Monday, July 23, 2018

Why Can't I Forgive Him?

"In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die."

Brené Brown was sitting in church when she heard her pastor utter those words. He had been speaking about counselling a couple on the brink of divorce after discovering her husband's affair. Brown had been wrestling with the idea of forgiveness for her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and had ultimately taken the chapter about forgiveness out because she just couldn't get clear on it.
Those words were like an awakening. Because she realized this:
Embedded deeply in forgiveness is grief.
Think about that.
I always thought of forgiveness as something that people who weren't burdened with resentment and anger offered freely, then moved blithely into the rest of their lives. I would watch television shows (which is where so many of us children of dysfunctional families think we're finding reality) in which a sibling would wrong another sibling, but it would always end with an apology and the response: "I forgive you." And then all would be forgotten.
It took me years to realize that forgiveness doesn't really work like that, especially when the transgression is deep and painful.
I would wonder what was wrong with me that, even with my husband apologizing around the clock for his betrayal of me, I felt incapable of forgiveness. Surely those people were more spiritually evolved than I. They were simply better people. There were times in those early days that I didn't hate him. Brief moments when I could imagine not leaving. But mostly, I cried and simmered in resentment. I wasn't ready to leave but I hated staying. Forgiveness? Didn't that mean I was putting all this behind us? Didn't that mean I was okay with what he did? Didn't that mean I could never bring it up again?
Forget that.
I still wonder if I've "forgiven" my husband. I confess I'm not entirely sure what that means. I'm with him and happy to be. I trust him as much as I trust anyone who has revealed themselves capable of deception, which is the same as saying, I trust him as much as I trust anyone. His cheating is part of our story but only part. We rarely speak about it. I no longer use it like a sword, a way to cut him when I'm hurting.
Forgiveness though?
Maybe.
I've certainly grieved, which, as Brown says, is a key part of forgiveness. Something definitely died. A lot of somethings. My sense of safety. My idea of who he was. My idea of what my marriage was. My dream of doing marriage "right" (which says a whole lot about me, which I've had to wrestle with). My "perfect" family. A veritable graveyard of dreams.
And I had to grieve it all. Year by year. Tear by tear.
So maybe I have landed in this place of forgiveness. I've accepted that my husband is more than the worst thing he ever did. I admire and respect how hard he's worked to become a better person, how painful it was for him to face down his own demons. Plenty died for him too. His fantasy of his perfect childhood. His mythological martyr of a father. He had his own grieving to do.
I'm with Brené Brown on this one. Forgiveness is impossible without working through grief.
It never surprises me when one of our secret sisters washes up on these shores and begins her comment with, "I've forgiven him but I feel stuck."
Forgiveness looms large for so many of us – like this holy grail we feel we need to grasp.
But maybe we're looking at it wrong. Maybe forgiveness isn't something we bestow but rather something that is bestowed on us when we've worked through our grief. Maybe it's not something we feel but rather a place we arrive.
I had always thought forgiveness came easily to those more emotionally generous and loving than I. So did Brené Brown. It was only when she viewed forgiveness through the lens of death and grief that it clicked for her. There is nothing, she says, more generous than working through grief to get to forgiveness.

27 comments:

  1. This is the clarity that I needed today. I have been hanging on to the hopes that he would earn forgiveness by behaving with humility, deep contrition, and generosity. But he can't. And as I am beginning to accept that, the grief is washing over me again. The memories of the pain he caused me. It has been 5 years this month since d-day #1. Many of the emotions are flooding back.
    So if he can't earn my forgiveness, what is next? Can I feel peace without it? Can I find forgiveness without him?
    What you have made clear Elle, is that I have to grieve some more.

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    1. I don't think forgiveness is contingent on his contrition, MBS. I think you can forgive someone for being who they are, without any expectation that they will ever be any different. And, in the process, you are forgiving yourself for holding on to the dream that they would ever be any different. You free yourself of the hold that dream has on you.
      But yes...grief. Within that process is so much grief. He is not the man you thought he was. And he is not a man who is willing to become a man who deserves you. That is painful stuff. It is his loss. But it is yours too. A loss of how things might have been.
      Grieve that. And then, perhaps, you will be able to forgive him for being who he is.

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  2. Still Standing 1July 23, 2018 at 9:45 AM

    "A veritable graveyard of dreams." this brought tears to my eyes. So many things I've had to say good bye to. Good, bad, familiar,... hopes, ideals, dreams, safety, the idea that one person, at least, thought I was worth sticking around for... that we were going to beat the odds, that we were good together. I remember believing that while all the dysfunction in our relationship was laid on me and I accepted it willingly. So, so sad. A big huge graveyard. And now its after the funeral (funnily enough, I am reading an Agatha Christie by the same name) and I'm sort of left standing with that "now what?" feeling. Still trying to figure that part out. Now what?

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    1. Now what? Now, SS1, you rest, as you so beautifully reminded us last week. You live your life, you love your children, you do the incredible work you do. And you rest. And, with time, I hope you'll know deep deep in your heart that you always were worth sticking around for. His flaw was never about you. Never.

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  3. Elle, This is great. I totally looked at forgiveness the way you described it before. This is a lot of grief to sift through. Thanks!

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    1. It is a lot of grief. And it can feel overwhelming. Sometimes it feels simpler to just hate. But though we can't control what's done to us, we can control how we respond to it.

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  4. Elle, so much needed wisdom. I also looked at forgiveness the way you did although it is evolving. Like I've said before, this is now part of my history forever and the grieving continues.

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    1. Yep. No way to un-ring that bell. I've far enough out now that it just feels like a part of my story (and not even a huge part). And I can see the shift that grieving brought to me and my marriage. Still refuse to say it was "good" for us. But it happened. And I can see that our choice to heal together has been "good" for us.

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  5. How many women on here are going through the spiritual awakening that Brene Brown talks about? That awakening in it's self is hard to go through too because it brings back all of these feeling so that you can deal with them in a certain way and let them go. I myself have been experiencing this for the last 9 months, and sometimes these emotions are like a flood of water coming over you and bashing you against the rocks, you can't breath because you keep trying to catch your breath and fight it but, when it's done and you start to understand what you are grieving you start to feel relief, strength and peace. I still go through cycles of grief from my h affair. I want to lash out at the OW and I want to hate her so badly but I don't, I can't, something inside me won't let me. I've been learning to have compassion and pity for her and her friends. I've been learning to trust my intuition more understanding my higher self. To love myself because I have made big mistakes too that might have caused someone else a lot pain. Pain I may not even be aware of causing them. And to see myself in that light is hard to digest too because I have always tried to be a good person. I haven't read this book but I plan to soon. When I started to experience this new journey of my life I have started to read everything I possibly could on the subject. It's confusing, emotional, and very painful at times like hitting rock bottom. It causes depression and anxiety. But each time I come up for air. like getting a break from it. I feel better, stronger and more sure of who I am. Because they want you to understand who you really are, your authentic self. And once you start to understand this it changes you. Forgiveness is then possible.

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    1. You are describing exactly what I experienced when I stopped wishing that things were different and began dealing with my reality.
      It sounds as if you are having a true awakening. So difficult some days but enough light that you can almost feel the transformation. Kudos to you for the hard work you're doing.

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    2. Did you see a lot of synchronicity? I thought all of these repeating numbers were going to drive me crazy. I do know a lot of people going through this see the numbers.

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  6. I really struggled with Forgiveness. A lot of why I struggled is because I always thought Forgiveness meant that it was okay that you hurt me. You would apologize and the response was it's ok I forgive you. It's not easy and when you have to forgive when the person isn't remorseful I feel it is even harder.

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    1. I think a whole lot of us think that's what it means. It's like giving someone a pass for their bad behaviour. Which is why the grief part is so important. It's about working through the pain it caused -- not telling the other person that the pain they caused was okay.

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  7. My understanding of forgiveness is that I no longer hold what he did against him. That doesn't mean I don't still hurt from time to time. It doesn't mean I don't remember or don't grieve. For example, when I saw photos of my son's wedding for the first time, and I realized for the first time that while he was speaking to them at the wedding about fidelity, he was cheating on me. That caused me grief all over again. It also made me angry all over again but then I remembered that he did that during the time that I have forgiven him for and so I shed a few tears and chose again, that day, to forgive. From my understanding of scripture I realize that God doesn't ask me to forgive the offender so that the offender can go free although as far as I am involved, the offender does go free. He asks me to forgive the offender so that I can go free, so that the evil of what was done to me no longer keeps me bound and does not give a seed of bitterness opportunity to take root in my heart and life. God will judge the offender in His time and in His way and it will be right because God is just. I also remember what God has so freely forgiven me for and realize that I have no right to harbor unforgiveness against someone else if God has asked me to forgive. Yes, it means that in some ways, the offender goes free...for now. Yes, it means that I take the high road, that I choose to be the "bigger person" but in being that it also makes me a better person, a happier person, and a more peacful person. Forgiveness is an every day choice sometimes or maybe a several times a day choice but I have chosen to forgive. It's my choice. It's not a feeling. Feelings come and go, as we all know but how we choose to live after such devastation is really up to us. I express my feelings when they come, but not in a way that causes further destruction. I grieve with God, I cry in His presence, I express my anger at the situation to Him because to do it to my husband who seems to be trying would be destructive to what we are trying to overcome and achieve. Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to mourn, even a time to hate but those times have limits. So when I need to cry or yell or whatever, I only allow myself to address what is bothering me that day. I don't allow myself to go back and re-live the whole mess again and again because I have moved on from there by choosing forgiveness. I thank God that He does the same for us in life as well.

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  8. I just read this great article in the New York Times and wanted to share. So much good info here.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/smarter-living/how-to-turn-toxic-emotions-into-positive-actions.html?fb=0&recb=home-living.als1&recid=17qs3eog0rd7rWdM1oRKJkft3SN&contentCollection=smarter-living&mData=articles%255B%255D%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.nytimes.com%252F2018%252F07%252F23%252Fsmarter-living%252Ffinancial-decisions.html%253Ffb%253D0%2526recb%253Dhome-living.als1%2526recid%253D17qs3eog0rd7rWdM1oRKJkft3SN%26articles%255B%255D%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.nytimes.com%252F2018%252F07%252F19%252Fsmarter-living%252Fhow-to-turn-toxic-emotions-into-positive-actions.html%253Ffb%253D0%2526recb%253Dhome-living.als1%2526recid%253D17qs3eog0rd7rWdM1oRKJkft3SN&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=smarterLiving-promo-region&region=smarterLiving-promo-region&WT.nav=smarterLiving-promo-region

    Drat, I tried twice to post just the link so I hope this works. The article is called, "Ever Wanted to Get Revenge? Try This Instead"

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    1. Beach Girl, Great article! Love the NY Times. I am saving this one. I will be rereading it and sharing it for sure. Thanks!!

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  9. I remember in the early months after D-Day 1 I told my H that I was pretty sure that I could forgive him. Well, those words came way to quickly because I still have not, over 4 years later. As said by an Anon above, I dont hold it against him, I dont throw it in his face I am not flying the reminder flag all the time..For me It's not so much saying something that makes it so, I'm not sure it's a physical action. For me, forgiveness might be a feeling, and although I am not destroyed by his past horrendous behaviour anymore, it does not consume me, I do not feel the feeling that might be forgiveness.

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    1. I haven't been here in ages, but it's 1am and I'm not sleeping (again) this time because well, we're still struggling- surprise. When I get stressed, I sometimes check out BWC and Elle's post caught my eye and Steam, your response hit the nail on the head. I did exactly what you did, and we're 4 years out and I still can't figure out whether I've forgiven him or whether I'll ever forgive him for parts of his 10 year emotional-with-sexy-aspects affair with two women. All I know is that I'm just sad all the time (yes- depression) and I wish I could forget it all. I hope that someday I'll figure out how to live with this period in our marriage and I figure that when that happens I'll have forgiven him AND me. BTW- I know it's ok to not forgive him for those parts (around the time my dad was dying)....not everything can be forgiven, I hope I get to some resolution eventually...I just wish it would hurry up!!
      C55

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  10. I don't think I can ever forgive my h for what he did to me or our children. Actually, I don't want to. I have no faith anymore - not that I really had much to begin with, but now - nothing.
    For me, I feel, that he didn't love me or the children enough. He loved himself more than us, so was happy to have multiple affairs - emotional and physical over what now appears to be the entirety of our lives together, and did so without a care for our feelings.
    For me, I choose never to forgive him as this will condone what he did....I just don't get this forgiveness thing. I will never forgive his parents for interfering in our marriage, for his bitch of mother for condoning what he did to me and our children (her grandchildren!!!) all so he could be happy. (Yes she told me that. She told me he just wants to be happy etc!!!).
    I gave too much of myself, my love, support, loyalty, everything you should in a marriage (financial help, to his parents) and to have no support back - they can all go to hell!
    I've realised through all this, that you need to get rid of toxic people in your life, especially those that threaten your marriage. Problem was, I could see who these people were, and despite me asking my husband to stop seeing certain women friends, then when I found out about the affairs - stop all contact with them, or making him see how his parents were unappreciative, HE didn't want to change. HE was comforted in what he always knew, even though it was damaging to our marriage and our family life - so here we are separated, and he's now with another affair partner and feels that because we are separated it's now all legitimate/morally ok to flaunt her around. Honestly, she's just as trashy as him.
    Hugs
    Gabby xo

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    1. Gabby,
      There's a question I asked for a post a while back. It was originally from an Esther Perel podcast and it was this: When did you start settling for crumbs? I completely understand your anger at your ex, his parents, those around you who couldn't support you, etc. But anger, as we often remind each other around here, masks hurt and pain. And I suspect there's a world of pain behind your anger, and more to the point, I suspect you're mostly angry at yourself for having settled for so many years when you KNEW things were not right, for having beat your head against the wall while everyone around you told you that YOU were the problem, that you just didn't understand.
      And somewhere along the line, you had learned to stop listening to what you knew and to let the crazy voices around you drown you out.
      And that's where your healing comes in. To re-connect with your own power, and your own voice and your own insight. These people are barely worth the effort it takes to be angry at them. Any mother who watches her son turn his back on his family with the notion that "she just wants him to be happy" is a mother who has no boundaries of her own. And, not surprisingly, she has raised a son who has no boundaries.
      Your job is to figure out where you learned that his needs mattered and yours didn't. And to ensure that you understand what a healthy relationship looks like so that you can model that for your children (who are going to need the safety and sanity of you while he's behaving like a teenager).
      Gabby, I'm so sorry this is on you. But this is HIS mess. Yes, you're affected. And yes, it hurts like hell, especially to watch him hurt your children like that. But draw really clear boundaries yourself, stop settling for crumbs and I hope the day comes soon when you're bloody grateful that this idiot is someone else's problem now.

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    2. Thanks Elle and Sam A
      Thanks to this site, friends and my kids. They keep me here and give me happiness. It's hard coming to terms with 30+ years with this "man", our family and our plans for future are over - But. I'm still here making so many wonderful new memories with my kids and it's his loss!
      Hugs
      Gabby xo

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  11. Gabby, I’m so pleased Elle fed back, she wrote exactly what I was thinking .. I hear you hurting honey, it’s time to go back to basics gabby don’t waste energy on people/things you can’t control instead spend that time on you and what you need to be able to move forward. I’m trying to think how I have dealt with my ex’s shitty choices and there are many reasons for his choices too many to start writing about and for me I just had to make decisions for myself that helped me to look at my situation differently. I was and am lovable his behaviour had nothing to do with me. I had to walk away for my own sanity and yes like Elle said I’m glad I did because I don’t have to deal with him as he’s not my problem anymore.. it still hurts when he puts anyone else before our children but I cannot change how he thinks I never could. Draw a line under this gabby make a list of what you need to do to make things better/ easier for you. If your having a difficult day or week please come here and we will try and help you through.. I think Elle’s advice is spot on .. lots of love gabby xx

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  12. Hey ladies - I have a question about forgiveness. I am 2 years post dday, and still have struggles in some areas, but at the same time, feel my heart really offering forgiveness. Of my husband, of the past that can't be changed, and of myself. I think I have felt it there for a while, but the further away I get and the more I heal, but more I feel like to KEEP healing, I have to offer forgiveness. I have many things that I worry about or fear, but I also realize that I can't keep staying there. I have to focus on the present, on now, on myself. I decided to stay, my husband is still here. We aren't perfect - as individuals and in our marriage, but we are better. We are good enough.

    But my question - if or when you felt forgiveness towards your husband, did you tell him? Did you say the words to him and how? Or did you simply know that in your heart you forgave?

    Many hugs!

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    1. Jules, I’m at 3 years, 3 mo. post Dday. What I have said to my husband over the last year once I got to forgiveness was this~ In the same way I could hear “I’m sorry I did this to you” daily for the rest of my life, he would also benefit from hearing “I forgive what you’ve done to me”.

      As long as you’re both committed to making it work and improving yourself to collectively create a better couple, these phrases are healing in my mind. Do we say it out loud daily? No. But it’s a phrase that is in our minds daily, as is all the guilt and frustration over what happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget or erasure. Forgiveness for me means that I recognize the hurt, pain and hell ive gone through, and I want to be free in my mind and at peace AND let it go. It’s such a heavy weight to carry, so I did it for myself, not for him as much. It should only make him feel good in respect to my mindset is getting better. To me it’s not like a pass or a clean slate for him. It’s a sense of closure to a really bad life event for me. I’m using the space in my brain and soul for the better things in life.

      Each of us BWs of course have different stories, different levels of infidelity, gaslighting, and complications, so forgiveness by no means is something that anyone has to do. This is an awful trauma and the journey along the way is owed individually. I come here daily for inspiration, laughter and a sense of sisterhood to gather ideas to make my life easier and to deal with the pain and some days triggers. I come here to say this isn’t a death sentence, like it initially feels. I come to try and give others hope that days get easier and you’ll make it. Telling our stories is relatable and healing, but nobody can ever be in the shoes of another. In the days after Dday, I was lost and needed to hear so much from others about survival. Turns out, I still do. It’s a day by day goal. All of you women have the warmest hearts and hands, and for that, I’m forever grateful!

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    2. Jules
      I continue to tell my h that I forgive the fact that he’s totally psychologically illiterate of women and we are going on 40 years of marriage and roughly 4 years out from dday. He does get the me too movement and he has had more than one kick in the gut from hearing it but at least he doesn’t not discuss the issues with me. I think I forgave him in words on dday but because his cow was continuing to contact him I had to forgive him for not reacting more harshly and sooner than he did! I struggled for years to forgive my mother and through therapy, I learned that her sins were not my sins and that she was doing the best she could! I hope this helps! Hugs!

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