Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Forgiveness is the Wrong Word. How about "transformation"?

A recent radio program about the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa got me thinking about the idea of forgiveness.
A woman, involved in the TRC related to apartheid told a reporter that she was able to come to a place of empathy for her former enemy because he had shown remorse and was as disgusted by his actions as others were. In that moment, she said, he stopped being an "other" and become "one of us".
Forgiveness, she said, was the wrong word. Instead, she called it "transformation".
That's what we're after, isn't it?
We aren't after apologies and promises, though they don't hurt if they're heartfelt. We're after the point where our husbands are as disgusted by what they did as we are. As disappointed in themselves.
We don't want them crippled by it, we want them inspired by it. To be better. To learn from this.
It's within that disgust and disappointment where transformation occurs. It's the place where the seed is planted in soil rich with the determination that allows them to choose another path. To be a better person.
I'm always a bit nervous when I use terms like "better" or "compassion" because it's too easy when you're the betrayed wife of an unfaithful spouse, to fall into the trap of believing yourself ethically superior. To position yourself as someone who would "never" do such a thing, who can't imagine making that choice.
And by doing that, we position our spouses as forever after an "other". Even if they use their painful choices to transform themselves, we nonetheless hold ourselves on the moral high ground.
But as our South African teacher is trying to explain to us, our goal is to invite the transgressor to be "one of us". To release any moral hold on him. To celebrate his transformation as integral to our own.
It's the only way, I believe, of creating a truly healthy relationship going forward. As long as we hold on to forgiveness as if it's a magic wand that only we are capable of using to wipe the slate clean, we remain in a power position, which puts our spouse in a subordinate spot. It's a relationship that's ultimately going to fail. Or at least fail to make each partner happy.
And though I believe that, as betrayed partners, we get to dictate the terms of healing because it is, after all, our healing, I nonetheless think it should be our goal to create space for our partners to become exactly that – our partners.
It's the only way to rebuild a relationship of equals. A relationship in which it's acknowledged that none of us is infallible. That even people deserving of our love can make incredibly hurtful choices.
It's the only way to achieve transformation. His and our own.


  1. TRANSFORMATION, perfect. Here's to a new year!

  2. Transformation...cheers to a much healthier and happier 2015...I my books, it can't get much worse!!!

  3. Perfect for me as I do not believe that I can grant forgiveness to the betrayals. Here's to 2015 transformation!

  4. How long does it take to transform oneself? Most likely a lifetime of growing and learning but you have to want to of course.

  5. Thanks for writing this. If anyone preaches to me "forgiveness is a gift you give yourself" one more time, I will punch them and ask them to forgive.
    I really appreciate Janis Spring's "How Can I Forgive You." She does a great job of aknowledging the complex dance of forgiveness. It is not something we bestow unilaterally. Except for Jesus, the Dalai Lama, or Mother Theresa, forgiveness for the most of us is a transaction. But we don't have to have it to have healing, closure, or individual transformation.

  6. amen!!! transformation!!!

    here is to a new chapter, 2014 can suck it... bring on 2015. i have alot of hope for TRANSFORMATION this year!

  7. In the book I just finished, getting past the affair, a betrayed husband has difficulty wiping the slate clean. He tells the therapist he will set aside the old betrayal slate & start a new one with his wife. This image has really helped me & I am sharing it because it may help some of u. Forgiveness is not forgetting or condoning. I think forgiveness is setting aside the old slate & giving someone a chance with a new slate.

    In our case abt 1 1/2 yrs post d day # 1 our new slate is full of memories of time spent as a family, a few dates of just the 2 of us, many small acts of kindness & thoughtfulness from my husband regarding Valentine's day last year, helping out with the kids, saying nice things about me to family & friends. Basically he has acknowledged my value as a person, a spouse, & a parent. Not that I need him to; that comes from within, which is one reason why he cheated & I didn't, but it's nice to not feel invisible (as Elle always says) but to feel appreciated by ur spouse.

    I hope some of u can start to see forgiveness as a new slate. I also feel that positive reinforcement goes a long way, so I thanked him each and every time he did something like that for me, as I know I would want to be thanked.

    THAT is how I see forgiveness. Him trying to make amends and me thanking him for it.

    Happy new year to all of u wonderful ladies (& men too).


  8. MBS you are so right on, and not alone in your distain of all things trite, simple and cranky stupid. I hope you saw Elle's post on Platitudes. One of the best.

  9. Elle,
    Help!! My husband and I have been together 20 years. He cheated with an friends wife and put me through a roller coaster ride for two years. I finally had enough and walked away. He has been begging to work things out. He has done everything to show that he's changed.. It been 7 months. I divorced him but we still live together..I initially wanted to work things out because we have 3 kids together but I recentky have had a change of heart. Is this a phase or am I done?

    1. Is a "phase" anything that doesn't last forever? In that case, who knows! I often come back to that old Ann Landers question: Are you better off with him in your life or without him? With three kids I guess he's going to be in your life no matter what. But in what capacity? And given that you've been living together, it must be hard to get a picture of what your life would be like "without" him.
      What has prompted your change of heart? Are you able to be clear-headed about his change? I think as long as you genuinely believe that he's a better man, able to recognize what allowed him to make the choice he did and ensure that he won't make that choice again, then a second chance is not foolish. As you know, however, reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of work on each side to move past so much pain and rebuild a marriage based on more than wishful thinking. But with three kids involved, it might be worth a shot.

  10. Hahahahaha omg the Anonymous who posted "if I hear forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself one more time I will punch them and ask them to forgive" - that is freaking awesome and, I felt, deserved some attention. I share the sentiment and am tempted to steal your line :)
    That being said, I like this post because I generally can't connect with posts about forgiveness. I feel like the perspective that it's more something you do for yourself to let go, is not the original definition and just something everyone unanimously started applying to the word as something that, to me, is a very different meaning. And I apologize if I'm being too harsh on that perspective and previous posts that favored that definition; I am certainly not trying to insult anyone but for me its too hard to get past the traditionally accepted meaning of forgiveness.
    But anyway, the reason I didn't relate to those other posts are the reasons I appreciate this one very much. I do think there needs to be another word for that sort of purging of negative energy and resentments that is not the same as forgiveness, but something that is a closely related concept.

    1. BH,
      I often note that I don't think I've "forgiven" my husband. I've let go of resentment. I don't harangue him for past behaviours. But at no point do I feel as though I've been able to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Rather I tend toward a "rebuilding" analogy. Our relationship was reduced to rubble and we've slowly been creating another one, brick by brick.

  11. I can appreciate that outlook. I think there's also some of us who shy away from using the word "forgiveness" for what we feel towards our partners and rebuilding the relationship in case, god forbid, they the wrong idea about exactly how bad that hurt was and still is. I'm not really sure if I've forgiven so I basically don't make any statements that I have or haven't until I know it's something constructive. As for the OW, I forgive her for being stupid. I forgive her for not being that complex that she could have any real self-awareness of just how inhuman her responses to the situation were. But I don't forgive her for being a piece of shit as a person and lacking even the incentive to be empathetic. For now that's the best I can do.

  12. Great post, thank you. Transformational learning has the capacity to change us and often, the seeds for this are in our moments of crisis. What happens to us has the potential to help us see things differently. We may not necessarily like what we see but it impacts upon how we view the world. We no longer see it the way it was. This in turn can affect our behaviour, our actions. As a betrayed spouse I will never view adultery in the same way as I did before it happened to me. My betraying husband does not view adultery in the same way either. We are both different people but our love for each other has acted like a form of glue that has provided the opportunity for us to agree to stay together and work on recovering from infidelity. It has been a little over two years since D-day but everyday he has shown me proof that he wants to be a man to be proud of. It is his determination that has impressed me the most. Before this happened I would have predicted that he would have run a mile once caught out!

    1. I think infidelity changes all of our notions about it. We can't be blasé about it anymore. We can't assume we know how we'd respond to it.
      But those men who learn from it and become better people because of it are inspiring. I know there are some garden-variety adulterers out there...but there are many many others whose cheating is a form of self-destruction. They don't want to be those people...and so they change.

  13. But....what if u have all the proof in the world and husband is still in denial....still working in the same building as the OW !!!! We separated for a lil bit but back together. Im always bringing it up...end up fighting. I just want closure and he says there is nothing to tell me. Im going crazy!!!!

    1. Of course, you're going crazy. This is crazy-making, especially when someone tells you there's nothing to know...and you know there is.
      Do you have access to all phones/computers/etc? Has he agreed to tell you if he bumps into her? Has he promised to try to avoid that? What are the terms for rebuilding your marriage? You get to decide them, not him. Why did you reconcile with him? What changes did he make to assure you that he had learned from his horrible betrayal of you?



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