Time to heal
Forgiveness is a process, not just a one-shot event
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 12/05/2013
My husband, Jarrett, had an affair with a colleague at work intermittently for more than five years which I didn't know about until it was already over. He changed jobs, no longer works with her and hasn't had contact with her for 11 months. I've forgiven him, and while he says that he wants more than anything to believe me, he doesn't. Jarrett thinks I blame myself, make excuses for him and try to just look the other way and forget about it. He keeps repeating that he desperately wants to start over and only focus on our marriage, but he doesn't believe I've truly forgiven him and thinks I'm unintentionally setting up an emotional wall between us.
I believe Jarrett loves me and I don't mean to be cold or silent, but sometimes the affair just pops up in my mind. You reap what you sow and I honestly believe the affair was a great deal my fault because I was putting a lot of attention on our children and my sick mother rather than Jarrett and our marriage.
I met the woman a couple of times and I can understand how Jarrett was attracted to her because she takes better care of herself than I do and dresses beautifully. Knowledge of their affair is the most painful experience I've ever gone through and I just want to be understanding and face my part as well.
Jarrett has always needed a lot of attention and is terrified of abandonment. He was extremely close to his father, who died when Jarrett was only 12 years old. He was devastated by this horrific experience of loss and I think it's probably why he kept the affair going for so long.
How do I get him to believe that I'm forgetting about what happened and am moving on?
I commend you for reflecting on your own actions during such a shocking and overwhelmingly hurtful experience and trying to take responsibility for your part of the problem in your marriage. There's nothing wrong in reflecting on how you've been neglectful toward your husband or how you may have even neglected your own care. There's also nothing wrong with understanding Jarrett's past childhood traumas and how it affects him currently. At this stage, however, it sounds like he probably wouldn't bring up a problem unless he's really sensing one.
Let's make sure there aren't misconceptions of what forgiveness is that might get in the way of you working through this betrayal and all the pain it has caused you. Condoning, pardoning or excusing your husband is not the same as true forgiveness. Many theorists believe the primary factors that hinder or prevent forgiveness are avoidance and withdrawal. I'm concerned you've convinced yourself that somehow you "deserved" this experience. Be careful not to just excuse this wrongdoing by falsely concluding that it's not worth acknowledging or pretending that it didn't seriously affect you or - as Jarrett has pointed out - unconsciously deepening the resentment and inadvertently expressing that resentment as coldness, silence or an "emotional barrier."
Defining forgiveness is difficult. While various professionals have different concepts as to the psychological, philosophical and spiritual aspects, most agree that forgiveness is not about pardoning or condoning, nor is forgiveness synonymous with forgetting and does not provide "amnesia" that bypasses all the emotional injury. When you're able to uncover, acknowledge and experience all your feelings - including the anger and the pain without being intimidated or becoming paralyzed and then being able to let it go -you subsequently become empowered.
Forgiveness can lead to personal insight and improved psychological functioning. This may take time, however, as forgiveness is a process rather than just a one-time event and it might be wise to obtain help from a mental health professional. Forgiveness does not imply victimization or that you accept ongoing abuse from Jarrett, yourself or anyone else. Many theorists believe one can forgive without any kind of a reunion with the person that hurt you. But, if you want true reconciliation with Jarrett, it's a good idea to go through a more complete process of forgiveness.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.