Betrayed people get caught up a lot on the notion of forgiveness. Taking the high road. Turning the other cheek. Being the bigger person. Let’s face it, after you’ve been cheated on — it’s all a big shit sandwich.
Generally, you only have to eat that particular “I forgive you” shit sandwich if you reconcile with your cheater, and those people tend not to be the readers of Chump Lady.
The rest of us wonder post-infidelity — how do I let go? And if I let go, does that mean I am some how condoning what the cheater did? Did I let them get away with it? Even if I get my happily ever after, does the cheater get to feel smug in the knowledge that what they did to me, to my kids, to my family — Wasn’t That Bad?
If I don’t forgive them, does that mean I’m still hung up on them? Will I be an object of ridicule — one of those pathetic souls who prattles on incessantly to their match.com dates about their evil ex? Does not forgiving make me a bad Christian, Jew, Zoroastrian? Would it be better for my children if I forgave their other parent?
Chump Lady has chewed on the forgiveness conundrum and concluded:
1. It is perfectly okay not to forgive. I think you can move on with your life, not let the injustice consume you, and still not forgive a cheater. A reason for not forgiving is maintaining vigilance. Cheaters dupe you so completely, you may not trust yourself being around them — to not get sucked back into their alternative reality of lies and spin. Remembering — oh that’s right, I remember what you did to me and I don’t FORGIVE you for it — can be a way to feel safe. Shields up!
Generally forgiveness requires some participation from the offending party in acknowledging that they harmed you. Most of us never get this, and those that do are often not that impressed. A thin veneer of “sorry” cannot shellac that shit. Why should you hold yourself to the higher plane of forgiveness in the absence of remorse? Like the song above says, God may forgive you, but I don’t.
2. If you’re capable of forgiving, it might only possible from a great distance. If you can find it within yourself to not harbor ill will toward the cheater, I think that can only be achieved with a lot of time and distance from the infidelity. Eventually your new life crowds out your old life and the pain fades, and your new life improves, and it gets harder to work yourself into much of a lather about what the cheater did, or is still doing. I think it is much harder (if not impossible) to achieve a blissful state of “meh” if you have to live with or still interact with the cheater. That means at some level you’re still invested and vulnerable. Scabbed over wounds can break open. But if the person is a non-entity, I think it’s easier to reach that higher plane of forgiveness. I’m several years out, forgiving my ex would be like forgiving my horrible 9th grade algebra teacher. Algebra doesn’t have a lot of relevance in my life right now… so consider yourself forgiven, Mr. Cieliski.
3. Consider redefining forgiveness. Maybe it’s enough that you didn’t kill them. Maybe indifference is the best you can do and that IS forgiveness. I like this take on forgiveness from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.
However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.
But the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence.
Whether or not the cheater acknowledges the offense, by all means UNCHAIN yourself from victimhood. I like how Archbishop Tutu includes righteous hate and anger with forgiveness. That is the shadow side of love — you feel the injustice deeply because you loved deeply. But you do not have to let the pain consume you, and letting it go is for you. It is self interest AND forgiveness. I like that. I don’t hold out a lot of hope that letting go will make the cheater a “better person.” But who knows? It’s not your problem after you leave them.
This column ran previously.