The High Price of Forgiveness

27 Sep

By hang_in_there, Some Rights Reserved

This article has been making the rounds through several blogs that I follow.  I decided to share it here not because I have an aversion to Reblogging or because I somehow think my perspective on this is better than anyone else’s, but because I wanted to have these powerful words close by and easily accessible.  I wanted to have a reminder of this on my page because these words are incredibly powerful.

There is a price to forgive, and it is a high one for the spouse who has been cheated on.  It is just as high for the spouse of a sex addict.  We give up so many parts of ourselves – our expectations, our hopes, our ideals, our strong belief in fidelity above all else, our naive certainty that our life partner wouldn’t intentionally harm us, our sense of safety, our unconditional trust, our pride, our self-respect, our ability to live a normal, trigger-free life, our sanity (sometimes), and so, so much more.

Betrayed spouses and spouses of sex addicts are often advised to name their losses and grieve over them.  I have done that in small baby steps, here and there.  This article listed a lot of those sacrifices and losses in one place.  Reading the story, seeing my own losses mirrored so eloquently and poignantly, and taking a moment to grieve again was very therapeutic yesterday.

I also realized that I am at a point where I forgive my husband.  I’m not sure when it happened – I couldn’t tell you the exact moment – but it did.  I have a deep peace about what happened and what we are doing to continue making our marriage stronger.  I feel safer in my marriage right now than I have in a long time.  I am gaining back some of the pieces of myself that I had to sacrifice to stay.

I think there is another phase of forgiveness: when those things you lost begin to be restored, little by little.  I will never have the naive, unconditional trust, but I do have trust in him.  I don’t check the computer or his phone.  I don’t worry about whether he will cross our boundaries – if he does I have a plan and there are consequences – but the anxiety is far, far lower than it has ever been.  I use the “trust but verify” method, although the “verify” part is getting less and less necessary.  Now “verify” might just mean paying attention to the tone of his voice and the real sincerity behind his words.  It means listening to my gut about whether something makes sense or not, and accepting how I feel.

I have reached the point where my pride and self-respect isn’t influenced by what he does or doesn’t do.  I am realizing that my forgiveness and desire to repair our marriage is a testament to my character and makes me stronger, not weaker.  I no longer care what anyone else might think of me because of it, what society may judge me as, or even what the OW might ever have thought of me.  None of that matters because I am secure in knowing that my decision is turning out for the better.

Letting go of my ideals and expectations was so, so scary at first.  It was painful and humiliating to think that my picture of my relationship was false.  Accepting that our story wasn’t going to be neat, pretty, and the way I had envisioned in my head was a loss I had to grieve.  I can now see the value in losing my picture-perfect ideal, though.  Keeping an idealized view of a relationship is damaging.  It perpetuates delusions, it causes distance, it makes us dismiss things that don’t fit into our neat boxes, including aspects of our partner that could make us closer if we explored them.  My life isn’t perfect, my marriage isn’t perfect, and as much as we work on it I will always be married to a sex addict.  There will always be struggles.  But life always has struggles anyway.  Now we know that we are equipped to handle them.  Now we share our intimate thoughts and feelings more readily.  Now each new challenge should hopefully result in my husband and I rallying together, not drifting apart as we each try to hold onto our separate views of “how things should be.”

So, yes, there is a high price of forgiveness.  I also think that there is an equally high payout.  It just takes longer to get there, and there is a lot of pain along the way.  Some things may never come back.  Forgiveness doesn’t heal all wounds, it just makes it so the healing process can start.  I may have triggers for the rest of my life.  Forgiveness won’t take them away, but it will allow me to move farther and farther from that point of raw emotion.  Letting go of my need for “justice” is hard, but carrying it around with me keeps me on edge.  It keeps me focused on life’s unfairness.  That unfairness will always be there, though.  Just like my post yesterday, it’s about seeing the other things – the beauty and gifts that are also part of life.


Ever associated forgiveness with a big price tag?

by Rick Reynolds

What is the cost of forgiveness? What does this have to do with forgiving infidelity? We’ll talk about that in a moment, but first let me tell a story. Seventeen years ago, within the first two years of marriage, Sandra had multiple affairs. Doubts of whether she’d married the right man plagued her even before the wedding. A better man than Campbell she’d never find, but the spark was missing. She feared he’d be a Steady Freddie who was dull and commonplace. His impeccable character and undying love had captured her attention, but where was that romance of man and maid she’d so longed for? Those feelings never came.

About a year into the marriage Sandra’s boss invited her to lunch. From an innocent beginning blossomed a growing conflagration of passion. He understood her womanly need of small attentions and seemed to get her in ways Campbell never imagined. Justifying her affair was all too easy. She’d never felt like this before, confirming in her mind that she’d married the wrong person, and now she’d found the love of her life. Besides this wasn’t some spur of the moment impulsive whim, they’d spent their days at work talking about music, philosophy, religion and life. Milton knew her better in a month than Campbell had in 2 years.

For the first time in her life she felt compelled to recklessly abandon herself to another. It was like nothing she’d ever experienced, until Milton’s wife discovered their affair and filed for divorce. Milton immediately resigned his job and moved his family to another state. She was shocked; they had planned their future together and now, just like that, he was gone? He even told her he wanted nothing to do with her and to quit bugging him. The pain was unbearable, and even she was surprised at her response. Rather than grieving the loss and moving on, she numbed the pain with three more short-term affairs. What was the difference; she didn’t envision Campbell as any part of her future.

However, about a month after affair number three ended, she and Campbell conceived and life suddenly changed. She loved life as a mom and admired the way Campbell stepped up and supported the family. Over time she even grew to love her life and recognized she had indeed married well.

Skip forward 17 years when Campbell received a call from Milton’s wife. “I told him if it happened again I would no longer keep his secrets, and I just discovered he’s doing it again,” she said. “I thought that you might want to know your wife isn’t who you think she is. Why don’t you ask her about Milton?” Milton’s wife was coping with infidelity in a flurry of anger.

Initially, Sandra lied. She had decided to take the secret of her infidelity to her grave, but eventually she came clean about all four affairs before their first child’s birth. She pleaded for forgiveness; after all, it was 17 years past. But for Campbell it wasn’t seventeen years ago, ground zero was just last month. Forgiving infidelity for him didn’t seem possible. Seventeen years of faithfulness did nothing to ease the pain of her betrayal. In fact, it made it worse. She had caused him to live a lie for 17 years. He no longer trusted his current reality, his past, his future, his wife or himself. How could he have been so blind? How could he just forgive and move on?

For the sake of our discussion let me point out that there are two elements to what we refer to as forgiveness. The first is an internal matter where we choose to forgive the wrong committed against us and no longer expect justice as a result of their offense. Even more, we wish them well. The second element of forgiveness is about reconciliation. It’s where we choose to continue in relationship with that person in spite of their offense. For the sake of this discussion I’m focused on the second element, reconciliation.

All too often we talk about the high price of NOT forgiving. That forgiveness is a gift you give yourself and how failing to forgive leaves you forever a victim. We extol forgiveness as a virtue and share examples of those saints who forgave much to show forgiveness as a possibility. (Even though the fact we even share such stories indicate those people may be the exception, not the rule.) But forgiveness isn’t natural, especially when it comes to forgiving infidelity. It flows against our basic human nature. For most, our initial response to coping with infidelity is justice, not forgiveness. We want restitution, not mercy. We want the scales of justice to be balanced.

An understanding of the high cost of forgiveness seems to go missing when an offense is committed. Far too often I see an entitlement mentality when it comes to receiving forgiveness from our mate or forgiveness from God. As humans we’re supposed to forgive, right? In Christendom we teach “as God forgave us so we’re to forgive.” Isn’t that the lesson we teach our children? But we forget that forgiveness comes at a price. Even the Christian tradition teaches that the price God has paid to forgive mankind’s offenses was the life of His own Son. In the same way, the price paid by the betrayed spouse, if there is to be reconciliation, is high indeed.

What was the price of forgiveness in Campbell and Sandra’s case? Campbell had been an exceptional husband and father, not perfect by any means, but he’d lived and loved well. For him, forgiveness meant violating his personal beliefs and values. He would never have chosen to be with someone who betrayed, lied, and deceived him. He believed in the sanctity of marriage, and to choose to stay with Sandra came at the price of settling for something he never wanted.

Forgiving infidelity would mean sacrificing his dreams of the type of marriage he’d wanted. He’d never have the opportunity to brag to his children about the fidelity of their marriage. To stay meant sacrificing a marriage that was free from doubts. How could he ever again believe a word that she said if she’d been able to deceive him for 17 years? Staying meant the sacrificing of his dignity. He personally knew two of these men, and he now imagined how they’d seen him as the fool. To stay he’d have to sacrifice his rights. Didn’t he have the right to leave and find another who would be faithful to him? Staying and coping with infidelity meant sacrificing the ability to be honest with family. He couldn’t share his struggles, for fear of more complications. To stay would cost him pride. He’d always believed people who stayed were too weak to leave. To stay would cost his self-respect. He couldn’t believe things he’d said and done in his fits of rage. It would be so much easier to be away from her and not be triggered by her presence. To forgive seemed to make a mockery of all he’d sacrificed for the sake of their marriage. Instead of being proud of what he and Sandra had built, he now felt he’d been played the fool and taken advantage of.

All Campbell ever wanted was to love unconditionally and to be loved by someone special, but now his heart was so full of pain and distrust he wasn’t sure whether he could give himself to Sandra or anyone else again. Could he walk through the pain of her betrayal and face the demons he’d encounter if he ever gave himself to her again? For him, choosing to stay would cost him dearly.

Grace isn’t cheap; it comes at a high price. Failure to appreciate the high price paid by those choosing to forgive minimizes the magnitude of their sacrifice. The currencies used by the betrayed spouse to pay off the debt incurred by their mate’s betrayal are pride, ego, and suffering. Forgiving infidelity costs their dignity when they choose to stay rather than leave. It costs them their just due when they choose to forgo justice for the sake of the relationship. It costs them their sanity because they don’t control the painful thoughts invading their mind. Their present-day reality is constantly interrupted with painful memories of the past. It costs them their dreams because this road isn’t one they’d ever planned on traveling. It costs them health because the pain of the offense consumes their life. And I’m only beginning to scratch the surface.

As one who believes in the value of forgiving, I never want to be guilty of cheap grace, where I think it’s something to which I’m entitled. If justice is the standard, then the consequence of betrayal is the loss of relationship. Anything short of that is mercy, indeed. Failing to consider the price paid by others for my sake causes me to be careless with my behavior. Forgiveness and reconciliation are expensive gifts purchased through great suffering and sacrifice on the part of the offended. Failure to understand that reality makes me blind to the love displayed by those who choose to continue on in relationship…

How would you describe the cost of forgiveness from your own experience?

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9 Responses to “The High Price of Forgiveness”

  1. shawn8811 October 1, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    I cannot imagine forgiveness. I believe I have to be content with acceptance. I am fascinated by the fact that you say you have forgiven your H, but you don’t really know when. I cannot fathom granting forgiveness without a monumental event as a catalyst. I have considered perhaps one day something grand will happen, like the birth of our first grandchild, and I will be filled with so much pure love that forgiveness will find it’s way into my heart when my guard is down.
    I can’t expect to know what forgiveness for an offense so heinous would feel like. I wish I had some clue. I have forgiven many people in my life for various personal infractions, but none come close to the permanent damage caused from my FWH’s infidelity.
    I no longer dwell on his affair. I don’t punish him anymore, unless you consider boundaries I insist upon now punishments, but I don’t forgive him. I am past the “justice” phase”, but I doubt I will ever be blessed with the “virtue” that is forgiveness.
    I am so very happy that you have found a way to forgive.
    I sincerely hope you have nothing but continued very happy weekends!
    Hope & Hugs, Shawn
    http://ayearaftertheaffair.blogspot.com/

    • beautifulmess7 October 1, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      You have caused me to stop and really think about things this morning, which is great. I think for me acceptance and forgiveness went hand in hand. Once I was able to accept what he did, especially from the standpoint of his addiction, I was also able to forgive.

      It wasn’t one blinding moment or some huge gesture he did. It was the accumulation of small things – the way he listens to me, how his hand always finds mine in the car, seeing his committment to recovery, having him acknowledge what could be triggers and proactively work towards eliminating them, realizing that I want to spend the rest of my life with this man despite what we’ve gone through, feeling his love as he brushes the hair out of my face, laughing like fools over some stupid joke, feeling safe and secure with him again, and realizing that the man who cheated on me is not the man he is.

      That last part is probably confusing. Someone at S-Anon a few weeks ago said something along the lines of, “The things that my husband did were not in line with his moral compass… That’s how I know this really is an illness.” I had to think about that statement for a while. Truly, the man I know, the man that I married, the man he is in his heart would not do the things he did to me without a deep issue. His compulsions, his sex addiction, drove a wedge between his heart (morlas) and his actions – severed the connection. One was no longer controlled by the other. It was his own personal torture, and he was doing it to himself.

      I also realized that holding my forgiveness back didn’t accomplish anything. He is already guilty. He is already harder on himself than I could be at this point. Not forgiving would leave me stuck in that place of resentment. I can’t change the past. I have accepted what happened. I have accepted what that means for our relationship (constant recovery, 12 step programs, lost dreams, sacrifices on both our parts, etc.). I have also embraced the gifts it has brough with it – improved communication, a deeper connection, honesty like we never had, and hope for a better future.

      For me, forgiveness was a gradual process. It didn’t bowl me over or knock me down one day. Instead, it happened bit by bit, until one day the pieces of anger and resentment I was holding onto had gone. I’m not sure how else to explain it.

  2. Recovering Wayward September 27, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Your commentary is excellent and much better than mine. Kudos to you

    • beautifulmess7 September 27, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      I think you had a lot of insight from your perspective. We all have different things to add from our various points of view, so I won’t say any commentary is “better” than another. I do appreciate your kudos, though. 🙂

  3. littlesquirrelblog September 27, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    This has totally struck a chord with me. So much to think about. Thank you.

    • beautifulmess7 September 27, 2012 at 11:17 am #

      It really struck a chord with me, too. I thought about it alot yesterday before I could put my thoughts together coherently on it today. I hope you can find your truth in that article.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Results from the Affair Analyzer « Being a Beautiful Mess - October 24, 2012

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  2. Forgiveness in the Face of Turmoil « Being a Beautiful Mess - October 13, 2012

    […] The High Price of Forgiveness (beingabeautifulmess.wordpress.com) […]

  3. This is it….A New Beginning | OMG This Life of Mine - September 29, 2012

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