Granting Forgiveness After the Affair

forgiveness-2The more I’ve read, the more I’ve learned. And one of the things I ran into on this blog are a series of Betrayed Spouses that refuse to grant forgiveness, and then wonder why their marriages haven’t recovered?  Because withholding forgiveness is power. Because to not forgive is to punish.  And you can’t pursue healing until you forgive.

So I saw this article. I thought it very powerful

An apology lacks power when the offender is more interested in gaining relief for his own discomfort than providing relief to the person offended. A self-focused apology is seldom satisfying to the recipient. But forgiveness-seekers aren’t the only ones who can sap the power out of forgiveness; forgiveness-givers can be selfish, too.

Intimacy requires forgiveness, and forgiveness requires compassion.

We hesitate when it comes to pointing out the short-comings of an offended person. After all, why should anything be required of the victim? Shouldn’t the offender carry the full responsibility for making things right? And in the case of an affair, shouldn’t the cheater be expected to do all the work of fixing the marriage?

Absolutely… if the only concern is for justice or recompense. But if there is hope for healing, then there must be a place for grace and compassion. If there is to be genuine forgiveness, the offended spouse must be willing to consider the offender’s burden of shame and give them permission to let go of it.

Of course, compassion is not the first response that rises when we are hurt by someone we love. On the contrary, most of us react by either attacking or retreating. Our acts of self-protection are likely to continue until we believe the offender feels enough remorse. But it is at this very point that we may get stuck, especially when the wound is deep. In response to our pain, we may limit our vulnerability by requiring ongoing penitence without offering hope for pardoning. We punish by withholding our forgiveness.

Last year, a married couple came to see me because they had not been able to move past the husband’s affair that had occurred over 10 years ago. I was the latest in a series of counselors they had seen. After a few sessions, it became clear that the wife had no intention of granting forgiveness to her husband. Despite the fact that he had confessed, repented, and never returned to that behavior again, she continued to focus on his betrayal. Her unforgiveness allowed her to stay in control and minimized the risk of being hurt again. But they were miserable; their marriage was full of conflict and void of intimacy.

I finally asked her, “What could your husband say or do that would allow you to begin moving toward forgiveness?” She just stared at me, expressionless, and finally said, “Nothing, because he can’t undo the past.” At least she was being honest, but her marriage was doomed.

Please let me be very clear about this: I believe it is wrong to push a betrayed spouse too quickly toward forgiveness. Forgiving out of obligation is no more satisfying than when my parents made me hold my sister’s hand after we were fighting in the back seat of the car. Outward compliance; inward resentment.

If there is a desire for the restoration of the marriage on the other side of an affair, the betrayed spouse will need to eventually grant forgiveness. The healing process breaks down when this doesn’t happen. Instead of giving the message, I’m willing to let go of this and leave it in the past, the hurt spouse communicates any of the following:

*Withholding forgiveness is a good way to punish you.
*I’ll let you know when you’ve done enough to earn my forgiveness.
*Forgiving you just gives you the right to hurt me again.
*I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget… and I’ll keep reminding you of that.
*In future conflicts, reminders of your affair are fair weapons for me to use against you.

Is it okay to want to see contrition? Of course. Can it take time to truly forgive? Yes, and deep hurts often take more time to heal. But consider your partner’s relief, not just your own. Don’t get stuck in your pain. Find your way to say I forgive you.



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