It can be very hard to forgive someone who has broken your trust, but if your marriage necessitates forgiveness, you must try. How do you do it?
Caren and Jacques were the perfect couple. After being married for seven years, having two kids together and both having stable careers, Jacques cheated on Caren with a woman he met at the gym.
The affair only lasted a short time, but it led him down a path of strip clubs, Internet pornography and multiple lies. For two years, Caren felt like she didn’t even know her husband. He became a stranger to her, a person who didn’t respect her.
After attending a faith-based camp for men, Jacques turned his life around. He admitted all his transgressions and sins, showed true remorse and asked for forgiveness. But this was a big request from his side . . .
On his website, marriage and family therapist Bernell Christensen writes that he regularly works with spouses who find it hard to forgive their partners after years of betrayal. “A partner can experience rejection, confusion, feelings of inadequateness and self-doubt, as well as other strong emotions.
“If you don’t deal with these emotions in a productive and healthy way, it can become toxic. These feelings can damage the health and wellbeing of the spouse who is experiencing the negative emotions, and it can cause damage in the relationship.”
Maybe you can relate with Caren’s story. No marriage is completely free of transgressions. Everyone is prone to saying something in the heat of the moment, but if you hurt your partner, you must be prepared to ask him/her for forgiveness and accept the consequences. The people that we love the most, are often the ones that we hurt the most. In many marriages, forgiveness is something that needs to happen often.
What is forgiveness?
Christianity, as well as many other religions, promotes forgiveness. It is a God-given instruction, but it’s one thing to say you forgive your partner and a completely different thing to truly forgive him or her. For example, it isn’t true forgiveness when you say that you can forgive, but not forget. If you can’t put something behind you, then you have not truly forgiven.
Forgiveness means freeing yourself from a range of negative emotions and energy. It’s about letting go of your bitterness, rage and frustration, and replacing it with a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for your own blessings, talents and self-worth, as well as for the positive things that your partner contributes to your relationship. Forgiveness is the tool that you use to give you peace and takes a weight off your shoulders.
Why is forgiveness necessary?
Forgiveness makes you stronger. However, many women feel that forgiveness would make them weaker and more vulnerable. They are also scared that by forgiving their partner, their partner won’t understand how hurt they are and may transgress in the same way again in the future. However, trying to punish your partner isn’t the answer.
Mahatma Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
The inability to forgive can become a prison, says Dr Nicki P Anderson on www.nikianderson.com. If you can’t forgive your husband for the pain he has caused you, you won’t be able to forget about it, the wounds will get deeper and your rage and fear won’t subside.
Pride often stands in the way of true forgiveness. Although some women walk away from the marriage, they continue to feed their rage. This can increase their stress levels and lead to other psychological and physical problems.
If you continue holding on to your hurt, disappointments and rage, you are wasting your precious time and energy. Harbored hurt will lead to bitterness and hate, which in turn will lead to spiritual and physical ailments.
How do you forgive?
You have to practice forgiveness. There is no magical solution, but you have to free yourself from anything you are holding onto. This implies that the change needs to happen within you, but you also have to proactively change your thoughts and behavior. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend that nothing happened and that everything is normal, but you must realize that true forgiveness is a process that requires hard work and time.
If your partner has done something that requires your forgiveness, try the following:
- Call the transgression or hurt by its name. Say: “You went to a strip club, had a lap dance and lied to me about it. This hurt me a lot because it feels like you don’t respect me or the intimacy we share.” Ask questions such as: “What moral code did you break, what does this mean and what are the consequences?”
- Experience true healing. You may feel that you don’t want to revisit the painful situation, but if you try to avoid the healing and recovery that need to take place, it could lead to more pain and hurt. You need to admit, feel and experience the pain that you feel. Tell yourself that it’s okay to feel hurt because your partner broke your trust.
- Break the silence. It can benefit you to share the details of the transgression with a therapist, a trusted person or a legal advisor (depending on the nature of the transgression). To heal and to forgive requires that you admit that something is wrong and that someone is to blame.
- Prevent the situation from happening again. You need to do everything in your power to stop the transgression from taking place again. If the transgression entails your husband going to a strip club, you may feel that the situation is beyond your control. What you can do, is to tell your husband that you won’t tolerate this type of pain and hurt again, and that he will have to protect you from this pain and hurt in the future.
- Restore the balance in your relationship. The balance will be restored when the transgressor accepts the consequences of his or her actions. If your husband is addicted to Internet pornography, admits there is a problem and joins a support group, then he is accepting responsibility and trying to change. You can’t force him to change by withholding sex.
- Be honest and forgive. To receive the full benefits of forgiveness, you need to forgive your partner by saying it out loud. Be specific about what you are forgiving him for. Don’t say “I should forgive”, “I will forgive” or “I want to forgive”.
Remember that even though the Bible tells us to continue forgiving each other, it doesn’t mean that you should stay in a damaging or dangerous situation. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, but if you have been able to work through the forgiveness process and your partner continues to mistreat you, lie to you or cheat on you, it’s time to get professional help or even end the hurtful relationship. In this situation, the process of forgiveness will take even longer (www.marriage.about.com).