How to Forgive Without an Apology

Imagine that someone you know just stepped on your toes.

“Ouch! That really hurt.”

Most of us would say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry. Are your feet ok?”

Sometimes, though, the response is, “I’ll walk where I want to walk. It’s up to you to keep your toes out of the way.”

What happens when the person who hurts you doesn’t apologize or even acknowledge what they did did wrong?

How do you forgive someone in this situation?

First, remember that forgiveness is not a synonym for reconciliation. You can completely forgive someone and still not trust them or have any interest in continuing the relationship.

As noble as it is to try to restore a broken relationship this cannot be accomplished unless everyone involved is working toward that goal. This is even more true when the person who damaged the relationship isn’t willing to own up to his or her actions.

Second, forgiveness isn’t ultimately about them or what happened.  Releasing your anger or bitterness is a gift to yourself. Forgiveness is a process. Most people don’t wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to release my anger starting…now!” Just do as much as you can right now.

In the past I’ve visualized tying a balloon to my anger and watching it float away or pretending that I was chipping pieces from an ever-shrinking boulder. This may sound hokey but it has been pretty effective for me.

Third, don’t pretend everything is ok in the meantime. It isn’t (especially if this list sounds familiar to you.)

Fourth, buy new shoes. It’s much easier to stomp on the toes peeking out of sandals than it is someone who shows up wearing, say, these.

Emotionally speaking this might mean that you stop talking about certain topics with someone, tell them you’ll end the conversation if they do or say X (and then do it!), only agree to spend time with them around other people or no longer see them at all.

(Photo by Salvatore Vuono from


How do you react in this situation?


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17 Responses to How to Forgive Without an Apology

  1. Richard Stebbins

    As noble as it is to try to restore a broken relationship this cannot be accomplished unless everyone involved is working toward that goal. This is even more true when the person who damaged the relationship isn’t willing to own up to his or her actions.

    This statement rings true with me. I had a situation with someone who we had socialized in the past. I thought we were friends, when all along, this person had animosity towards me, and under the surface actually didn’t like me at all. This came out when I made a comment on her FB page and she, in turn, wrote a private note to me and told me exactly how she felt. She had a lot of very hateful things to say and it was the  most surprising thing to me! I wouldn’t ever have guessed she felt this way. Then, she sent me another note and asked forgiveness if the things she said hurt me! Really? I typed a short note back to her saying I would forgive her, but promptly dropped her from my friends list. She has requested a ‘refriending’ which I ignored.

    I tend to be a person who wants everyone to like me, and can’t really understand if someone doesn’t! Yeah, I know, that’s my own problem that I deal with! But, I also realized, I didn’t WANT to restore a relationship with this person. It would never work.I couldn’t trust her to be real with her feelings.  She never really accepted that her words were hurtful, or that her accusations were hateful and untrue!

    When a situation like this happens, it’s not easy to ‘do the right thing’. What exactly does it mean to ‘do the right thing’? I was in my 5th decade of life before I realized that it was OK to not like every one and have everyone like me! 

    I think one of the lessons that my parents taught me in their efforts to ‘raise me in the way I should go’ (in the church) was forgiving means letting people walk all over you! No, they didn’t use those words, but that is basically how it came across. I don’t want to hold people captive by their actions towards me, so forgiveness is necessary for me to move on, feel good about myself, and treat others with the kind of love that I think we need to treat all humans. But, I no longer feel guilty if I choose to not be walked on!

    • Yeah, I hear you. It can be a real struggle to find that balance. 

      If your acquaintance keeps sending friend requests you could always temporarily or permanently block her from seeing you on FB. (I wasn’t sure whether you knew that was an option. 🙂 )

  2. Twyseschoch

    really good post.  it often takes years to learn this.

  3. Guest

    i have recently had a similar issue with (who was meant to be my best girlfriend)…. she is a big game player with every relationship in her life…. After having it out with her she continuously kept asking me what she did…. at first i believed she knew, but after the few weeks i took to cool off by not speaking to her it occured to me that perhaps she is not awear of her poor behaviour at times….

    i think there are many factors in peoples lifes which can determine not only the way they react to certain moments but the manner in which they come across. There are also thoes unseen factors which effect a persons judgement and emotions (bad traffic, problems at home, tooth aches haha)…. these can make people do things which they normally wouldnt, or say things out of anger they mostly do not mean. i know myself i have done things out of anger or insecurity in which i normally wouldnt…. no one is perfect and think that we -as the party who has been hurt- need to TRY to keep this in mind….

    So, after a few weeks of cooling down, (and her willingness to try even though its not approached well) i have forgiven her. I will see her when our group catches up, nevertheless it will take time for me to heal and establish where our friendship is ‘at’….

    • “no one is perfect and think that we -as the party who has been hurt- need to TRY to keep this in mind….”

      I understand what you’re saying and I agree.

      My issue comes when someone a) definitely knows that they’ve done something to hurt you and b) doesn’t care. 

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  5. hurt

    nice post…I am currently going through a problem with my sisters and brothers in law…they have said many hurtful things about me, they even had the heart to say that my son was not my husbands baby….that hurt me to my very core ……how could they hold my son when deep down they are thinking it’s not my husbands…other rumors were also started about me and when i confronted some of them about it somehow it turned out that I was the bad one…so i decided i want absolutely nothing to do with these people and my husband made on his own choice to not have them in his life either…i know i definitly do not want them to enter my life anymore because i don’t see them changing their ways or their minds about me anyways so those relationships are just too toxic for me to handle…now I am just dealing with how to forgive in my heart for my own sake…somedays i am fine and don’t think about it but other days that is all i think about…

  6. love this…kudos on the “buy new shoes part”. This really helped

  7. Lost

    This helps me so much. I have been married to my husband for over 2 1/2 years and this past summer his brother started making disgusting comments to me via email stating that I was nothing like his wife, at least she was cool enough to let him get his d*ck sucked by some other chic or let him do drugs whenever he felt like. (He constantly smokes weed)

    I brought it up to my husband trying to explain to him how hurt I was and is that what he is looking for. He just laughed and told me that’s just his brother. We were about to have our wedding (we did the courthouse then planned it 2 years later) when I finally snapped because his brother told me that the bachelor party was going to consist of drugs, alcohol, strippers, etc and if possible either some willing stripper trying to make some extra cash or any willing ladies they met. He text my husband who was driving at the time and said to him that hopefully they can lose the ‘tribe’ early on in the night so that they don’t send ‘smoke signals to the wife’. I am part native american and while his racist bantering before was funny I find this completely offensive. I text him and told him I was the one reading the text to my husband while he drove and he told my husband that until he learns proper phone security and puts his wife in her place as such, he will no longer be texting him.

    I asked my husband if he really wanted a bachelor party seeing as we’ve already been married for over 2 years and we have 2 kids. He told me if that’s what his brother wants he is going to do it.

    I cried for hours wondering what in the world had I gotten myself into. We met while serving in the military together and fell fast and hard. Within knowing each other for only 50 some odd days we got married. Then child number one came. I almost died when I had him. My husband never said a word to me, never shed a tear in front of me. Then I got pregnant right away with child number two and again almost died. So who is this man that I married who for some reason wants half-drunk half-naked (hopefully only half) women dancing and rubbing on him? Since when does he need drugs? Do I make him that unhappy?

    So finally I snapped and told him to go to his bachelor party but to remember who his wife is. HE got angry with me and asked why I was being so pissy? If I want I could have a bachelorette party. I told him he is all I want and there is nothing in the world that I would want to do look at or be near that isn’t morally right when you are married.

    He then stormed out of the house to smoke and I text his brother and told him that from now on I no longer want his disgusting snide comments sent to me. To not ever text or email me again unless it is dealing with family or a hi how are you? message. He in turn had a bi-polar break down. Literally, called my husband said that he would never speak to him again until his dumb c*nt wife (me) either died or divorced him. My husband in turn smashed his phone into the ground and drove off in a fury after screaming nonsense at me saying ‘What have you done?!!!’

    I went to work the next day (I was still in the military) and tried to call his brother to no avail. I instead emailed him and apologized for my rude and unkind words and asked if we could just be adults and forgive each other. He in turn told me to f off numerous times called me so many names that I even in the Marine Corps deployed in a war zone have never heard a person say to another. Called my husband yelled at him about some crazy nonsense saying that I was ruining his life. My husband again calls me and says what have you done this time? Before I can answer he hangs up.

    We talk about it my husband and I. He apologizes for the things his brother has said but told me that everyone in the family knows that you cannot talk to his brother this way and eventually I will learn……..What I am in the wrong? I am so lost I cannot begin to express what I am thinking to my husband but we are about to fly to our wedding and I just want it to be happy so I try and make the best of it and just brush it under the rug for now.

    My brothers and father decided a nice steak house and some billiards and shuffle board still sounds like a great bachelor party. So I of course am left with the mother-in-law that so dearly believes that everything I do in my life is wrong and thinks that if she guides me by telling me how she did it maybe then I can actually make my husband happy. I take her to my mother’s restaurant to eat dinner with all the girls and unfortunately it is longer than a 2 minute drive because right away she starts her assault. I am so wrong for how I spoke to her son and should not be in his and my husband’s business and how she knows all about why I said the awful things to him and what I said.

    I told her my husband had told me it is a brother in law free weekend and that he doesn’t want me speaking to anyone about it, especially his mother. But seeing as I am trapped in a vehicle with her driving 70 on the interstate that just doesn’t seem to be what is going to happen. She continues to tell me what I will say to anyone at the wedding if they ask about where b-i-l is and what I must do as a proper woman in any marriage. Bow my head and say yes sir. And ask no questions about a thing and always be completely forgiving to the point that I act like I do not notice his transgressions.

    By the time I get to my mom’s she is all smiles and talking to all of my family and friends and acting as if the world is right. I ignore all the b.s. my in laws are giving me and end up having an ok wedding. I drank a lot just to annoy them (just the in laws my family could care less what I do as long as I am happy and healthy).

    In the future months a lot has changed. His brother insists on trying to ruin our marriage by sending hateful emails and texts, leaving awful voice-mails and back where they are from tearing the in law family apart. I am out of the military we move, no family is near seeing as neither of us wants to be near the others family. We have changed our numbers, blocking his brother’s number just in case somebody gives it to him. Block all email addresses he has and try and put it behind us.

    Then on my son’s 2nd birthday we are having a wonderful time just my 2 boys, my husband and I. And out of the blue my husband’s cell rings. Ha says hello, ok hang on, and hands my son the phone with the speaker phone on. It’s him saying how proud he is of his nephew getting all big and how blah blah blah. I am no longer hearing because all I see is red. When did him and my husband start talking again? How did he get his number? And when did my husband unblock his number? I ask my husband all of this after the call and he tells me not to worry about it.

    Where I come from if somebody says things like that to anyone you love no matter who they are you put them in their place. I have tried many ways of forgiving this man but to no avail. It cannot be done and I firmly believe that until somebody (my husband) puts him in his place or he apologizes to me the rift will always be there. And as unfortunate as it is my marriage has suffered tremendously for it. Before when my husband would talk to me, now its like trying to pry a confession out of a person you know is guilty but in the end is innocent.

    My health has declined to the point the military kicked me out, I am severely depressed and I constantly drink to try and hide the fact that I wonder if my husband is actually wishing he would divorce me like his high and mighty brother wants. Maybe one day his brother will get help and will learn that the things he did were completely wrong and admit that he was wrong. I will not hold my breath, until then I suppose I will just have to try and convince myself that life is fine even though I know my husband is angry at me and always will be.

  8. deby

    Dr Charles is a powerful man that bring back my husband our love is stronger than ever and my family is happy …Dr Charles don’t forget about you he always keep in touch make sure all is well after a stress full time with a woman turning my husband away from me. Dr Charles is to thanks for the smile on my face and his wonderful work . If you need his help, contact him via his email address.……………….deby

  9. anonymous

    I feel compelled to respond to the “Lost” post. Reading your post made me so angry and exasperated! Not only is your b-i-l a complete moron for his behaviour he is extremely disrespectful! Perhaps love has blinded you but I can’t say much better about your husband either. When you love someone you would NEVER let someone talk such crap and behave so disgustingly. It seems your husband has a lot of the same beliefs as your b-i-l, hence not being stunned by his words or actions. Not to mention the m-i-l!!! You need to ask yourself is this the person YOU want to be married to? Never mind what he wants. Is this the person, with these traits, that you want your children to look up to? Since when did you start thinking so poorly of yourself that you think you are worth so little, and that you have to obliterate your morals and values (which are on point!) to have someone stay with you?

    I realize you may read this and think “who the hell are you?” Well, this is true. But, I am someone looking from the outside and this is my gut reaction and it stands for something wether you are ready to hear it or not. I have seen a lot of women being in abusive relationships (both physical and mental) growing up and I cannot stand reading this and not saying these things to you.

    If your husband won’t cut ties with his brother (which is not totally wrong) he should at least have the morals and compassion to deal with it correctly. Eg, admitting you are
    totally right. Not letting his brother get away with such crap without standing up to him. And not storming off like a child when you confront him on something that is important to you, and represents the very foundation of your relationship.

    I wish you luck, peace, strength (which every woman has!). Chin up, stand up for what you believe. No matter what happens you are capable of doing what is right for yourself and your children and don’t let anyone tell you any different. I truly hope you resolve things. Divorce is terrible. My mother left my father when I was 7 yrs old because of his abuse. She had no job and no highschool diploma and 3 children under the age of 12. Until this day, even though life was hard financially and emotionally with no father, I still
    thank her for it.

    Sincerely, anonymous.

  10. Miserable

    My sister in law has been the thorn on my side since my engagement to my now husband. she’s done and said a lot of hurtful things out of jealousy. She has now been nicer to me since my son is born (3yrs laters). But I still have built up resentment from her past actions towards me..especially since I’ve been nothing but nice to her. But now I can’t forgive her since never has apologized and I try to avoid her as much as possible. What should I do!?

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