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

Are You Forgivable? Part 2: 7 Myths Undermining Forgiveness

Unfaithful forgivable after infidelity

Series:

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

Are you forgivable? As I mentioned in Are You Forgiveable? Part 1, this is partly determined by your current beliefs about forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different things, but reconciliation is not possible without forgiveness. If you’re not willing to explore why you may be difficult to forgive after infidelity, you’ll sabotage the important relationships in your life.

I believe there is a great deal of confusion around what it means to forgive. For the sake of our discussion on being forgivable, let me delineate between the two types of forgiveness. The first type I’ll refer to as forgiveness. Forgiveness is a personal matter and has little or nothing to do with the other person. It is an internal decision that releases (exonerates, absolves) the other person’s hold on you for the wrongs committed against you. This internal forgiveness is a gift you give yourself that frees you to move forward. It frees you from resentments and bitterness, but it has nothing to do with reconciliation.

The second type of forgiveness I’ll refer to as reconciliation. It is certainly possible to forgive, but not to reconcile with the offending party. Being forgivable refers to the offending party being safe enough for the offended party to take the risk of reconciliation. While someone may choose to forgive (release, exonerate, absolve) another person for the harm done, it doesn’t mean they have to reconcile. Reconciliation is dependent on safety. This is what I’m referring to when I talk about being forgivable. Are you safe? Are you someone who has proven to be trustworthy and worth the risk of relationship?

Misperceptions about forgiveness may be one of the reasons others struggle with forgiving you. Believing the following forgiveness myths will make you very difficult to forgive. For their own sake, the offended party may be able to forgive what you’ve done, but your beliefs about forgiveness can be a deal breaker when it comes to restoring the relationship. If you were living on the other side of you what is it about your beliefs that would make reconciliation difficult? 

Myth 1: If I say I’m sorry you have to forgive me.

Forgiveness is a gift, not an inalienable right. If someone you trusted embezzled a significant amount of your money and then said they were really sorry, would you simply forgive them? If they reminded you they had said they're sorry so you have to forgive them, would that make you more likely to say, “You’re right,” and go on as if nothing happened? If that person wasn’t concerned about the trouble they’d caused, if they weren’t interested in doing whatever they could to help you recover, would you have any desire to continue in the relationship?

Twelve step programs teach the need to make “living amends”. It’s not just a matter of saying you’re sorry, it’s also living out your amends, doing what is necessary to help the other person recover what you’ve taken from them. It’s focusing more on the damage you’ve done to them than on how they’re responding to you. Being forgivable has no expectation of reconciliation; it’s doing everything you can to help them heal from the damage you’ve done.

Myth 2: If you truly forgive me then you will trust me.

Back to the above mentioned analogy: Let’s say you chose to forgive the friend who embezzled a significant amount of your money. You have accepted what they did and let go of any desire for vengeance. You even came to the point of wanting nothing but good for them (the first type of forgiveness).  If they said they told you they were really sorry would you feel comfortable blindly trusting them with your money again or would it take time for you determine whether they are trustworthy? After you file for bankruptcy banks will not extend you a large line of credit. In fact, for a season, they would extend you no credit at all. From their perspective you’re not a good risk. When they’re finally willing extend credit it will only be for a small amount. They require you prove that you can be trustworthy before they will once again trust you. It is the same with the hurt spouse. You murdered the marital union and in the process devastated your mate.  It’s normal for couples to make incremental moves in reestablishing trust. It’s the process of proving you can be trusted that opens the door to complete restoration. Forgiveness is a gift, but trust is reestablished over time by an individual repeatedly showing trustworthiness.

Myth 3: If you forgive me then we shouldn’t have to talk about it anymore.

It’s true that after forgiveness the offended party will no longer need to punish or seek revenge, but processing (talking about) what happened isn’t punishment. If someone has been traumatized they may choose to forgive, but it will take time and proper support to come to the point where they can understand and accept what has happened. Healing a traumatic wound requires talking about it until the betrayed spouse can wrap his or her mind around it. If they’re grieving and emotional that doesn’t mean they haven’t forgiven, they just want to understand. The only reason the injured party keeps talking about it isn’t because they don’t want to be with you, they talk about it because they’re trying to understand it so they can be with you.

Myth 4: I shouldn’t have to admit I’m wrong if they don’t admit where they’re wrong.

You’ll never be forgivable if you require reciprocity from the one you’ve offended. Requiring the other party to also ask for forgiveness allows you to escape taking responsibility and provides justification for what you’ve done. Asking someone to forgive you has nothing to do with what they’ve done. Blackmailing the other person to also admit their wrongs is not asking for forgiveness; it’s asking for justification for your wrong actions. I’m responsible for me. Hopefully I care enough about others to be grieved when I hurt them and hope they can heal, regardless of whether they take responsibility for their actions.

Myth 5: I deserve to be forgiven.

To believe you deserve to be forgiven mitigates the sacrifice of the wounded party to forgive you and makes you unforgiveable. Forgiveness is a gift, not a right. When we wound another person, what we deserve is the loss of the relationship. We can only hope that we don’t get what we deserve and that they extend mercy and grace. Forgiveness may seem easy to give, but forgiveness comes at a great cost to the wounded party.

Myth 6: I don’t deserve to be forgiven, so why even ask?

That’s the point: we don’t deserve to be forgiven. Living in self-pity is pathetic. Taking away the other person’s choice to forgive is cowardly. To be forgivable you need the courage to let the other person make their own choice about forgiveness. Be willing to accept the mercy and grace another extends to you if they so choose.

Myth 7: Forgiveness is a one-time event.

If you believe forgiveness is a one-time event, you’ll never be safe to forgive because you’ll never respect the efforts the other party has to go through to work through everything you’ve done. Forgiveness is a willingness to live with the consequences of another person’s sin, but each one of those consequences has to be worked through. If the person who’s choosing to forgive is committed to releasing the ongoing pain of what you’ve done, then appreciate the sacrifices they are making for your sake.

These are just a few of the myths the unfaithful spouse may believe that make it difficult to be forgivable after infidelity. If you’re grieved about the pain you’ve caused another person then you’ll be forgivable, but if you’re worried about the potential cost of asking for forgiveness you won’t be very forgivable.

If you are struggling with this concept because of shame, defensiveness, or ambivalence, I’d invite you to consider joining a Hope for Healing group, which is a safe place to work through each of the most common barriers to recovery.  

 

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forgiveness

I love your articles. I keep trying to encourage my spouse to join your emails. He hasn't yet but I will forward this one to him too. Maybe one day.

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