How Do I forgive? Should I forgive?

Two years ago, I learned that my husband had been having an affair with a woman in one of his overseas offices. This had been going on for about 10 years before I found out – although others in the company knew of the affair. He has ended things and we have tried to move on. However, I am finding it very hard to forgive him. Part me of me thinks I ought to forgive him (because I’m always being told it’s the right thing to do), and because I think it might be better for me. But I’m finding it very hard to do. Maybe it’s because there’s another part of me which wants to hold onto this forever, and never forgive him for what he has done. Can you help me with this?

I’m really sorry you are going through this Colleen. It must have been incredibly painful to learn about the affair, and especially if you think other people knew about it. That makes the whole thing a whole lot worse!

In your email you talked about wanting help with forgiving your husband.

Let me begin by saying that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, and it’s something you offer on your own terms, and when you feel you want to forgive. And not before you are ready to forgive. The decision and timing have to be yours.

When you have suffered as deeply as this, you can’t just ignore it, and pretend it didn’t happen. Even if your spouse is genuinely remorseful. It’s caused too much damage, and affected you too much. That would be completely unreasonable.

Also, we carry a sense of justice in our hearts, and we feel that serious wrongs should be righted in some way. People who have harmed us should be held accountable. They should make restitution for the damage they have done. And especially if it’s someone we had trusted and loved, and someone we had made ourselves vulnerable to.

So when we’re treated like this, we can’t ‘forget it and move on’. It’s an act of self-respect to stand up for ourselves, and to demand that our suffering be treated seriously. We can’t let it be downplayed, trivialized or ignored. In fact, if we forgive too soon … because we’re told to forgive then it’s likely to slow the healing process down. It will feel like you don’t matter. That you don’t have a voice. That no-one really cares that you’ve been treated in this way.

And that’s not going to help your self-esteem at all. It will feel like you’re being wounded all over again. So you deserve to be angry, and to put yourself first. And to take all the time you need for this.

Then, when you feel you’ve reached a place where you want to forgive – because you honestly believe it’s the right thing for you – then that is the time to start thinking about this.

But the decision, and the timing, and the pace must all be yours.

Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” C.S. Lewis

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