If you are married, you have to learn how to forgive. It is impossible to live with another human being for very long without someone getting hurt. But sometimes we are faced with a situation that goes far beyond the normal day-to-day grievances…like an affair.
Forgiveness is tricky business. You know you should do it and it is good for you. But sometimes it just seems impossible to achieve, especially if there has been significant pain. If you find yourself obsessing about the injury (as often happens with an affair), forgiveness can seem unreachable. Once you have experienced betrayal on such a personal level, it’s very hard to stop thinking about what your spouse did and wondering how he/she could do something like that to you. A good counselor or coach can help you learn techniques to stop allowing those intrusive thoughts and images into your every waking moment.
But sometimes people withhold forgiveness for other reasons. I’ve listed some of them below.
- You want to punish the person.
- You associate forgiveness with reconciliation and you aren’t ready to go there.
- You view forgiveness as a weakness and retaliating makes you feel stronger and less like a victim.
- You have to highlight your partner’s wrongness as proof of your rightness.
Not forgiving can you make you feel powerful and more in control but that is only an illusion. Anger just flames inside you and can energize you…which feels so much better than the hurt or shame you feel when someone wrongs you. But over time, the anger and resentment will cut you off from healthy relationships and from life.
Forgiveness does not mean letting the offender off the hook. You can still hold them responsible for their actions. You can still protect yourself from further abuse. Forgiveness allows you to accept what happened to you as an unfortunate (even tragic) event but then allows you rise up and take ownership for your own well-being. It means you can negotiate new terms for the relationship or even, if necessary, to end the relationship.
For some of us, forgiveness is complicated by spiritual beliefs. We are taught we must forgive to free ourselves. But it’s really important to understand that forgiveness does not mean you accept a hollow apology and then act as if nothing ever happened. If your offender is apologetic, it may be easier to forgive if they are willing to do the work of earning forgiveness. If your partner has had an affair, part of the act of forgiveness is rebuilding trust. This includes being transparent and willing to check in and give reassurances.
But you have to come to terms with the offense before you can focus on forgiveness otherwise it is “cheap forgiveness” and that doesn’t work for anyone. Cheap forgiveness will leak out resentment, bitterness and accusation at every new offense or reminder of the pain.
I saw a client recently whose husband had an affair more than 20 years ago. This client refused to forgive because the offense was too great. She also refused to come to terms with the pain over all these years. By the time she came to me, she was struggling with depression and bitterness. But she is blossoming after just a few weeks of working together! She is learning why she refused forgiveness and she is now holding her husband accountable in healthy and appropriate ways. She has not yet made the decision whether to reconcile or not. But she has already made great strides in becoming happier and more content with herself.
Don’t allow unforgiveness or cheap forgiveness to weigh down your genuine, authentic self. We can help you sort through all the complicated layers and find peace again. Call us at 972-441-4432. We would love to help!