Kelsey’s husband of twelve years does not come home one evening and she knew he was with a former lover. When she confronted him, he begged her for another chance, but her pride and anger held her back. Kelsey said she would feel like a fool if she forgave him, even though she still loved him. Kelsey didn’t end the relationship, but reminds him daily of what he did to her.
Should Kelsey forgive her otherwise good husband for what he did? Of course, only she can make this decision.
The fact is, most marriages cannot survive the knowledge of an affair, but some do and can even grow stronger in the long run.
Kelsey, and others who struggle with forgiveness for all kinds of marital offenses (not only affairs) can be helped in their decision by considering the following misconceptions about forgiveness:
Forgiving means that you forget about the offense.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even though you forgive, you may never forget (and probably shouldn’t) what happened to you.
However, you can tell that you have truly forgiven an offense when you can remember it without experiencing the emotional pain connected with it.
Forgiving means that you are saying what they did was okay.
Quite the opposite. We can still forgive, but see what happened to us as unjust, unfair, or unacceptable.
There are many things that our partners can do to us that we don’t deserve or that violate the contract, covenant, or agreement you have with each other.
Yet, we can forgive by realizing that perhaps they were misguided, or flawed and thus worthy of another chance.
In order to forgive, you need to tell your partner that you forgive them.
Actually, it often backfires if you go up to someone and say “I forgive you,” especially if they see themselves as a victim instead of seeing themselves as someone who warrants forgiveness.
Fact is, forgiveness occurs in your heart— not in the telling someone that you forgive them.
There are exceptions to this, however, and circumstances under which you might want to discuss your forgiveness of them—but only if you think that it will not cause further harm.
For instance, Ruth’s husband asked for her forgiveness following a gambling spree which put the family in financial peril. After one year of rehabilitation and a “clean” record, Ruth told him that she now forgave him.
If you forgive, it means you will trust them again immediately.
Forgiveness and trust are two separate issues. Even after forgiveness, it may take a long time to re-build trust. To instantly trust your partner again after being violated is not a sign of good mental health or strong self-esteem.
Doing this may also send a message to your partner that they may continue to violate your trust with little fear of actually having to suffer the consequences.
Marital trust must be re-earned after an offense, based on good behavior— not just smooth words or empty promises.
After forgiving, you will automatically feel positive feelings again for your partner.
The opposite of anger is not love. Absence of angry feelings doesn’t necessarily create warm, positive feelings— sometimes it simply creates neutral ones.
In many cases, of course, it is impossible to ever rekindle the love feelings— even after forgiveness. This is common with ex-partners who learn to let go of the anger connected with the divorce issues, but never love each other again.
Forgiveness occurs all at once.
Not necessarily. Maybe you can start by forgiving maybe 10%—just open the door—and then see how your partner behaves. After a period of time, you might open the door a little wider and let go of a little more anger until you are truly able to forgive 100%