“Are there some things in your life that you just can’t forgive?”by Dr. Eileen Borris, Ed.D.
You’ve met the person of your dreams. It feels so good to be in love and now you are married to this person. Time has gone by and marriage has been good to you, so you thought. You begin to notice some different behaviors from your spouse which at first you ignore. For a while you begin to wonder if something is going on with your spouse, but you brush it off. After all, the last thing you could ever imagine is that your spouse is having an affair. You don’t even want to go there. You begin to piece some things together and your spouse denies everything until the day comes when your spouse gets caught in all his/her lies.
For those of us who have experienced situations like this, we know that betrayal runs deep and can be devastating. Trust has been torn apart and the unthinkable has just happened. You may even want to seek revenge on your spouse for the pain and humiliation you are going though now. Possibly the only thing you can think of is how to get back at your spouse so they will hurt as much as you do. Is it possible to heal from the pain and humiliation of betrayal and adultery? Is it possible to forgive someone who has hurt you so badly?
Betrayals and forgiveness are significant issues for many couples. However, in couples therapy the introduction of forgiveness is only beginning to emerge. Forgiveness in this context is a process whereby partners pursue increased understanding of themselves, each other and their relationship in order to free themselves from the pain this is a result of an interpersonal betrayal. Forgiveness does not excuse the person who committed the betrayal nor does it require from the person who was betrayed that they need to reconcile if they forgive. Nor is forgiveness letting anyone off the hook. Instead, to eventually be able to forgive we need to take a realistic, nondistorted view of the relationship, be willing to work through and release painful emotions, such as our anger towards the partner who committed the betrayal, and give up the desire to seek revenge or punish the one who has betrayed us.
Betrayal can be seen as an interpersonal trauma since it shatters assumptions about ones spouse or significant other. Shattered assumptions can leave us feeling as though our reality has been blow apart. When we are betrayed our feelings alternate between a sense of numbness and/or disbelief. We may also find ourselves behaving erratically and not like our usual selves. We feel victimized and our lives seem to be out of control.
Therefore to heal from a betrayal is to heal from trauma. Interestingly healing from trauma follows a very similar path as does being able to forgive. The process begins by feeling safe and being able to tell your own story. It is important to talk about what happened so we can begin to understand and gain more clarity. Because of the intense array of emotional feelings, we should make sure that the person we are talking to will deeply listen in a supportive way. As we talk about what has happened we maybe in shock and alternate between numbness and strong emotions. It is especially important to talk about our anger and listen to what our anger is telling us. Anger is an important messenger and usually is saying that something within us needs to change and that we need to be responsible for our own behavior. If we don’t get in touch with our anger and honestly look at it, we will more often than not act it out toward the person who has betrayed us or keep it in, possibly setting the stage for depression.
Getting in touch with our anger and our possible need for revenge is important. It is natural to want revenge and it is ok to feel angry. As an exercise, take a moment to visualize your revenge from beginning to end – but don’t act on it. After visualizing, reflect back on this plan and consider if the revenge will not get you what you really want. It most likely will not. This realization can open the door for forgiveness to occur.
On a very practical level forgiveness is about lessening your own emotional burdens and healing the pain of your heart. Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook. It is about your own inner healing.
As we begin to work through our anger, guilt and fear we begin to think about why this event happened and search for some meaning behind the trauma. This meaning may come from identifying causes such as not paying attention to what was really going on in the relationship, or have some positive impact from the event in your life now despite the initial pain. We sometimes look for meaning behind the event such as a deeper meaning behind the relationship. This helps the injured party regain some control over their lives and what has just happened.
Giving meaning to the event helps us move along the healing process and mourn the loss of what could have been. As we mourn, we absorb the pain, which is probably the hardest part of the forgiveness process. By absorbing pain we are saying that we accept what has happened, like it or not. Mourning helps us reintegrate our lives to something new and different. It helps us reevaluate our situation and make a decision, not out of anger, but out of a clearer understanding of the situation. This is the time to decide if you are going to stay in the relationship or not. Remember that you may be able to forgive the person who betrayed and still chose not to reconcile.
So how do we heal from infidelity? We begin by developing the skills to deal with strong negative emotions and to more effectively talk about the impact the betrayal had. This may require setting appropriate boundaries with each other, learning how to deal with emotions effectively and express how you feel about the infidelity. Next you look at both the current and the developmental issues within yourselves and within your relationship that may have contributed to the affair. Usually both parties have an idea as to why the affair may have happened but they are often unaware of deeper or unacknowledged needs or motives from their partner’s past history which may be impacting on current behaviors. Gaining this new understanding often results in an increase in compassion for the partner and tolerance of his or her flaws.
Finally, as a couple begins to understand why the affair happened, they need to evaluate the viability of their relationship of their relationship, the potential for change, and their commitment to work together. This is when the process of forgiveness becomes the focus of intervention, including a clarification of what forgiveness is and is not, and any resistance there might be concerning forgiveness.her listing on the Therapist Directory for more information.