family….changed them from who they used to be. My son was such a laid-back, loving kid. Now he’s full of anger….and my ex refuses to send him to therapy. We both had our faults, and admit to both failing in our marriage, and recently told him I was sorry for some of the things I said and did, both during and after our marriage. I’m beginning to forgive him, I just hope I can forgive myself. I thought I was doing the right thing by leaving. We had our laughs, and were high school sweethearts. But we fought often, and both our families got in the way of our marriage. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time, and have to remind myself of that. None of us have a crystal ball. All we can go by is what’s in front of us at that time, and what decision seems like the right one.

    • Mandy Walker

      Allie – thank you for sharing this. It is really important to remind yourself that you made the best decision you could at the time. Most of us would decide differently with hindsight. So while it’s important to understand what lead you to your decision, it is also important to accept yourself and forgive yourself.

      Keep trying to stay in contact with your children, keep telling them you love them. It’s hard work but I think there’s always hope you will reconcile.

      Wishing you strength and courage,