Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Forgiveness Sucks

"The most precious treasures we have in life are the images we store in the memory banks of our brain. They can also contain some of the most painful. The sum of these stored experiences is responsible for our sense of personal identity and our sense of connectedness to those around us."

Memories can breed greater success but can also sabotage our chances for success and healthy relationships. When considering the idea of what "forgiveness" involves, I've decided on two things. One is my ability to try and define what forgiveness means to me and the other is to discover how it works.

Forgiveness is...

First, my definition: Forgiveness is the willingness to set aside an offense in an effort to prevent that offense from destroying a relationship that has been meaningful. It does not require forgetting because that's impossible. It simply means that in spite of a betrayal of trust or an insensitivity to my feelings, I'm not willing to anchor my life to that memory or dissapointment. I refuse to hold on to the negative energy that corrupts my ability to move forward in life. I must be willing to practice grace and mercy and strive to restore my connectedness and love that authored the relationship originally.

What does "offense" mean?

I believe I can feel offended more so by choice than anything. Feeling offended can sometimes be as simple as hearing a comment that threatens my sense of belonging. As an example the following question is usually offensive and communicates you don't belong to what's percieved as normal. ("So, have you always been this fat?") It's a sudden discovery that the whole world doesn't believe as I do therefore whatever you say that's contradictory to me seems hurtful. Nobody wants to think of themselves as "out of sync" with the beliefs of others. However, that type of offense I believe is simply a choice. I can choose to let your words or beliefs bother me. If I do, then responding with - "You've offended me" simply becomes a way for me to try and protect myself.

The offense of betrayal

Another experience that may define "offense" includes betrayal. We all have basic emotional needs that are common to everyone. If someone who we trusted to provide one or more of those needs suddenly is discovered to have actually done just the opposite, that experience can be defined as an ultimate offense. We all need to depend on someone for love, security, belonging, and power to protect ourselves and control our destiny. Those needs are what bring two people together for friendship or marriage. It's what a normal relationship consists of. However, if and when you discover that someone you've trusted and depended on for meeting one or more of your needs has failed you, it has the potential to become catastrophic to the relationship. Then the question becomes, can I accept how or why this offense took place. Was I being taken advantage of? Did I do something to deserve this or contribute to this? Was the betrayal a well layed plan or an opportunisitic event?

Why many marital betrayals take place

I believe that many betrayals of marriage vows take place for reasons most of us miss. Men or women many times aren't unfaithful because they don't love their spouse. I believe many times it's because they don't love themselves or aren't getting one or more of the four basic needs met. As a result, they are continuely searching to fill the void that self-love and having their needs met would otherwise fill. In other words, they have crappy self-esteem or are experiencing a deficite of necassary "needs" met thus they to seek outside affairs to medicate inside emptiness.

The common link.

What happens when a wife or husband is discovered to have begun an affair? The devastation of broken trust when it comes to our dependency for getting our needs met is almost unrestorable. Very few marriages survive the discovery of an affair. The link between having our needs met and the person we've depended on for it, is trust. I fall in love with the person I believe I can trust to look out for my needs and vice versa. When the common link is broken, it almost always is broken forever. The reason? "Memory." Our inabililty to override a painful memory is what anchors us to seldom being able to restore trust. Trust & Forgivenss can really suck if or when they are lost.

Those who stay together and those who don't.

I have two theories on why some spouses split and why some don't. My first is related to the spouse that was betrayed. I believe the healthier their self-esteem is, the less likely they are to abandandon the relationship. Here's why. Low self-esteem is more simply defined for me as someone who believes they are defective. The greater the degree of their belief, the more likely they are to leave or split up. Why? Because they quickly connect the dots to every experience they have in life and pour it through their "I'm defective" filter. They say, "If my spouse cheated on me, that must mean I'm even more defective than I first thought. After all, if I wasn't defective, they wouldn't have cheated. " So, what do you do when you've propped up your low self-image with a spouse that originally made you feel good about yourself? You get as far away from them as possible because it's your belief that the rest of the world will pronounce more judgement on just how defective you really are. You believe that your friends and family will think you are defective because you made a poor decision when choosing a spouse and an even worse choice if you decide to keep them.

Another factor for some people staying or leaving is dependant on the family dynamics they grew up in. Children that lived through their parents divorce are far more likely to experience their own divorce someday. Why? Because they learned from their parents that there's only one way to resolve devastating marital circumstances. If both spouses grew up in households that kept the marriage together, they are more likely to keep their marriage intact. We grow up to... "do what we know."

The last factor I believe is related to religious conviction and/or societal norms. There is great pressure in many religions and cultures that influence whether or not you will remain in a marriage that has experienced infidelity, discord, or even abuse.

How does forgiveness really work?

To forgive or set aside any offense of any magnitude becomes more than just logic or decision making. Forgiving someone you've developed a meaningful relationship with requires going back to a word most of us struggle with. Commitment. I coined the following phrase once and it's a constant reminder to my wife and I on how we've decided to survive through tough times. "Falling in love may get you married but it takes commitment to keep falling."

My commitment is to do whatever I have to in order to learn everything I can about being in love. If I fail through betrayal, the words "I forgive you" are helpful but the actions are found in the word "commitment." I want my wife to trust me although some of my behaviors have destroyed much of that. That's something everybody lives with as a result of the loss of trust. It doesn't mean you have to feel hopeless though. Commitment keeps us both in a learning process instead of in final position. I want my wife to feel that I will be there, not as a fraud, but actually be there to meet all of her basic needs. I want her to know that I'm not intentionally trying to be selfish and that I'm willing to accept correction and encouragement from her. I want to hold no grudges and carry no unforgiviness because I would want that from her.

The Battle

The battle to forgive is not in the act of forgiveness as much as it is in the actions that follow. From the moment a betrayal is discovered, the offending party will immediately and forever be transformed into something they don't want to be. Have you ever accidently burned yourself on a hot stove? How many times after that experience did you repeat that painful lesson? Nearly all of us would say zero. Once burned the lesson is learned. You will forever see the stove and remember that it has the potential to harm you. That is exactly the outcome of marital betrayal. The offending party has emotionally burned their spouse and will now and forever be seen as a hot stove. The offender will hate the fact that they morphed into a stove but all is not lost. The offended spouse will always know that you have in the past hurt them and have the potential in the future to repeat it. But the future for that marriage can be salvaged if you can live with the new rules. Remember, the offended party didn't change the rules, the offender did.

Because the rules have to change, this is why many spouses experiencing betrayal simply want to leave. They married someone where trust was common to all relationships. Now, the rules have changed and if they stay together, they will be in a very small minority. Who in their right mind wants to remain close to a potential hazard? It is natural for us to avoid both physical and emotional pain. However, I now have this question to pose. Remember the time you burned yourself on the kitchen stove? Afterwards, did you get rid of the stove or did you think to yourself you simply need to be more careful? I've never met a person who threw the stove out. They simply learned to adapt or change the rules.

The relationship you both had before one of you became a hot stove was probably a good one. The only issue is, how did this burn come about? Was it intentional or opportunistic? Do both of you or just one of you need to go back and review just how meeting each other's four basic needs was being incorporated? If he doesn't feel loved because she doesn't initiate sex once and awhile, seems to me there's a pretty easy solution there. If she doesn't feel secure because he keeps drinking, seems AA might save that relationship. If he doesn't feel like he belongs because she is continuelly critical, that doesn't sound like it would be too difficult to change.

My attitude about marriage is this. Marriage and relationships can be the most difficult of life's experiences. I've never met a couple that said marriage was easy. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love is not.

I don't like being the offender and I surely don't enjoy feeling offended. The same holds true for bitterness or unforgiveness. You may be angry, bitter or unforgiving to whom ever you believe deserves it. I can't change you, I can only change me. Therefore, I choose to not allow any offense toward me, whether intentional, deserved or otherwise, to get in the way of any relationship that at one time may have been very meaningful. I choose to forgive and accept that there may be pain that comes with it as well.

"Be very careful how much forgiveness, mercy, and grace you withhold
from those who hurt you. It may become the standard for
your consequences when it's your turn to fall."