One of the biggest myths about forgiveness is the belief that someone must first be sorry. Why should someone have to be sorry for us to forgive them? Naturally it is much easier to forgive people who are totally repentant and committed to reform, but this is not a requirement. Such a conditional attitude towards forgiveness completely misses the point. We must learn to forgive people who are not sorry, people who are convinced they are in the right, and people who may even think that we are the ones who should be sorry.
Many people object to forgiving an unrepentant person because they feel that this somehow excuses the original action. They feel that if the person does not unreservedly acknowledge that their action is wrong, then forgiveness is granting them permission to do it again. If we are holding back our forgiveness out of such fear, we must realize that forgiveness does not mean automatically giving someone another chance and letting them back into our lives. For example, if our partner cheats on us, we can forgive them and still choose to end the relationship. The difference is that we would not be ending the relationship due to anger and a lack of forgiveness, but rather from the awareness it is flawed and that we would be better off apart.
The next thing we must realize is that whatever harm someone has caused us, they have caused more harm to themselves. Nobody wants to be miserable, and if they hurt others then misery is what they will get. Thus, we forgive people because we know that they act out of ignorance. If they are unrepentant, we should hold even more compassion for them, because this same ignorance may cause them to do the same thing again and again. Remember, however much they are harming us, they are harming themselves more! But once again, as mentioned before, the choice to distance ourselves from this person is always open to us. Forgiveness does not have the requisite of continued close contact.
Often in relationships we claim that an event from the past continues to hurt because our partner will not apologize. Although their apology would clearly mean a lot, we should also consider that the hurt continues because we refuse to forgive. We do not have to wait for their apology to do this. If we find that forgiveness does not come, and that we continue to hold anger, then that is OK. With patience, we will get there, and in the meantime we can forgive ourselves too.