Today has been a very difficult day for me. Rather than blog about that, I’m going to add my commentary to another Rick Reynolds article – Forgiving Infidelity: Practical Suggestions to Move Toward Forgiveness. He and his wife worked together to provide their own suggestions about how to forgive. They both have very insightful advice. It is definitely an article worth reading in full.
However, I am not going to address the entire thing here. The only thing I will respond to right now are the tips for the hurt spouse. Below is an excerpt from the article. I’m also including the portion before the tips that distinguishes between forgiveness and reconciliation because I think it is crucial. In pink are my comments and feelings as they stand tonight.
At Affair Recovery we believe there are two components to forgiveness as it pertains to forgiving infidelity. First is the internal aspect of forgiveness, which has little or nothing to do with the other person. It is a personal choice to release the other person from retribution or harm as a result of their offence; it’s coming to the point where you can wish them well. It’s not based on their repentance or merit, since it’s an internal matter. It is a gift you give yourself, which sets you free and allows you to live at peace with your memories. The internal aspect of forgiveness in marriage where infidelity is involved is important in that failing to achieve this type of forgiveness leaves you forever the victim.
The second aspect of forgiving infidelity is about reconciliation. This component of forgiveness is primarily based on safety. Does the unfaithful spouse see what they’ve done, do they take responsibility for their actions and are they grieved over what their actions have cost others? Anything short of that response potentially makes them unsafe for reconciliation. This aspect of forgiveness determines whether the relationship will continue. If they are willing to make amends for their failure, then reconciliation might be a good choice.
Practical Suggestions For Forgiving Infidelity For The Hurt Spouse: (These are from his spouse)
1. Separate forgiveness from the process of reconciliation. Make reconciliation optional and forgiveness not optional. People often do this backwards, choosing to reconcile rather than forgive. This leaves them trapped in the pain of the betrayal, never able to move forward to a new life. If your mate isn’t safe don’t reconcile. In the first year of recovery don’t pressure yourself to decide about reconciliation. It may take over a year before you know whether it’s safe to reconcile. Reconciliation depends on your mate’s ongoing recovery and your ability to heal from the trauma of the betrayal.
This is something I am just realizing: forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. I like this concept, and it rings very true to me. I know that I did this part backwards because I decided to reconcile before I was able to forgive. I chose to stay with my husband and work on the marriage before he was a safe person to recover with. I can now see the wisdom in this method. You truly have to be able to forgive before you can know whether reconciliation is an option.
2. Make a conscious choice to forgive. For freedom’s sake don’t hang on to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is always in your best interest and in the interest of those you love. Only time will tell whether reconciliation has a place in your relationship.
“For freedom’s sake don’t hang on to bitterness and resentment.” I had to type that again. Forgiveness, or at least acceptance, is the only way to move forward – with or without the relationship intact. Hanging onto bitterness and resentment can eat a hole in your soul. I don’t want to be that person. I have to let those things go. I don’t feel bitter or resentful towards my husband. I sometimes feel sad. I feel hurt, especially when he lies to me.
I am actively trying to not let those feelings run my life, though. I don’t want to resent him for his actions. I have been an active participant in this relationship – I stayed after I found the porn, I stayed after he lied to me about strip clubs, I stayed after I discovered his cyber affair, I stayed through more and more lies and revelations, I stayed when he was diagnosed as a sex addict, and I stayed as much for myself and due to my own issues (codependent much?) as because of his lies.
I am partially responsible for where we are. I can’t resent him for his part unless I am also willing to resent myself – and I can’t do that. I have to keep moving forward. I can’t become bitter and jaded, as easy as that would be. I can’t wallow in self-pity. I have to heal for me. I am worthy of healing. It is in my best interest to let go and forgive.
3. Choose to focus on what’s helpful. Once you know what’s happened there may be diminishing benefit in continuing to focus on the past. Have the sense to ask yourself if how you’re spending your time (conversation, thought life) is helping to move you forward in your recovery. If it’s something that’s keeping you stuck, let it go. You want to choose life, not death.
Okay, what has been helpful? Loving myself has been helpful. Going to S-Anon has been helpful. Being aware of my codependent tendencies has been helpful. Going to therapy has been helpful. Blogging and journaling has been helpful (writing my thoughts down, commenting, stretching my view of myself and others, working to really understand what makes me tick, getting thoughts out of my head and onto a computer screen where I can examine them, etc.). Those things have all been focused on bettering myself, increasing my self-awareness, and changing – as painful as it can be.
The things that have not been helpful – shopping, eating, obsessing about things I can’t change, fighting, yelling, arguing, threatening, trying to control. Going around and around in circles saying the same things is also not helpful. Holding onto anger has not been helpful. Contacting the OW at the beginning of all this was definitely not helpful. Thinking of myself as perfect – or at least trying to be that way – didn’t help, and actually made things worse. I do want to choose life, not death and certainly not an excruciating limbo.
4. Maintain an attitude of compassion. If you can look at your mate through a lens of compassion and concern you may find it easier to let go of the offence. Forgiving infidelity is not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t minimize the magnitude of the betrayal, rather it allows you to move forward, free from the hurtful actions of another. Forgiveness in marriage, even without infidelity, requires compassion.
This is something that my Mom really helps me with. I also think that when I started feeling compassion and concern for him and his addiction I also started down the path of forgiveness. If forgiveness truly is about wishing the other person well, then I’m definitely there. I want him to get better. I can imagine how horrible it must be to be trapped in lies and compulsive behavior. My heart aches for him.
I already know that forgiving someone is not weak and doesn’t take away from what was done. Forgiveness doesn’t negate hurt. It doesn’t discount fear. It doesn’t exist separately from sadness. Instead, it coexists with them. It dulls the pain. It acknowledges that there is another dimension to everything. It complicates things while also making them simpler – adding different viewpoints and angles to the situation to add clarity – much the way multiple camera views of a play can make the proper call easier to determine. Compassion and empathy are the aspects of forgiveness that make that possible.
5. Don’t hang on to entitlements. As Charles Dickens says, “In every life, no matter how full or empty one’s purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfils. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people’s store of it.” Your mate may have destroyed your happiness, but life is hard and often unjust. Try to keep realistic expectations.
Here is an area where I can definitely use work. I am very guilty of hanging on to the idea that life should be fair, that I should get what I want, and that I deserve happiness… That quote is completely true, though. It is profound in its honesty. It shatters my preconceived notions about myself and about life in general. I consider myself a realist, yet I somehow allow myself to forget the simple fact that life is hard and full of tragedy.
6. Take care of yourself. A lack of sleep, isolation, or severe depression only makes forgiving infidelity more difficult. It’s not fair since you aren’t the one who cheated, but you’re the only one who can take the necessary steps to heal from the wounds created by others. Be willing to get help.
This is really fantastic advice for anyone going through a difficult time – betrayal, loss, sickness, or anything else you can think of. Sleep. Eat. Talk to someone. Do everything in moderation, nothing to excess. If you are on medication, take it. Focus on yourself.
Today I had a really rough time. I am sick on top of a number of other things. Still, I took my antidepressants and vitamins, remembered my cold medicine every 4 hours, put 2 different types of drops in my ear for an infection, and got a moderate amount of rest. I ate, and although it wasn’t particularly healthy (pizza) I did limit myself to only 2 pieces. I also made sure to have carrots and other healthy snacks throughout the day. I didn’t isolate myself – I called a friend, talked to my Mom and Dad (separately), cuddled with my dogs, and made it outside at least 3 or 4 times. I also cleaned the house some and took time for myself to write this. I will be going to bed at a decent hour.
As for getting help, that is definitely a must. I look forward to my weekly sessions with the therapist. I enjoy my S-Anon meetings. I am going to make time to go to the doctor very, very soon. I am finally realizing that I can’t do it all on my own, and that is okay. It is actually quite a relief.
7. Be aware of your own humanity. As CS Lewis says, “All saints must keep one nostril keenly attuned to their own inner cesspool.” Be willing to consider what you’ve been forgiven. Maintaining an awareness of what others have had to forgo for your sake will help you find patience for others. A self-righteous attitude will cut you off from the very thing you seek.
I have a lot of faults. I make a lot of mistakes. I require a lot of forgiveness. This list isn’t even close to complete, but I can name so many things off the top of my head that need to be improved in me. I am stubborn to a fault. I am competitive – I always want to win, even when it has gone past the point of being enjoyable or productive. I am disorganized most of the time – my clothes are thrown around in piles, my shoes clutter up the house, I am horrible about leaving things sitting on any flat surface available, and when I do organize it is by my own system, which is nearly indecipherable to others. I tend to put things off (I have several t-shirts about procrastination to proudly declare that to the world, too).
I can be petty. I curse way too much. I eat unhealthy things and sabotage my own weight-loss. I say mean things to people, sometimes aimed purposefully at what I know are their weakest spots. I yell. I over-think. I am a horrible pet owner. When I am happy I get complacent and lazy, disregarding all my other responsibilities to revel in the happiness. I lose myself in other people, especially when I am in a romantic relationship.
I am controlling. I am a perfectionist. I have a really bad image of myself. I smile at the most inappropriate times – like when I’m uncomfortable, when I’m feeling insecure, at funerals, etc. I cry when I get really angry, which makes me angrier, which in turn makes me cry more.
I often take a holier-than-thou attitude. When I do that it usually indicates an area that I need to examine further in myself. I have a lot of things to figure out. I have started working on my issues, and I will continue to do so – maybe for the rest of my life.
So there it is… another glimpse into my mess. It really isn’t beautiful at all.