Forgiveness - Burden or Gift? Part II: The Journey of a Lifetime

A betrayed spouse who is dealing with severe anger will need to actually grieve first, then slowly and steadily move towards forgiveness
Forgiveness - Burden or Gift

Part I: What is Forgiveness Anyway?
Part II: The Journey of a Lifetime

Last time we talked about the reality of forgiveness - what it is and what it isn't - and how forgiveness plays a vital role in recovery and potential reconciliation. So why don't people forgive? Lots of reasons. Fear, pride, anger, resentment, bitterness and a lack of understanding of forgiveness are some of them. While I would never wish to relive this season of my life, it has offered me a great deal of self-examination. To begin to consider life after betrayal, I had to take a hard look at myself. Was I prideful? Yes, probably. Considering forgiveness of this deeply personal and intimate offense made me feel humiliated, stupid, and foolish. Who lets someone treat them in the worst possible way a human being can be treated and then forgive that, and reconcile? Well, it turns out forgiving people do. Lots of them. And they are not stupid or foolish - they are actually some of the strongest, most courageous people out there. What about righteousness? That gets in the way for a lot of people. We can "compare" our sins to those of the unfaithful spouse and declare ourselves to be superior, and therefore can be unwilling to forgive such egregious acts from those clearly so far "beneath" us. Except that we are all sinners. As Rick Reynolds explained at EMS, we have to stay mindful of our own inner cesspool. None of us is perfect. I remind myself that I did not deserve forgiveness from God for my sins either, but He forgave me anyway. As we celebrate Easter and are reminded of Christ's ultimate sacrifice for our sins, I think it offers objectivity regarding our universally flawed human state, regardless of which side of the infidelity equation we find ourselves, and the need for forgiveness in our own lives.

"Forgiveness requires the ability to forgive yourself for the failure of your own false expectations."

Kenneth Cloke

Humility is a gift I have received in this season of forgiveness, and I am not afraid to look at my own shortcomings. After committing to forgiveness for my husband, I began to examine my role in our marriage and the times I had hurt him, even unintentionally. I asked him for forgiveness, and he offered it. Don't misunderstand, I am not taking responsibility for his affair. That was his decision alone, but that doesn't mean I was a perfect wife. The more I could really get vulnerable to examine that, the more compassion I had for him. None of it is easy or intuitive. It is deliberate and intentional work, and very hard. Rick and Stephanie Reynolds offer some practical tips toward forgiveness in this article.

I am content with where I am in my forgiveness of my husband's infidelity. It is a lifelong journey. I wish it was a one and done decision, but even with the best of intentions and a heartfelt declaration, those triggers and resentments spring up to remind me that I have to forgive again. And again. And again. When I see a "special" photo that now just feels fake and hollow. When I battle painful intrusive thoughts and images in what should feel like an exclusively intimate moment with my husband. When I randomly recall a time I raised suspicions and they were dismissed and called "silly." When another loss becomes apparent to me and I feel resentment for having to give up even more that I never agreed to, I have to forgive again. Don't get too discouraged, though, because it truly does get easier as time goes on, and with practice. I remind myself I have already forgiven for this or that, and have to do a bit of a reset. It's still hard at times, but is less difficult than it once was.

"Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I think the hardest concept for me to initially understand is that I couldn't just wait until I felt like forgiving. That was extremely unlikely to happen. Ever. It is more of an intentional action based on decision, not feelings. The feelings come later, after the path has been worn down a bit.

Forgiveness felt impossible in the beginning, but the forgiveness in my heart for my husband is much more authentic now. I am certainly not "done" and I still have angry and resentful moments, but the "feelings" of forgiveness are much more genuine, not forced anymore, just not fully complete. I am satisfied with that, as I think it's huge progress, and I know if I stay the course it will just continue to improve, so it's not something I worry about anymore. I know I could not have achieved this without God's work in me.

If you're not ready to forgive right now, that's ok. There is no timeline. You can't force it. Mona Shriver says, "It's a common prescription to betrayed spouses to ‘just forgive and you won't be angry anymore.' I'm sorry, but that's just not usually true. A betrayed spouse who is dealing with severe anger will need to actually grieve first, then slowly and steadily move towards forgiveness." I suggest looking back at this in a month or two and try again. And again a few months after that. It is a deeply personal and unique choice for each of us, and we are all different. There is so much to face with marital betrayal, we simply can't face it all at once. Be patient with yourself, take your time. Forgiveness is a strength, not a weakness. It takes tremendous strength to forgive something as deeply wounding as infidelity. You never really know how strong you are until you come face to face with something that seems so impossible. It can feel overwhelming, but as with the rest of recovery, take it one step at a time. This truly is the journey of a lifetime.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Eph 4:32

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Comments

Forgiveness

Jen, your writings speak to me fiercely. These days I am not very articulate and I appreciate that you have the gift of taking the words right out of my mouth. Never have I experienced such pain as this betrayal. Next week will be one year since I confronted my husband. I have made progress, but I’m not where I want to be.
Thank you for articulating what I am incapable of saying. Your writings are a gift to me.

Sarah E.

Thank you for your kind words. I definitely remember being completely unable to express, understand, or even identify what I was feeling or thinking, so I'm very glad this is helpful to you at this stage of your journey.

You mentioned you are nearing the one year anniversary. I'm sure you have heard that can really throw you for a loop, but I am gently reminding you that it can make you feel so much worse - temporarily - and can feel so discouraging. It's normal. Just try to remind yourself of that and hang in there. It does get better. I wish you the best and hope to hear from you again sometime.

We are approaching one year

We are approaching one year since dday. I do want to forgive. I’m not there yet. We are healing in baby steps and have steps backward too. I know that is normal now. Mother’s Day is also hard for me. My Mom passed that weekend in 2020. Couldn’t have the funeral (Covid). Had it Mother’s Day weekend 2021. The AP threatened to tell me that weekend on the day I was giving my Mom’s eulogy. Truly awful. My UH told me a few days later after he told her it was over. She continued to harass us. Having a hard time with all the conscious choices he made over an 8 year span.I never thought the man I admired and love would do something so damaging to me/us. I pray I can forgive and not be resentful long term.

Forgiveness

JessieG,
First, my condolences on the loss of your mother. The loss of a parent is never easy.
It sounds as though we are on the same timetable. I, too, cannot believe that my wonderful, moral husband made such horrid, selfish choices over the course of the 1 year 8 months he was with his AF. I still struggle with the fact that I had to ask him to end the affair or go be with her. I hired a PI to tail them in a city in another state. He wanted to end it as it was making him physically sick but didn’t know how to do it so there wouldn’t be any drama with her. I am disgusted that he thought more about her than he did about being truthful with me. Our therapist has done a spectacular job in keeping us focused on why my UH did what he did, but I continue to feel like the collateral damage of his and her poor choices.
Thank you for listening. I hope and pray we both can heal and forgive.

JessieG

Thank you for commenting. You probably already know the one year mark can really intensify the feelings of betrayal and make you feel like your progress isn't real - but don't believe it. Just keep reminding yourself it is normal to feel worse for a while, but it will get better.

I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother on top of the discovery of infidelity. That is so hard.

You said you want to forgive but you're not there yet. Knowing you want to is enough until you are ready for more. You will get there a little at a time. I'm still working on it too, but just keep going. That's all you can ask of yourself.

Forgiveness

Jen…. Thank you for your thoughtful words. You say so much of what I feel. I know we are all on our own journey BUT you say it so much better than I can relay it to my husband.

I appreciate your honesty and that you don’t shy away from this being a slow, long, messy Christian journey to forgiveness! Others have tried to make it sound so easy yet it has been THE hardest thing I have ever done. I am so thankful for your willingness to be so transparent and for Harboring Hope.

Hi pitter

I like how you describe it as a slow, long, messy Christian journey. Yes it is!

Thank you for your comment and I'm very glad this was helpful for you.

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I would highly recommend giving this a try.
 
-D, Texas