The Role of Forgiveness When Infidelity Strikes Your Marriage

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self helpYou may ask, “Why should I forgive myself? I did nothing wrong. It was the offender who violated me.”

But the issue here is not how you wronged him. It’s how you may have allowed him to hurt you

How did you do this? What do you need to forgive yourself for?

You may want to start by forgiving yourself for such self-effacing, self-destructive behaviors as:

  • Trusting blindly, and ignoring your suspicions.
  • Having such a stunted view of yourself when you do not feel entitled to loyalty or love.
  • Making unfair comparisons by idealizing the lover and degrading yourself.
  • Believing you got what you deserved; viewing your mistreatment as punishment, and allowing it to shatter and shame you.
  • Dismissing your suffering and failing to appreciate how deeply you’ve been wounded.
  • Refusing to forgive yourself, even when you’re innocent.
  • Tolerating the offender’s abusive behavior.
  • Making peace at any cost, no matter how superficial or spurious it may be, or how unsafe or miserable the offender makes you feel.
  • Losing time and energy engaging in imaginary, vindictive dialogues with him.

Choose Acceptance over Revenge

When somebody deliberately wrongs you, it’s not unusual to want to inflict on him the pain he inflicted on you. But you should remind yourself that what usually brings lasting satisfaction is not hurting someone but having your own hurt understood and validated. And that’s unlikely to come from a recalcitrant offender, no matter how brutally you punish him.

Retribution is also bound to provoke the offender and set up an endless cycle of reprisals and counter-reprisals, with escalating bitterness and violence.

Your mind is likely to become a battleground, overrun with fruitless fantasies of revenge that block you from living your life in ways that generate pleasure or meaning.

With acceptance, you learn to let go of this reflexive white rage – this blind need to wound or get even. You realize that though revenge may give voice to your pain, it will not douse your inflamed thoughts or feelings, or restore your place in the world. In the end, you’ll find that your wound remains unhealed, and that stoking your anger has brought neither peace nor resolution.

The goal of revenge is to crucify the offender. The goal of acceptance is to resurrect your best self. Revenge is other-directed; acceptance is inner-directed.

When you contain your obsessions, the offender becomes less important to you than you are to you. Getting back or getting even becomes less important than getting well.

Keep in mind that when you accept someone, you don’t essentially relinquish your need for justice or just punishment. Deciding to accept a partner who cheated on you or divorced you for your best friend doesn’t stop you from seeking legal recourse – hiring a competent attorney and going for the best financial and child custody settlement you can get.

Acceptance doesn’t demand that you seek justice or restitution, but it doesn’t prevent those options either. In the final analysis, the critical issue is not whether the offender gets his due but whether you free yourself from your emotional dependence on him and move beyond his transgression.

When You Refuse To Forgive Yourself

Lifting blame from the offender’s shoulders and transferring It to your own may be your way of protecting him and keeping your image of him untarnished and intact. Blaming yourself also simplifies your vision of the world and frees you from the role of victim. It puts you back in charge.

You may want to ask yourself, “Do I have a pattern of ‘unforgivingness’ toward myself, a lifelong tendency to berate myself for anything bad that happens, even those events over which I have no control? Am I unrelentingly tough on myself, tougher than I need to be or than the facts warrant?

Do I ignore extenuating circumstances that aren’t my fault? Were my parents or guardians excessively punitive, shaming, or unforgiving? Did they go for the jugular and make me feel rotten about myself? Did I buy into their criticism?” Understanding these pernicious childhood patterns may help you grow out of them.

When a woman named Mary caught her husband, Sam, in bed with a neighbor, she could no longer deny what was going on. Sam seemed genuinely sorry, even relieved to be discovered, and worked hard to regain her trust. “For twenty years I knew he was cheating on me,” Mary told me.

“Now that it’s out in the open and Sam is reaching out to me, I think I can forgive him. But what’s harder, much harder, is forgiving myself. How do I do that when I’ve been so stupid, so not there for myself for twenty years?”

What Mary found is that it’s sometimes easier to forgive others than to forgive yourself, sometimes simpler to accept their mistreatment than to confront your own self-denying behavior.

If you are feeling vengeful and may want to settle scores, we recommend that you first ask yourself:

  • In the end, what am I after? Do I want the offender to feel my pain? If I hurt him back, how will I benefit? Are there ways other than retribution that will get me what I want?
  • Ultimately, does it matter what happens to this person who violated me, so long as I restore my self-esteem and my capacity to live a good life? What response will best help me recapture my dignity, my self-respect, my sense of control over the world?
  • If he refuses to acknowledge my pain, where else can I go for comfort and support?

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