Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood of religious concepts. This is especially true concerning forgiveness after betrayal. Too many Christians try to offer a weak substitute that lacks the power of the real thing. The freedom that comes with forgiveness is a powerful gift. But it must be entered into with caution. It comes with responsibility.
Forgiveness is not easy. When I extend forgiveness, I’m agreeing to live with the consequences of another’s poor choice. And I must also give up my right to punish. The other extreme is enabling. It’s protecting a person from the natural consequences of his or her choices. And it’s stalling that person’s growth.
What Forgiveness is Not
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what the other person did was okay. Nor is it letting that person off the hook. It must be understood that the person’s value doesn’t change because of poor choice.
Forgiveness, too, is a choice not a feeling. If, for example, I wait until my feelings soften toward an offender, it would take me forever to forgive him or her. Once I decide to forgive, however, the feelings follow. If the offender continues in unhealthy behavior, my forgiving that person doesn’t have to mean that I must maintain a friendship with him or her. Nor do I have to stay in contact with that person. It does mean that if I walk away, I know I did all I could to help the offender learn, grow, and change. I’ve left behind a glimmer of hope. But that person’s changing is all up to him or her.
Forget about the old saying, “Forgive and forget.” If we could forget, we wouldn’t need to forgive. Rather, when our injuries are great, we need to process through layers of forgiveness. I agreed in the beginning to enter into the forgiveness process with my husband. I made progress through the first layer. So when a new layer appeared, I could process through it separately without feeling like I hadn’t really forgiven him at all.
Forgiveness in Marriage
It would have been too simplistic to say, “I forgive my husband for all his poor choices.” I needed time to process through all the consequences I was agreeing to live with. The first layer was forgiving him for the pain of the overall betrayal. But additional layers were uncovered that had to be sifted through. Emotional, spiritual, financial, and family issues are just a few of those layers. It took time for me to realize how many layers there were and how each area had been affected.
Many months after the final discovery of Dave’s full activities, I felt as if we’d sifted through most of the layers of forgiveness. The the topic of money came up on an unrelated issue. Resentment crashed down on me like a giant redwood. It hit me hard that, for all those years, we’d been pinching pennies while my husband was spending money on his addiction. I had to step back and process where the strong emotion was coming from. I realized this was a layer I hadn’t yet dealt with. So I had to work through forgiveness again before we could move forward.
My husband knows I’m committed to forgiveness when he sees me process through every stage without condemnation. I’m honest about the pain a particular layer causes me. That is because it’s a consequence of his poor choices. I don’t throw it in his face or use it as a weapon. I want to rebuild the relationship, not tear it down. At first I went too far the other way. I was trying to hide the pain because I didn’t want to push him back into his addiction. Then I realized this was unhealthy for both of us. He needed to know how I was feeling. When he handled it without being defensive, we both moved forward in rebuilding trust.
Forgiveness VS Trust
It’s important to recognize that forgiveness is not the same as trust. Though they’re closely tied and they are simultaneous processes, trust takes longer to rebuild. Many husbands want their wives to “get over it.” They are frustrated by their wives’ lack of trust. These husband feel that they have to account for everything they do or say.
Accountability is essential to rebuilding trust and is a consequence of poor choices. Never feel pressure to trust before you’re ready. But always believe his behaviors. An innocent man should have no qualms about submitting to accountability or scrutiny. This is especially so if he desires to regain trust.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you become his warden, either. His primary accountability should be to another man, or group of men, whom your husband is in contact with on a regular basis. A husband’s submitting to a counselor, pastor, or men’s group who will ask the hard questions is evidence of growth. A man committed to healing should grow spiritually from Bible study, reading, and prayer. Where appropriate, computer monitoring, filtering, and financial controls should be in place. The amount of resistance a husband puts up to accountability says a lot about how serious he is in his desire to heal. Remember —believe his behaviors.
This article comes from the book, Hope After Betrayal: Healing When Sexual Addiction Invades Your Marriage. It is written by Meg Wilson, and is published by Kregel Publications. This is a TERRIFIC book for women who need to experience healing after adultery has invaded their marriage. Not only does Meg minister through her own experience, she also gives insight into the lives of several women. She tells the journey they took to healing after finding out about their husband’s addiction and adultery.
— ALSO —
If you are struggling forgiving your spouse for splitting up your family, there is a Preachitteachit.org article, which may help you as you read it. The particular article is addressed to a woman who wrote to Dr Roger Barrier. So this is written to a woman. However, the same principles pertain to a husband who is struggling with forgiving his wife. Please change the pronouns, if so. In this article, Dr Barrier answers the question:
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