“How does one know if one is forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than anger. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
Forgiveness is the decision or choice to give up the right for vengeance, retribution, and negative thoughts toward an offender in order to be free from anger and resentment. This process promotes healing and restoration of inner peace, and can allow reconciliation to take place in the relationship.
It is also important to be clear what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning, or perpetuating injustice. Since it is sometimes unsafe or impossible, forgiveness does not always involve reconciliation.
Forgiveness is not always quick; it is a process that can take time to unfold.
Understanding What Forgiveness Is Not
- Forgiveness is NOT condoning the wrong behavior.
- Forgiveness is NOT forgetting about it.
- Forgiveness is NOT denial, pretending it didn’t happen.
- Forgiveness does NOT mean the pain has gone away.
The 6 Steps for Seeking & Granting Forgiveness
Six Steps for Seeking Forgiveness:
- Admit what you did was wrong or hurtful.
- Try to understand/empathize with the pain you have caused.
- Take responsibility for your actions and make restitution if necessary.
- Assure your partner you will try not to do it again
- Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
- Forgive yourself.
Six Steps for Granting Forgiveness:
- Acknowledge your pain and anger
- Be specific about your future expectations and limits.
- Give up your right to “get even”
- Let go of blame, resentment, and negativity.
- Communicate your act of forgiveness to your partner
- Work toward reconciliation (when safe)
Forgiveness Ritual & Celebrations
Rituals are very important part of the forgiveness process. Many couples will already have thought about a ritual or a celebration they will do in order to move forward and process this time in their marriage.
Rituals and celebrations tend to symbolize either the ending of this painful period of the relationship, or a new beginning, or both. Any sort of ritual is fine as long as it holds meaning for the both spouses. The ultimate goal is a shift of focus from forgiveness to celebrating!
- Tower of remembrance exercise
- Symbolic burial – this is a burial of an Item symbolizing the Affair. For example, one of my clients whose husband had a ten-year affair, had found many items heating inside her husbands cupboards that came from or belong to the other woman. What was especially hurtful were greeting cards. It was decided that on a specific time on a specific day they would burn all cards and any item that reminded her of the other woman. By doing this symbolic ritual together, gave her new hope for fresh start.
- A second wedding ceremony or a renewal of the marital vowels. Sometimes the children are involved in the celebration, sometimes not. Often the couple chooses to renew their vows in a private ceremony without any witnesses.
When you can’t forgive ……anyone
If you find yourself stuck and unable to forgive, you may need to look at your history of forgiving. Are you a forgiving person? It will be difficult to forgive a cheating spouse and find a path forward to healing, if you have never forgiven those who have betrayed you in the past.
Continue to Step 7
Unfortunately, most people in our culture have the wrong idea about what acceptance means. There are five primary myths that abound. I would like to describe each myth for you, and then tell you why it is a myth.
Acceptance Myth #1: Acceptance Can Happen All at Once
This is the #1 myth about acceptance because it is totally unfounded. Like so many other types of magical thinking (some of which have been addressed in this course), people tend to believe that acceptance is black and white, a switch of some kind that you either turn on or leave off.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if you wake up one day and say to yourself, “I am ready to accept the past and move on,” it is the result of an accumulation of small changes occurring over time. You might notice one day that the affair has less immediate impact on your life and that slowly you are beginning to accept it. Or perhaps you are thinking about your situation and realize in retrospect that you have been paying less and less attention to the affair and more and more attention to the future with your partner.
Acceptance is a process. It can fade in and out for you over a period of time. There might be days when you feel you are really moving forward, and there might be days when you feel you are drowning in your emotions about the affair. This process is natural. Acceptance typically takes time.
Fortunate or unfortunate as it might be, human beings are much more complicated than a simple light switch. We are not robots who can turn emotions on or off with a switch.
Even if this were possible, it wouldn’t be a final solution to all the difficulties inherent in an intimate relationship. People make mistakes in judgment. There will undoubtedly be other things your partner will do that will hurt your feelings, perhaps in ways that are difficult to come to terms with.
A long-term or life-long relationship means that you are in it together through thick and thin. Being in a relationship means that you offer to be emotionally present to own up to the wrong things you do and your errors in judgment that end up hurting the one you love. It could be either one of you on the hurting end of this equation, and your commitment needs to be to stay together and work it out within the relationship to create an even stronger bond in the long run. Surviving these hurtful times without bringing up the “D-word” (divorce) and without demeaning or disrespecting your partner builds trust in each other and in your commitment to grow old together.
The need to accept again and again is inherent in any relationship. It is particularly necessary in intimate relationships where the softer, more vulnerable parts of you are opened up and shared with another. Inevitably, your partner will step on your delicate feelings. You need to learn to accept their mistakes authentically to keep the relationship alive and thriving. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff.
Acceptance Myth #2:
Once You Accept the Affair, Positive Feelings Will Replace the Negative Feelings You Once Had
Many people have the mistaken notion that if they can accept the past it will be like taking some sort of magical potion that will replace all of their negative feelings with lighter, more positive ones. This isn’t the case.
Accepting the affair will not undo the hurt your partner caused you. It can’t, and it isn’t about that. Accepting the affair is a way of saying that you have opened your heart to your partner again, that you are ready to leave the past behind, and that you want to move forward with your relationship. Do not allow yourself to get fooled into believing this means the past has been obliterated. The idea of acceptance is predicated on the fact that the past has happened and, in fact, cannot be undone. After all, if you could change it, wouldn’t you?
At this point in the program you should have a sense that your relationship is growing into something new and fresh. It should be different and better than it was before. Ironically, it is your past that has allowed that to happen. An affair isn’t good in any sense. But it can be used as a stepping stone; you can rise above it to make your relationship better than it ever has been, if both of you are working hard at reestablishing your relationship the way I have been describing in this course.
Negative emotions are useful to us. They tell us that something is wrong and that we need to change something in our lives. In the case of an affair, the negative feelings that you both faced over the course of this course have allowed you to realize that you want to move forward together toward a better more fulfilling relationship.
Accepting isn’t about eliminating these negative feelings; it’s about using them to your benefit. It offers a method for you to use the terrible negative event that has happened in a positive way.
Don’t worry if you still have negative feelings about the affair. Let those negative feelings operate as a reminder that you are committed to accepting your partner everyday. Accept the past again when the negative feelings come up. In this way, you are putting those difficult emotions to good use. As difficult and painful as it might be to do in the short-run, when the cheater helps the injured work through the bad feelings by active listening and understanding it helps heal the relationship in the long-run. Through active listening, understanding, and taking the “hit” for guilty actions, the cheater begins to demonstrate that they are on the injured person’s side, sharing together an understanding of how awfully the cheater acted in the past (the “old” version of the person who cheated.)
Acceptance Myth #3:
Accepting the Affair Means You Were Wrong to Have Had Such a Strong Reaction to It in the First Place
Acceptance is sometimes associated with an admission of guilt or the idea that you somehow weren’t justified in what you were thinking or feeling. This also is an absolute falsehood. You had and have every right to think and feel your thoughts and feelings about the affair. Accepting it does not mean that you now need to recant and say that these thoughts and feelings were wrong.
Don’t feel like you have to rationalize your thoughts about the affair or your need to accept it and move on. This is about the two of you as a couple. In your heart you know what’s right for you. Remember to protect yourself by waiting until you can authentically accept (not agree with or like) the affair as part of your history. Follow your heart’s voice.
Acceptance Myth #4:
Accepting the Affair Means Your Partner Is off the Hook
At the beginning of this section, we read about Christine’s concern that Craig might think he was off the hook if Christine told him she was ready to accept the affair and move forward with their relationship. Many people have this concern. What’s worse is that some cheating partner’s seem to think this is true.
Neither you nor your partner should make any mistake about this point: acceptance does not mean that you are releasing your partner from the responsibility they carry for what they’ve done. They are not off the hook. In fact, it is only when your partner shows you that they understand what they have done and are ready to own their responsibility in it that you will be ready to accept the affair and move forward.
Acceptance means you are able to accept the fact that the affair took place and continue to do the work necessary to heal your relationship. Carrying on in this matter means that both of you need to take responsibility for your relationship and what you have done in and to your relationship.
This means that the cheater is not off the hook.
In fact, they are never going to be relieved of their responsibility for the affair. They will have to continue to bear that burden.
Nonetheless, acceptance might come with a sense of relief for both partners. Realizing that you are willing to let go of the past a little bit and move forward with your life can be a breath of fresh air. Let it be that.
Acceptance Myth #5:
Accepting the Affair Does Not Mean Forgetting about It
Though it might be true that you are ready to move on, accepting the affair does not mean that you need to forget that it happened. On the contrary, I encourage you not to forget about it completely so you can keep some perspective on how far you have come, as well as the road that lies ahead.
This also doesn’t mean that you need to dwell on it night and day if you feel that you are ready to move beyond that. Accepting the affair without forgetting means that, eventually, it won’t play a role in your day-to-day existence. In some ways, if you have been following my plan, you will probably start getting closer to the life you were living before the affair, but with more openness and honesty.
But you don’t want to forget the progress you’ve made either. Try to strike your own balance between remembering how far you have come down this path and letting go of your daily memories of the affair.
Let’s carry the process of investigating acceptance one step further by looking at the three false forms of acceptance. Many people try to force themselves to accept what has happened for a few different reasons. These false forms of acceptance are demons that lay in wait for you. If you get caught up in these, you might stunt your own healing process by trying to move toward acceptance more quickly than you should.
As I said above, you should accept in your own time, authentically, and for your own reasons. Do not try to force yourself to take steps toward acceptance just because you think it’s time you should. It will happen naturally when the time is ripe.
To steel yourself against the possibility of accepting for the wrong reasons, let’s look at these demons a little more closely.
Acceptance Demon #1: Accepting Because You Think It’s the Right Thing to Do
True acceptance must come from the heart and the head. This means that coming up with rationalizations when you are not feeling it is right will never be a worthwhile strategy.
Too many people get trapped in the idea that they should accept the past because “it is the right thing to do.” Acceptance is very powerful. And in many cases, it might be “the right thing to do.” But accepting because it is the right thing to do, when you just don’t feel it, will only hurt you in the end.
When you accept because it is the right thing to do, in other words, because you should do it, then you aren’t feeling it in your heart. You might try to convince yourself that you are doing it from your heart, but this kind of rationalization belies that idea.
If you don’t accept from your heart, it isn’t genuine, and it will backfire in the end. Acceptance that isn’t heartfelt can generate more tension in a relationship than no acceptance at all. If your partner feels that you are accepting falsely, they will probably express some relief, but they could feel like you are lying, and they might even resent you for it. This is a sure way to undo some of the progress you have made up to this point.
If you do not feel it in your heart, ask yourself what is keeping you from accepting with your heart at this time. If you are still struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings, you might want to go back to past steps and try to cope with your psychological struggles more effectively.
If you feel as though you have put this program into effect to the best of your ability, yet still don’t feel as though you are anywhere close to acceptance, it might be time to seek professional help for your problems.
A good couple’s therapist should be able to help you move closer to acceptance.
Acceptance Demon #2: Accepting Because It’s What “Good” People Do
We are all predisposed to compare ourselves to the people around us. Often we do this in ways that are very destructive. Comparing your ability to accept what you are offered in life is one such instance. Accepting because it is “what good people do” is akin to accepting because it is “the right thing to do,” and it holds all the same ramifications.
This false form of acceptance is more problematic, in that it is predicated on a belief that you understand what process another person goes through in order to come to a decision about when to accept circumstances that they can’t change. How could you possibly know that the “good” people you are comparing yourself to didn’t go through exactly the same process that you are going through right now? Perhaps they had the same problems that you are facing in accepting some trauma from their past.
Acceptance Demon #3: Accepting to Reduce Conflict and Get Moving with the Next Stage of Healing
Perhaps the easiest false form of acceptance to fall prey to is accepting in order to move on with the healing process or to immediately reduce the conflict in your relationship. It is awfully tempting to think that if you accept the affair, you will be able to achieve these ends. However, it isn’t the case.
Don’t be confused. I believe it is useful for you to come to a place where you can accept the affair, open your heart again, and move on with your relationship. If you are to heal from the traumatic incident you have been through and rejuvenate your relationship, at some point you do need to move on. However, acceptance cannot be manufactured in order to heal. It has to come from within.
When you try to rush the healing process, you are in for some problems. If you try to accept the affair before you are ready, your partner will probably feel relieved, but your own resentment will show through. Then your partner will be doubly angry – once for your false hope, and once because you can’t let go.
If you aren’t ready to make this step, don’t feel like you have to. People heal at different rates and in different ways. This program is a model that works, if you follow the steps. But in order to make it work, you need to follow each step through to completion.
If you aren’t ready to accept it and move on, you can customize the program by going back through the sections that address areas in which you feel you need more work.
Continue to Step 7
You may wish to revisit:
- The Affair Story
- Personal Healing
- Sex & Intimacy
- Emotional Needs
- Moving Forward