An excerpt from What’s Done in the Dark: Affair-Proofing and Recovery from Infidelity-A Self Help Guide for Couples
by D Charles Williams, PhD Psychologist and Marriage & Family Therapist
Action Step Seven: Reoccurring Forgiveness
“The best way to heal a broken heart is to give God all the pieces.”
The Silent Treatment
A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. Suddenly the man realized that the next day, he would need his wife to wake him for a 5:00 AM for an early business flight.
Not wanting to be the first to break the silence (and lose), he wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5:00 AM.” He left it where he knew she would find it.
The next morning, the man woke up only to discover it was 9:00 AM and he had missed his flight. Furious he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t wakened him, when he noticed a piece of paper by the bed.
The paper said, “It is 5:00 AM. Wake up”
Men are not equipped for these kinds of contests.
Forgiveness is the Most Important Step
Allowing bitterness to remain within us is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die!
Forgiveness is the most important step in restoring your marriage after an affair. Nothing good can come from the situation if forgiveness does not occur. Without forgiveness, bitterness is inevitable.
In Getting Past the Affair, Snyder, Baucon and Gordon found that 60-75% of couples who experienced an affair stayed together and 50% of them reported having a stronger relationship than before.
How did they accomplish this?
A 2014 study about outcomes after infidelity by Marin, Christensen and Atkins was published in the March, 2014 Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice Journal. They found that when infidelity occurred in relationships, forgiveness played the largest role in overcoming the pain and hurt associated with the cheating. Those who were able to forgive their partners experienced the most progress after the affair.
Merle Shain who wrote Hearts That We Broke Long Ago describes forgiveness this way.
Until one forgives, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentments and retaliations, and we spend our days scratching at the scabs on the wounds that we sustained long ago instead of letting them dry up and disappear.
There is no way to hate another that does not cost the hater, no way to remain unforgiving without maiming yourself, because undissolved anger shutters through the body of the person who can’t forgive, short circuiting it and overloading it, and hatred makes gray days of ones that have sun.
“Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat,” Harry Emerson Fosdick said a long time ago, and it can’t be put better today because the person who harbors a hatred for another immolates himself in his own fire.
When you don’t learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it, and until you forgive, you continue to impale yourself on your pain.
Why Don’t We Forgive?
“Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” Robert Brault
If the betrayal of infidelity has ravaged your life, it is likely that you will be so hurt that you believe your life has been ruined. No one deserves to be cheated on, no matter what kind of challenges existed in your relationship. Sometimes the hurt and anger is more than bearable. How can forgiveness be offered after being so mistreated?
Betrayed spouses often do not forgive because the other person hasn’t changed yet. Forgiveness is viewed as being conditional upon the offender taking responsibility and showing genuine remorse. We may equate forgiving with forgetting, and refuse to make ourselves vulnerable again.
Most people are afraid to offer forgiveness because it could make them look foolish to others who are supporting them through this. Others are reluctant to open themselves to the possibility of being hurt again. Why be vulnerable again to someone who has cared so little about us? No one wants to appear naïve or gullible.
Why let a betraying spouse “off the hook” so easily if he or she hasn’t suffered enough yet? Perhaps he hasn’t fully learned his lesson and could cheat again. After all, what he or she has done has changed the relationship forever!
Sometimes the unfaithful spouse is unforgiving. Their affair may have been fueled by the resentment felt toward his or her partner for a long time. The unfaithful partner may believe he or she has experienced mistreatment by their spouse causing them to act out as they have. The unfaithful spouse has his or her own issues of forgiveness they must acknowledge if repair can occur within the marriage. Their lack of forgiveness can interfere with genuinely feeling remorseful for their infidelity.
Bernie and Beth were an elderly couple who had been married more than forty years. Their marriage had been one of mediocrity and co-existence at best. When Beth learned that Bernie had an extended affair that ended thirty years ago, she was shocked. Even though many years had passed, she reacted as traumatically as if it had occurred yesterday. After months of trying to get past the hurt and anger, she was still asking, “Why did you do it?” “Did you love her?’ She would not forgive him or consider looking at how she might have contributed his looking to someone else for significance.