The name of the blog
"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.
Thursday, 13 March 2014
The Timeframe of Forgiveness
Is there a time frame that must pass before forgiveness can be pursued? I have offered my cheating ex-husband forgiveness on several occasion, not cheap artificial forgiveness though. What I have told him over the last nine months, is that when he is ready, I am willing to work with him to obtain and provide forgiveness. And each time I have offered that, he has either turtled, or told me that he does not deserve my forgiveness and cannot forgive himself. Yet another Mexican stand-off between us.
What I mean by working with him on forgiveness is twofold. First, the only thing my husband has ever apologized for, or acknowledged as a mistake, is lying to me. There is a wealth of other issues he is not ready to face, such as the affair or deserting our marriage without a conversation. And until he is, I know he is not ready for forgiveness. And the other issue is that real forgiveness is a process that is undertaken by two people to each acknowledge the pain and issues they have caused each other. The book How Can I Forgive You by Janis Abrahms Spring brilliantly captures the difference between plastic forgiveness, acceptance about a situation which you create on your own, and real forgiveness between two parties.
The popular rhetoric these days is that forgiveness is good for you; that you should forgive others to find peace for yourself. However, that myth is debunked in How Can I Forgive You in a way that makes complete sense to me. What pop culture is actually referring to, I believe, is acceptance. Sometimes it is highly inappropriate to seek true forgiveness with someone, such as the case of a child victim and the incest perpetrator, or between a rapist and the adult victim. Contact could further victimize the child, and a child cannot likely process empathy for the perpetrator, nor does a child have the life skills or capacity to withstand the emotional shitstorm that would ensue in confronting the perpetrator and having to listen to them. What a child could work on in therapy though, is acceptance of what has happened. Making peace with the assaults, as best as is possible, processing the feelings about the assaults and the perpetrator, and ultimately letting go and/or integrating that story into themselves in a healthy way does not require forgiveness. This is all I get to do with my story of betrayal and loss. I alone get to choose how to process it; there is no joint effort with M or a conversation to hash out my perceptions of what happened; thus, there is also no real forgiveness.
What I have been thinking over the last few days, since the last time I offered the olive branch and M did not acknowledge the offering, is that there might be a shelf life on my interest in looking backwards and dealing with a problem long since accepted. As M has left me on my own to grapple with the affair and break-up, I have had to do all the work by myself to get to a place of acceptance. I may not be completely there yet, but what I am starting to think is that once I am, I will no longer care to forgive him. Dealing with the infidelity and quickly dissolved marriage will become his issue, not mine.
If it takes M four, six or eight years to come to terms with what happened between us, and be willing to talk about it, will I want to listen? Life does not move backwards, and way leads on to way. I fully expect to be in a very different position in life in mere months, let alone years. I do not believe that I will need to hear what he has to say once I have truly made peace with the end of our marriage, so I anticipate my moral question will be whether there is enough compassion and caring for him left in me to want to offer him a cleansing opportunity. Forgiveness at that point will be strictly for him, not for me. I need to work on forgiveness now, when he is not ready. I need him to take responsibility now, and he is not capable or willing. In the Canadian Federal Criminal Justice System there is a process available called Restorative Justice. A key component of this process is that the perpetrator must seek the opportunity to express remorse through a neutral third party, and then the victim is contacted and it becomes their choice whether or not to participate. This is what I want from M.
I have heard two variations on how time and forgiveness can play out in relationships from two differing sides of a story. A girlfriend of mine who cheated on her boyfriend was not ready to seek forgiveness for four years. And when she reached out, she was rebuffed. Two years later, at the six year mark, she tried again, and was informed by the hurt party that he did not realize the depth of his anger and pain about the betrayal until she reached out, and that he was not interested in hearing her side of the story.
Another girlfriends serious boyfriend dumped her and disappeared overnight with little to no explanation; she literally did not know if he was dead or alive. Eight years later he tracked her down and was ready to talk about what had happened with him, and between them. She was able and willing to listen to him, and they have developed a friendship years later despite his sudden departure and absence.
I can speak from my own experience with my first husband, who 23 years later has still not asked for the opportunity to take responsibility for his choices, that I could care less how he feels about his legacy. I have no compassion for that man and I cannot imagine ever developing some no matter how my journey progresses. He has become so irrelevant to me that I simply would not want to spend a few precious hours of my life listening to him wax nostalgic about our son, who he disowned, and offer empathy for the pain he created.
What I have yet to read, hear in a TED talk, or be told by someone in the healing profession, is where in the Kubler-Ross model of grieving is forgiveness appropriate for the injured party? The first four phases after a significant loss, denial, anger, bargaining and depression, all seem very inappropriate for reasons I think are clear enough that I will not insult your intelligence. Which only leaves acceptance as a possible stage in the grieving process where we can entertain the work of true forgiveness. Forgiveness could also feasibly come later when the grief has fully passed and we have integrated ourselves so deeply into the new normal of our lives, it is no longer new, only normal. I think I am in the acceptance stage, caught between daily exercising my new self in my new role, one foot forward, while occasionally glancing backwards over my shoulder. I believe I am ready to face M and talk about forgiveness.
I want to forgive my ex-husband, mostly because it will mean that he is ready to face what he did and have an honest conversation with me. I know in my heart it is only through him asking for forgiveness in a good way that he will ever be back in my life, and I miss his company. Dare I say I miss the friendship we had, and I miss him. It is a hard pill for me to swallow knowing he would rather give me up than work on forgiveness.