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

Are You Forgivable? Part 2: 7 Myths Undermining Forgiveness

Are You Forgivable 7 Myths

Series: Are You Forgivable?

  1. Are You Forgivable? Part 1: Self Assessment
  2. Are You Forgivable: Part 2: 7 Myths Undermining Forgiveness
  3. Are You Forgivable: Part 3: Stupid Apologies

Are you forgivable? As I mentioned in Are You Forgivable? 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. However, 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 while continuing to further injure your partner.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 does NOT 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? Are you willing to make amends with those you’ve devastated by your actions?

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 certain tightly held beliefs about forgiveness can be a deal breaker when it comes to restoring the relationship. Here are 7 myths about forgiveness which will complicate the reconciliation process.

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 far 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 to one day extend credit it will only be for a small amount. Oddly enough, they will require you to prove you can be trustworthy before they will once again trust you. It’s 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. Yet a key fact the unfaithful spouse often misses is the need of the betrayed spouse to process what has happened. An even deeper truth lies in understanding that processing (i.e. 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 really, truly 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. If they can’t get to a peaceful place of processing, it’s wrong to assume they will ever be able to be with you, the unfaithful spouse, for any reasonable length of time.

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. This is a tough point to process in the mind of the unfaithful. Requiring the other party to also ask for forgiveness allows you to escape taking responsibility and provides more 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 and excruciating lengths 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 moral failure, 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 truly forgivable after infidelity. If you’re grieved about the pain you’ve caused another person then you’ll do the work to be forgivable. Alternatively, if you’re worried about the potential cost of asking for forgiveness you won’t be very forgivable at all.

If you are struggling with this concept because of shame, defensiveness, or ambivalence, I’d invite you to consider attending our EMS Weekend. It’s a safe place for both spouses to work through not only barriers to recovery but establishing new patterns of communication and relational safety.   

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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.

Should forgiveness be requested?

I've always been taught that when I've hurt or wronged someone, I need to say I'm sorry and ask forgiveness, and it's what I taught our children. Now that I've excruciatingly and repeatedly been betrayed by narcissism, porn, and infidelities; and I continually work through the costly process of forgiving and releasing even though I have no trust that my husband's heart and attitudes have changed, I question that teaching. When he is caught, after an onslought of initial anger and defensiveness, he says he's sorry and asks me to forgive hm. I find myself uneasy, and wish he wouldn't request forgiveness. It puts me in the position of needing to answer him; to refuse is ammunition for him to pronounce me hard and bitter. From past experience, I know forgiveness is a private process, and takes place because of my relationship with God and my need to rise above the circumstances to live joyfully. Are we ever told in scripture, or is it ever implied, that we are responsible to ask for forgiveness? It seems an effort to place the burden of the sin on the victim in an effort to be rid of one's own responsibility. What I would rather hear is an attitude of taking full ownership of the sin, saying, "I was wrong; I sinned grievously." I need to see genuine sorrow and grief, with concern for me rather than to see himself exonerated. I've never heard any teaching against asking for forgiveness, but from my perspective, I wonder...

Great article! My struggle

Great article! My struggle as the betrayed spouse right now is, I'm working toward forgiving my wife (I've been asking Jesus to show me specifically all the areas I need to forgive so I can be thorough). I'm not expecting any reconciliation because she chose to leave me and our kids for her affair partner and is still in that relationship, going so far as filing for divorce against my wishes so she can be free to marry him. So the struggle is, while I do plan on forgiving her and am committed to doing that, it's VERY frustrating to have to talk to her as she knows there's been deep hurt on her part to me and the kids, but wants to have conversations like we're still together and in unity. I'm guessing on her part she knows that since we have to still talk because of the kids, she wants to at least make those conversations somewhat "regular", while I just want to give as short of answers as possible and then get off the phone. It's just perpetually frustrating knowing that she's still in no way been repentant or broken over what she's done but wants to be friends with me.

Same struggle

My husband was having a long distance affaire and eventually left me after many lies and hurtful actions. Then Three months after leaving me he started another relationship with a young local girl. I want to forgive him for my own peace of mind but like you I must face this selfish person weekly due to our young children and my pain and anger returns each time. I wish I could get past this. I feel I need him to feel sorry or remorseful but he is happy and could not care less about the harm he has caused to three people he once loved.

Forgiveness

Everyone reading your comment will feel your pain. As all betrayed spouses will know, there is no comparable pain. It does literally feel like your heart has been broken. We understand your frustration in maintaining a "normal" dialogue with your wife for the sake of your children. Does she feel guilt - who knows, and you may possibly never know. You are to be commended for "wanting to forgive her" and I can state from my own experience that is a very slow and hard process. I am now 3 years out from D-day. I spent over 2 years trying to work towards forgiveness, only to have my trust in my partner continually tested. In the end I made the decision that I did not want to wake up every morning for the rest of my life, wondering if my husband was lying/deceiving me and as such choose to end a 41 year marriage. I try to "pretend" that my life is better, and there are some aspects that are ie complete control of the TV remote :) - but as AR notes, this is not the road that I ever planned on traveling and no matter how hard you try, painful memories do invade, if not daily on a regular basis. Stay strong for your children and seek support where you can. M

forgiveness after separation

the defensiveness of my partner for his actions makes processing almost impossible. i was 3 treatments into 6 months of chemotherapy when i discovered his affair. he kept breaking my trust, i kept needing his support in my mind. i have two small children, 6 and 10. he has justified his actions by blaming me for so many things, more than i can bear on top of illness. he has left but still wants to 'support'me through cancer, expecting me to accept him spending time with his affair partner, and then to come into my home and have nice family time, supposedly being there for me. when i told him i couldn't bear this anymore he told me i was being manipulative, and got angry. i cannot believe the pain i am in emotionally, i need support so desperately that i accepted his terms for a while, but today i said no more... the result is rove on my own with my two kids with more cancer treatment to come. i am tired beyond belief. he said oh well i'll just have to support you by giving you time out from the kids, which he gadfly done once since leaving four months ago.., but the twist is, i don't want time out from my kids, these might be my presidiums last years with them, why would i want them away fro me 50% of the time??? this is so complicated... his affair partner is a widow with two teenage boys and he's said to me 'she has no one you know, she's a sole parent, what about her needs and her boys'... he lost his father to cancer as a teenager...
i can't help but wider why he isn't thinking what about my wife and my own kids who might lose her???

I want you to know that you

I want you to know that you're not alone in your battle against cancer. I found out I had cancer a few months after finding out about my husbands latest affair (while pregnant w/my 9th child). If you need anyone to talk to during your treatments, please contact me thru this website if it'll allow you to. So far I'm still cancer free almost 2 years later and I'd love to be there for you so you don't feel all alone like I did when I was going thru treatment. My husband was like yours- "helping" me in non-helpful ways, never bothering to ask me what I wanted or needed and getting angry at me when I didn't appreciate his efforts. Keep fighting. Your children need you so much!

Being Forgivable

I was the perpetrator in our marriage. I take full responsibility for my horrible behavior. My wife suffers from PTSD and my infidelity hurt her more deeply than I could have ever imagined. Although she doesn't "see" it, I do recognize the depth of her pain - that I caused - and I often feel the same sense of loss myself. The affair ended when it was discovered. We are still together, over 5 years after the discovery of the affair. I want her to forgive me and trust me again. Not just for me but for her own peace and us as a couple as well.
Do I deserve forgiveness? Perhaps, perhaps not - it's not my call. Does she believe I deserve another chance? Perhaps, perhaps not. I believe I'm working at doing everything I can to prove how truly sorry I am and that I will never do such a thing again. And it gets frustrating, especially this many years later, when it seems that even the smallest amount of trust will never come.
In myth #3 it speaks of the offended trying to understand why and how. To wrap their minds around what happened. And I would love for my wife to understand fully from my perspective. But that understanding will forever be elusive unless the offended can somehow place themselves into the shoes of the offender at the time of the transgression. And unfortunately that goes against myth #4 (sort of). For the understanding to come the offended must face the reality of the condition of the relationship when the offense took place. Were there warning signs that were ignored? Why was the relationship in a state that allowed the offender to be led astray in the first place? What - if anything - could have been done differently, by both parties, to strengthen rather than further weaken the relationship? For the understanding to come these questions need to be answered - and that also requires the offended to take responsibility for their part in the relationship. Not to the point of asking forgiveness because unless they committed adultery first, anything they did or didn't do did not warrant the pain caused by infidelity. But rather to realize that no relationship is a one way street. While one person can do a lot more damage, It still takes two to make it work.
I'm not making excuses - what I did was wrong on every level. There is no excuse, it never should have happened - Reconciliation requires more than forgiveness. It requires a lot of work by both parties on the relationship as a whole, not just on making amends for a wrong.

Well said. I was the

Well said. I was the offended but it is good to see the regret & reality you have on the subject. I hope my husband has the same feelings & it is a good reminder for me to realize things weren't healthy or right between he & I before he strayed. Thank you

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