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Forgiveness - easier said than done

When your husband breaks your trust, it may seem impossible to forgive him, but forgiveness is of cardinal importance if you want to save and mend your marriage .

Karen and Jake were the ‘perfect couple’. They had been married for seven years and had two children, a nice house and great jobs. Little did Karen know the challenges she would face in the coming year …

Jake started an affair with the receptionist at gym. Even though this ‘relationship’ didn’t last all that long, there were far-reaching consequences to his actions. It led to him visiting strip clubs, indulging in pornography on the internet and telling one lie after the other. Karen put up with a man who showed her little love or respect for two years. He was a stranger, and what they had built their lives around in the past seemed like a distant memory.

All of this changed after Jake attended a Christian camp for men where he took the decision to turn his life around. He confessed everything to Karen, and showed genuine remorse for everything he had done. She wanted to forgive him and pick up the pieces of their broken marriage in order to move forward, but forgiveness is easier said than done …

“As a marriage and family therapist, I often interact with spouses who are having a very difficult time forgiving their partner for the years of pornography usage and other sexual addictions. A spouse legitimately feels anger, betrayal, confusion, inadequacy and self-doubt, and many other powerful emotions. If not handled in a healthy and productive way, these emotions can become toxic, damaging the health and well-being of the spouse who harbours them, and driving a wedge into the relationship,” warns Bernell Christensen on www.candeocan.com.

Perhaps you’re in the same position as Karen. You may not have reached the point of feeling ready to forgive. It could be comforting to realise that every marriage partner will cause their partner pain at some point in their marriage. Who hasn’t said things they regret in the middle of a heated argument?

Defining forgiveness
Forgiveness is not only promoted by Christianity, but by many other religions the world over. God commissions us to forgive in Ephesians 4 verses 31-32, and we read that the ‘I can forgive but never forget’ attitude goes against the grain of true forgiveness. “Forgiveness is about freeing yourself of the burden of negative emotions. It is about letting go of the bitterness, anger and frustration, and replacing these with gratitude — gratitude for your own gifts, talents and blessings; your own innate worth. Also, gratitude for the good and positive things about your spouse that are not related to his addiction,” says Christensen.

Forgiveness can be compared to a car’s engine. It gets you moving and prevents you from getting stuck in the past and reliving negative emotions. This ‘car’ takes you away from the environment that surrounds you with memories of your hurt feelings as soon as it starts moving. Forgiveness gives you peace of mind and lifts the weight of bitterness off your shoulders. So many women struggle to get rid of that burden, using it as ammunition when their partner does something wrong.

The importance of forgiveness
Many women believe that forgiveness makes them weak and defenceless. These women believe that when you forgive your partner, he will not realise the extent of the hurt he caused you and may then do the same thing again. Yet taking “an eye for an eye” attitude in order to punish him isn’t going to contribute to solving your dilemma. It only replaces your pain with his pain and never leads to healthy closure and healing. Revenge never has any positive consequences.

In reality, the opposite is true: forgiveness makes you stronger. Forgiveness is a quality of strong people. The inability to forgive turns your life into a prison, explains Dr. Niki P. Anderson on www.nikianderson.com. If you never forgive him for the hurt that he caused you, you will never be able to forget and the wounds will only get worse and turn into raging anger.

Pride often stands in the way of actual forgiveness. Many women opt out of the relationship, but continue to feed their rage. This increases stress levels and leads to physiological symptoms of stress such as high blood pressure, and even a stroke. You are only damaging your own health if you keep holding on to old wounds, disappointments and anger. Allowing hurt feelings to fester turns hatred into bitterness which may lead to physical and mental illness.

Forgiveness has health benefits
People who forgive their partners lead healthier and happier lives. Research has shown that a decrease in anger and depression leads to better self-esteem, and also helps your relationship last longer. Forgiveness emancipates you from both physiological and psychological pain.

In a study entitled the Forgiveness Project, published on www.marriage.about.com, Fred Luskin, a researcher from Stanford University, states that “forgiveness has been found to work as effectively, if not more so, than the immune systems”. For this research, he gave 260 volunteers a seminar on forgiveness. He found that the participants reported lower stress, increased self-confidence, and a heightened sense of unity after the lecture. The participants also reported a decrease in headaches, backache, and upset stomachs.

So, how do you forgive?

Forgiveness needs to be practical. There is no wonder cure. You have to set yourself free. The implication is that there has to be a change within yourself, your thoughts and your behaviour. This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend as if nothing ever happened, and that everything is ‘normal’. Forgiveness is a process — it takes a lot of time and hard work to achieve. Try the following when you have to forgive your partner for something he has done:

Call a spade a spade — name the offence. Try saying: “You went to a strip club and had a lap dance and lied to me about it. This hurt me because it feels as if you have no respect for me or the intimacy we share”. Try asking yourself questions such as: What moral lines were crossed and how did his behaviour cross those lines? Or: What is the meaning and implications of the hurt he caused you?

Don’t avoid experiencing sorrow. You might feel like you want to avoid experiencing pain and sorrow, but after all you did get hurt and shouldn’t avoid the process of experiencing those feelings. It is necessary to admit what you have lost. Tell yourself: “I am allowed to feel hurt because my husband has broken my trust and he did something I never thought he would…”

Break the silence. You can truly benefit from disclosing the transgression to a confidante, therapist or legal authority (depending on the offence). You have to admit that something is wrong and that it’s someone’s fault in order to completely forgive and begin healing.

Prevent it from happening again. Do everything in your power to prevent the same thing from happening again. You might feel it’s not up to you or that it’s not your duty if your partner is the one who went to a strip club. What you should do, however, is make him understand that if he does this again, you won’t be able to handle the pain and sorrow and that you will have to defend yourself against such situations in future. Be strong and know when to seek help without becoming hard or cynical.

Restore the lost order. Once the offender carries the consequences of his/her actions, the balance will be restored. If your husband was addicted to pornography, admits his problem and lives with the consequences, the balance will be restored. Don’t withhold sex from him in an attempt to force him to restore the balance. He won’t see the relation between your withholding and his actions. (www.marriageandfamilies.buy.ed).

Be sincere and forgive aloud. You have to say the words out loud in order for them to be effective. Be specific with regard to what you forgive him for and decide to forgive him from that day onward — don’t say “I will”, “I have to” or “I should”. Forgive him by saying: “I forgive you for your addiction to pornography and the hurt you’ve caused me.” Replace your anger with gratitude by saying something like: “I am grateful that you admitted you have a problem and that you’re seeking help for it.”

Remember the following:

  • Forgiveness is the first step to recovery in a relationship.
  • God forgives those that forgive others.
  • Actual forgiveness can only be achieved through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Forgiveness leads to a change of heart.
  • Seeking revenge will only worsen your pain.
  • Accept the fact that he might never fully understand the reason for your sorrow.
  • Forgiving him doesn’t mean you approve of his behaviour.
  • Be patient — forgiveness takes time.
  • Seek professional help if you struggle to forgive him.

Remember, even though the Bible tells us repeatedly to forgive one another, you don’t have to stay in a harmful relationship. Work through your pain, and decide on a plan of action.

Tell him that if he keeps on lying to you, and you can’t trust him, you won’t keep on tolerating the behaviour. If you have gone through the process of forgiveness, yet your partner still abuses your trust, lies to you or cheats on you, it may be time to say: “Enough is enough” and end the situation by seeking professional help or opting out of the relationship.
 
In this instance, forgiveness will take longer, but it isn’t impossible.
(www.marriage.about.com).


 This post was written by: 
 Annelize Steyn - who has written 101 posts on www.intimacy4us.co.za . Annelize survives on the colours, words and sounds that this life has to offer. She writes anything and everything that it is possible to write – fiction, non-fiction, poems, music and lyrics. Married to Ernest, they have a two year old little prince who she is head over heels in love with, and a second little miracle has just arrived! When she is not trying to catch up on sleep, she enjoys discovering hidden jewels (places and tastes) with her husband and through her children's eyes. She is a self-confessed magazine junkie, but is just as in love with fairy tales.
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