I’ve been talking a lot in the comments lately about forgiveness and repentance. These are two very important topics in affair recovery, for obvious reasons. I’ve decided to make them each a separate post because the first part, Forgiveness, was getting really long. I’ll write the second part soon.
These are my thoughts on forgiveness. I know some people will disagree, but that’s okay. My perspective on forgiveness differs from most of my readers because I am the forgiven, not the forgiver. But the reason I have this perspective is because my awesome wife, who I betrayed, has shown me forgiveness in a way I’ve never known. Besides, I figure you come to my blog to read what I think, so here it goes.
As a prerequisite for forgiveness, the betrayed spouse has to fully admit to the depth of hurt that the cheater has inflicted upon them. For my wife, that meant acknowledging all the different aspects of my betrayal, both physical and emotional. It wouldn’t have done any good if she had forgiven the fact that I had sex with Scarlet, but she ignored the fact that I also loved her.
It doesn’t do any good to pretend that some part of the betrayal is not a big deal, or only kind of a big deal, and to forgive it on those terms. You’re not really forgiving if you do that because you’re not being honest with what they did to you. Whatever you are ignoring or refusing to face is the seed for future problems.
What I’m saying may be obvious to you – hell, it may be obvious to everyone – but it’s important to remember this. It’s painful to do a full accounting of the hurts, but until you face them you can’t move past them.
Having faced all the ways your spouse has hurt you, you have to recognize that forgiveness is not something they can ever earn. There is no way they can pay for what they did to you because the debt is too great. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for repentance and remorse, but those things restore the relationship, which is different than forgiveness. (They are still necessary for the cheater as I’ll discuss in the post on Repentance and Remorse)
Forgiveness is a choice and it is a process. When you forgive your spouse for what they did, you are being the better the person. You are choosing to treat them with love. You are choosing not to hold their sin against them for the rest of their lives. You are choosing to recognize the horrendous ways they have hurt you and to then treat them in grace and love.
That choice will have to be made over and over. Choosing to forgive doesn’t make the anger go away on it’s own, that takes time and a pattern of choosing to turn away from anger to forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t make the hurt go away, either. Even after the immediate pain goes away, you are going to carry the scars of what your spouse did to you. I know it’s hard because I’ve seen my wife make that choice over and over, even in the midst of the anger and pain.
There is a parallel here worth examining. Forgiveness is a choice but it is also a feeling. Likewise, love is a choice as well as a feeling. You may choose to forgive someone over and over each time feelings of resentment and anger come up, but eventually you may feel forgiving, too. In the same way, you may choose to love someone even when the feeling isn’t there, even when you hate their guts, but you may find that the feeling of love comes back, too.
By the way, I’ve seen and heard some bad advice on forgiving (God willing, I’m not making my own contribution here). Here is a list of what forgiveness is not or what it does not do.
Some say you have to forget to forgive. Besides being impossible, it’s just wrong. Forgiving means not remembering, which is different. Not remembering means you don’t bring it up when you fight. It means not treating someone as less than a full person because of what they did. In short, it means not holding this memory over the other person for all eternity.
Forgiveness is not the same are restoring or building trust. Just because my wife forgives me doesn’t mean that trust automatically came back. Trust is created through a pattern of behavior that is trustworthy.
Forgiveness is not accepting what your spouse did as okay. What they did is not okay, and if it were there would be no need to forgive. Forgiving means accepting the fact that your spouse has betrayed and hurt you and then choosing not to punish them or to hold it over them.
A final point on forgiveness is this: it is for the betrayed as much as for the betrayer. To paraphrase an old proverb, “unforgiveness is the poison you drink hoping the other person dies.” It may be that the betrayer never repents or feels remorse. It may be that the relationship is too broken to be mended. It may be that all you can do is have pity for your stupid, selfish, broken former spouse from afar. But if you don’t forgive them, you are poisoning yourself, not them. You are carrying an unnecessary burden, one which will forever pull you down. You’ll never be able to really live your life in freedom unless you lay that burden down.
(For my Christian readers: You might have picked up on some similarities between my view of forgiveness and what Jesus taught and did for us: forgiving those who hate, forgiving even 7 times 70, loving your neighbor, showing the grace you’ve been given to others, turning the other cheek instead of demanding justice, etc. I would also suggest that when you lay that burden down – that burden of pain and betrayal that someone has placed on you – that you give it to God.)