What was your reaction when you discovered your spouse’s infidelity? I doubt “I forgive you” was the first thing that came out of your mouth. Good. It shouldn’t have been.
It’s been said that “Easy forgiveness is cheap forgiveness.” If you’re going to forgive someone, you want to do it for the right reasons. You want to forgive with a healthy understanding of what forgiveness does and does not mean.
Misconceptions about Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not the same as saying that what your partner did was okay. It was certainly not okay to cheat.
Forgiveness is not letting him off the hook. The betrayer must own up to what he or she has done or it will be impossible to have a healthy marriage. An attitude such as “Well, men will be men” cannot be tolerated. Forgiveness does not overlook or minimize what has been done.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting what happened. It is physically impossible to forget that someone has hurt you in such a deep way.
Forgiveness is not acting as though the offense never occurred. An offense as big as the betrayal of your spouse is impossible to ignore. There will be consequences for the unfaithful partner’s actions. Some will be apparent right away, some will become more clear over time. The action of infidelity has been done and its consequences are unavoidable. To ignore them would mean living in denial.
Forgiveness is not the same as trusting your spouse again. It is the unfaithful partner’s responsibility to build trust in your relationship again. It is the betrayed spouse’s prerogative to forgive. Forgiveness opens the door for the unfaithful spouse to be able to rebuild trust, but it is not the same as instantly restoring trust.
Forgiveness is not a promise to never speak of the situation again. In affair recovery, the affair must be talked about up one side and down the other until both partners have enough understanding about how and why it happened that they reach a place of healing. Forgiveness can be given at any point in that process. Forgiveness will allow the conversations about the affair to occur without spite and vitriol.
Have you ever believed one of these misconceptions about forgiveness? Has that belief kept you trapped in a place of resentment or bitterness or grief?
The Truth About Forgiveness
What does true forgiveness look like?
Forgiveness is cancelling the debt the other person owes you. You will never be able to exact enough pounds of flesh to make things even. Your spouse can never do enough penance to make it up to you. If you choose to forgive, you must simply cancel the debt. Said another way, forgiveness is giving up your right to make them pay.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that forgiveness is “the act of ending anger at.” Living day after day with a mentality of unforgiveness is exhausting. You know that. After discovering infidelity in your marriage you have a thousand different thoughts, emotions, memories, and details to process, sort through and survive. Your mental, emotional and physical capacity are taxed to the limit and beyond. The anger you feel exacerbates every thought you have and every action you take. Forgiveness is the antidote to the poison of anger.
How do you know when you’ve forgiven somebody? This has been a question that I’ve asked myself many times. I’ve sought the answer from many different sources.
A mentor of mine, Kary Oberbrunner, provided me with the best answer I’ve heard to that question. He told me that I will know I have forgiven those who’ve wronged me when I’m able to wish them well.
Can anything be harder than wishing an offender well? How was I able to do it? As a person of faith, I looked at what God’s perspective of my situation must be. I remembered that I have wronged God thousands of times. I have done nothing, nor is there anything I can do to earn His forgiveness, His kindness or His favor. Yet, He cancelled my debt and showed me mercy. He forgave me when I was lost and had no interest in making amends with Him.
The knowledge that God bestowed forgiveness on me when I didn’t deserve it, certainly helped my perspective that I can forgive anyone who wrongs me. Even someone who isn’t seeking my forgiveness? Yes, because forgiveness involves having compassion. It begins with taking the perspective that hurting you was the byproduct of the other person’s trying to alleviate some need or pain point in his or her own life. It is facilitated by empathizing with another person’s situation.
Just to be clear, forgiveness is not a frame of mind that will passively come to you. In my case, I found that I had to work to have a forgiving heart for months. I read books, consulted mentors, prayed, and talked with trusted friends. One day as I was driving my car, I found myself saying a prayer for the other woman. I caught myself doing it and I was kind of surprised at my own prayer. At that point I realized the progress I was making in my attempts to forgive those who have wronged me.
Each of us who has been betrayed is confronted with the choice to forgive or not to forgive. In summary, it will be easier to forgive if you do the following:
- Educate yourself about what forgiveness does and does not mean.
- Empathize with the person who hurt you.
- Engage in forgiveness-friendly activities like consulting mentors and praying.
Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set the prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
My thoughts and prayers are with you as you decide if you will forgive. It will be one of the hardest yet most rewarding endeavors of your life. As always, let me know if I can help. firstname.lastname@example.org