Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Are You Forgivable? Part 1: Self Assessment

Series:

  1. Are You Forgivable? Part 1
  2. Are You Forgivable? Part 2
  3. Are You Forgivable? Part 3

When was the first time you ever really hurt your mate? Did you want them to forgive you? Did it hurt you to hurt them?

For Stephanie and me, that first major wound was in July 1978, just a few weeks after our June 24th wedding. (This month we are celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary.)

Being newlyweds, Steph wanted to be a great wife and for us to have a loving home. She had wrapped up her workday as quickly as possible and come home to prepare a wonderful supper. She had it on the table for the two of us to enjoy at 6:00 sharp, which is the time I told her I’d be home. The final task of my work that day was to complete a foster home study that was due the next day. Rather than taking a break from the interview and calling Steph to tell her I would be late, I kept plowing through the material telling myself the sooner I finished the sooner I could get home. I gave absolutely no thought to sacrifices Stephanie made planning and preparing the meal, nor did I consider her desire to display her love for me.

The second I walked through the door, over an hour late, I could tell she was upset. Needless to say the kiss and hug I received in the entryway hall was less than passionate. We went to the kitchen where the table had been meticulously set with our new dishes and silverware, and in the middle of it all set a cold meal.

“Where have you been?” she asked. “I told you about the foster home study I had to do.” “And you also told me that you would be home by 6 o'clock," she replied. "I worked really hard to get supper on the table so that we could eat as soon as you got home." “It's not like I was out having a good time" I snapped, "it just took longer than I expected.” “You could've at least had the courtesy to call when you knew you were going to be late." "I was doing everything I could to get home as quickly as possible," I told her. "I can't believe you’d treat me like this," she shouted. "I can't believe you’d treat ME like this," I shot back.

At that point I'd only known Stephanie for about nine months and didn’t have any idea how hurt and upset she’d be. I knew I had messed up by being over an hour late and not letting her know, so I decided to try to smooth things over.

“Okay, I’m sorry I was late,” I muttered. The moment that little “S” word slipped through my lips, the real fight began. “You’re sorry alright! You’re sorry you got caught, you’re sorry I’m mad, you’re sorry what this is going to cost you, you’re just sorry your ass is grass.…” In response I continued trying to pacify her by saying, “I mean it. I’m really sorry". To which she responded, "You're not sorry, you're just sorry that I'm mad. You're just sorry what this will cost you…” Then I got mad and yelled “I really am sorry!” Then we’d start the cycle over again. “You’re just sorry I’m mad!” “No, I am sorry!” On and on the battle would rage, trying to determine whether I was sorry and worthy of forgiveness.

In retrospect that’s the day we invented what we now call the “Sorry Fight”. For the next five years I don’t think there was ever a time when I’d say I was sorry that she ever agreed with me. Then in year six of our marriage I discovered the antidote to sorry fights: all I had to do was say I was wrong. While she had never agreed with me when I said I was sorry, there’s not a single time she’s ever disagreed with me when I said I was wrong. I discovered that I’d say I was sorry when Steph was upset even If I didn’t think I was wrong just to end the fight faster, but I wouldn’t say I was wrong unless I believed it to be true. That’s when I first realized my issue with conflict avoidance and how my lack of sincerity in my apologies wasn’t making me very forgivable.

When we betray our mate in big or small ways, we create a rift in the relationship. (Obviously the rift caused by minor offences pale in comparison to the relational chasm created by infidelity.) Infidelity along with all other unloving behaviors communicates to our mate that they don’t matter to us, that we don’t care about them, and that we’re not going to be there for them. Unless our actions communicate that they do matter to us, that we do care, and that we are going to be there for them, it will be difficult for our mate to feel safe enough to reconcile. The offended party is the one who has to write off the debt created by a betrayal, but it’s the unfaithful spouse who can provide the necessary conditions for that to happen.

If you are the unfaithful spouse or the one who has caused the wound (this is also applicable to smaller offenses that might occur in a marriage) and you would like to reconcile, here are brief descriptions of the steps you can take to become forgivable and create the conditions that help your mate to heal and to reconnect with you.

Step 1

Identify for yourself how your current beliefs about forgiveness prevent others from forgiving you. For example: You may mistakenly believe your mate has to forgive you. I personally believe that forgiveness is for your mate’s sake and is in their best interest. By releasing the need for retribution they set themselves free. Reconciliation, which many mistakenly believe to be the same as forgiveness, is optional and is typically based on whether the offending party is safe enough (forgivable). If you believe your mate has to reconcile with you, there’s a good chance that belief is blocking what you want.

Step 2

Be loving rather than codependent. Being forgivable requires emotional strength. You need to be able to be there for your mate, helping them heal, rather than beating yourself up with shame and self-contempt. Shame makes it all about you, and instead of helping your mate they’re burdened with having to take care of you. Shame is co-dependent and kills the appeal of being with you.

Step 3

This is a big one: Take responsibility for what you’ve done. Don’t talk about intentions, justifications, and/or minimizations. If you fail to take responsibility your mate loses hope that you’ll ever do what’s necessary to keep this from happening again.

Step 4

To the best of your ability, try to understand from your mate’s perspective what your actions have cost them. Allow yourself to grieve for your mate’s losses. Until your mate believes you are interested in understanding their pain they won’t feel they really matter to you or that you really care. Failure to see through their eyes makes it difficult to for your mate to let go and reconnect.

Step 5

Make sincere and appropriate apologies to your mate. Notice I said apologies, plural. It’s not a single event. There may well be a thousand consequences as a result of your choices and they have to work through and forgive each of those consequences. Continuing to express remorse and making amends as they go through the process lets them know you’re grieved over what you’ve done to them and helps make you forgivable.

Step 6

If you want to be forgivable, be willing to make restitutions. During the recovery process consider their needs as more important than your own and do what’s necessary to help them heal. For example: If your affair partner rode in your car, there’s a good chance that is now a trigger for your mate. Do what’s necessary and sell the car to make it safe for your mate to be with you.

Step 7

Taking responsibility for your personal reform is critical if you want to be forgivable. If your mate can’t see any effort on your part to make sure this never happens again it will be difficult for them to believe there’s hope for a safe future with you. There are many ways to accomplish this including 12-step work, accountability partners, counseling, etc. We suggest Hope for Healing as a starting point.

Step 8
Forgiveness is a process and takes time. Pressuring your mate to get over it doesn’t make you forgivable; in fact it makes it far more difficult for your mate to reconcile with you. Be patient. Instead of asking if they’ll please forgive you, which puts the burden on them to forgive, tell them you hope someday they can forgive you and that you’ll do whatever you can to help them toward that end.

I realize these brief descriptions may have created more questions than answers, but in the near future I’ll expand on each of these steps. In the meantime, do what you know to do. Take steps toward reform, tell your mate they have all the time they need to heal, and try to understand what it must have been like to live with you. Taking any of those steps helps you become more forgivable. If you haven’t already, join our free, seven-day First Steps Bootcamp for detailed, practical solutions for healing from infidelity. If you want more hands-on help to address your relationship, I invite you to consider attending an EMS Weekend. Whatever you decide to do, don’t allow yourself to remain stagnant. Move forward and embrace the small victories along the way. 

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Comments

#6

The betrayed do not realize how many triggers there are in our daily lives. I'm four years out and come across them hourly. I've sold cars, a house, moved cross country and I'm still haunted daily and usually hourly. It could be seeing the same type of car you sold, a song you heard during reconciliation, a place you were while the affair was happening, an old photo...they are everywhere.
They happen randomly. My partner will often ask what's wrong...9 times out of 10, it's a triggered memory. It just hurts and makes our hearts ache. So please have patience. Understand that it happens all day, every day. We will get through it. All we need is a little patience.

The betrayers

I do not understand how your triggers make your heart ache. If you are sad that you had to let your AP go how come you stay with your partner. I don't understand how come betrayers even feel bad. In all the emails I read my partner wasn't having a problem with their decision, they were having the time of their life while I sat at home with our children trying to figure out how to get stuff done and what I could do special for them. If a betrayer is triggering are they really remorseful or just sad they had to give up their cake?

So sorry...my mistake.

I meant to say that the BETRAYER does not understand the triggers.

I am speaking as one whose spouse had an affair.
I'm very sorry for any heartache or confusion. Others got it. ..but I can feel that mistake hurt you.
I'm so very, deeply sorry for the typo.

Triggers

Fours years and it's still happening, that seems so daunting, does it get any better? It's only been 3 months since I found out my husband of 20 years had a 2 month affair. The triggers don't stop, they consume me when they happen. I try to stop thinking about the thoughts the trigger brought on but it's like I'm obsessed though I tell myself to stop. I find myself having to share them with my husband as soon as possible or I become almost buried under them. When I get to talk through them, I find there's usually a question about affair details that I'm still needing answers or reassurance about. I've never felt and acted so needy before, it's unsettling, I've always been the strong one that everyone comes to. It's changed me and I'm afraid I'll never get that strength back. I'm afraid that I will always be a shell of myself. Does it come back? I have been through some horrible things but this is the worst I have ever felt. I think it's because he's the only person in my entire life that I have ever trusted with my heart and soul, or maybe we all feel this way? I'm so sorry that you have had to go through this.

Feeling your pain

Believe me. I sat right there where you are. Hurting. Aching. Crying. Confused. Screaming on the inside.
But do trust me when I say. ..it gets better. It took a long time for me, longer than most, but you begin to find balance and stability. This will always hurt you. It will always be there. But with time, you begin to understand your feelings. Little by little. It comes together. It is then that you'll be able to be rational and understand just what happened to you.
It's not going to come easy. Each year I noted that I felt better than the one before. You will too. Then you can decide what you want to do. Until then, find support, find an understanding confidante. Therapists didn't work for me, but knowing and hearing from others who experienced it helped me the most. That ms why I keep reading these posts.
I'm still in pain. I have children and I'm stuck where I am for now. But I feel more in control. I feel better.
If I could hold and hug you
..I would. I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone. It's unlike anything I've ever experienced.
I promise you will feel better. I can't promise a perfect ending, but I can tell you that you will one day breath easier and you will feel much better than you do now.
I will keep you in my thoughts.

Triggers

I've been having trigger effects for going on 6 yrs so I'm not sure it ever stops. I was obsessed with the issue and constantly reminded of the infidelity at first and now it is rare. When something triggers my sad memory i just remember how good my life is now and how we have worked hard to overcome the trouble. We now have the relationship we wanted all along but screwed it up earlier. I do remember those very dark disturbing first months and remember thinking it would never get better. I can tell you it does and forgiveness is key. These tips are excellent and help both people in the marriage. My husband carried his affair on for 10 yrs and I never thought I could get through it. You can. Forgive and keep moving to get on with the recovery.

Hi Sherry,

Hi Sherry,

Not trying to sound nosy but I truly don't understand forgiveness apparently. My husband had a one-night stand and I divorced him. We were in the midst of reconciling after separating (not mutual; he left) so I couldn't believe he would throw it all away for a stranger. And then lie about it for months. So I'm just curious, how/why were you able to do it if this went on for a decade?

I'm I the same boat

My husband of 20'years had a weekend fling with an out of town friend. He convinced me to stay but I found out he was planning another trip with her and I blew up! He's given her up and doing all he can to show remorse and try to make things work. I've never had anything consume my thoughts like this. I found out six months ago and did not tell friends or family. There are days I feel like I'm going crazy. I've never been nosy but I'm continually looking for signs of deceit. The other woman occasionally tries to make contact with him but he ignores her texts and email. She is married and her family never found out. She got to have the time of her life (I read the email). I know in my heart he loves me, but he misses the attention he got from her. I've never felt so insecure and there are days that I don't know myself.

he ignores her texts and email

I just want to say he should block her from all of his accounts or get all new accounts. Are you both in any of the AR courses? So sorry...traveling the same crooked path...unwillingly.

triggers

Its has been almost three years since D-day. I feel different inside and don't foresee ever getting back that feeling I had before finding out about the affair. It was an emotional affair that lasted for 20 and a half months. "Friends" it makes me sick to hear that word. The lying the betrayal nothing compares, and unfortunately my husband uses bullying as his tactic to "make it go away." Everything is a trigger I totally agreed with Betrayed. I need a cell phone but that was the primary weapon of our marriages destruction. How do you continue with someone that makes you happy and empty at the same time? How do you get that feeling back, that comfort and happiness, feeling special? I read everyone's comments and even people who proudly say they survived and are happy years later are still not 100%, they still read blogs and comment about surviving the trauma, they still live it.

I have the same question -

I have the same question - how do you ever get back there? Or if you're in a better place after recovery - what is that like? Next week is 1 year for me for our 1st d-day.

Triggers

It's been just two years since the 2nd and 3rd D-day, and 28 months since the first D-day. Not that I found out three times, but I found out there were three DIFFERENT woman At the same time over a 23 month period while my husband was working out of town. You ask if you can get "it" back?? Im not sure that you can, although I DO think you can get something back but it's never the same as the so called triggers just don't go away. Most of what I have read here and other sites is that it takes an average of 18 - 24 months. Some may get over it sooner and others later and others never at all. For me, I don't think I will ever get entirely over it, and it will never go away. The distrust and the not knowing is always lurking in the corners of my mind. Is there something wrong with me that I can't get over it?? Maybe, but when you have given everything to your family and your husband for so many years it's hard to just throw it away. Will I ever be truly happy staying with him? That I don't know but would I be happy without him, probably not. I guess you just have to take the good with the bad and make the best of it the badly that you can. It does get better with time, the triggers aren't everyday for me but they are there lurking most days. I have to suck it up and move on..... I hope things get better for you and you can be happy someday with or without your husband. Just remember to take care of yourself!

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