Your Relationship is your Greatest Asset
When you hear those two words, what do you think “it” is? A football game? A meeting? A meal?
“It” is the most important thing we crave above all else, whether we are willing to admit it or not. “It” is a love relationship. Just ask someone who has had a love relationship then lost it, or someone who is not in one.
How many times a day are those two words said worldwide?
We do know, however, that statistically the most common reason for “it’s over” in a marriage is an affair. So its common. So heaps of people are doing it. Does that stop the hurt? Is there any way to get over the hurt?
Ok, so today we are touching on the big one: infidelity. The seemingly unforgivable. I can’t say here what can be written in books or said by therapists. But I do want to touch upon one of the most important steps in the forgiveness process: deciding to forgive.
“He only told me about the affair three years after it was over. I had no idea. How could I be that gullible? It was a work colleague. I was at home with our twins, barely two-years-old. He was ‘working back late’ to pay off our mortgage. It wasn’t just the affair, it was knowing that the person I loved lied to me and accepted my love while he shared his with somebody else. Then he continued to lie. It shattered me.”
World falling apart.
Dreams ripped to shreds.
Aching inside that never leaves.
Deep, deep hurt.
This is what Christian hears behind the closed doors of his office.
A while back, I wrote about Georgia and Sam who went through an “it’s over.” They have found a way to reconcile, but Georgia has since told me there was an affair involved in their breakup and she is finding it hard to forgive Sam.
“It just hurts so much. I keep thinking about him giving his love to another woman. He says it was just physical, that it doesn’t mean anything to him, but it doesn’t help. Why wasn’t my love enough for him?”
She started crying. So much hurt.
“I want to forgive him but how can I even consider forgiving when I feel physically sick every time I think about it?” She was torturing herself.
Infidelity, if it is to be forgiven, needs to be understood and strong feelings processed. This is difficult. It leaves an emotional scar from which many relationships do not recover. How to handle an affair depends on your personal values and the values you forged as a couple. There is no right or easy answer. Each relationship is different.
The contract at the beginning of any love-relationship usually includes there are some things we won’t do with others, one of them is expressing physical intimacy. This is usually expressed in marriage vows, an agreement of sexual exclusivity, or some shared understanding discussed or assumed early in a relationship. An affair acts against this core contract; the sense of betrayal is great. It’s serious: when you’re in breach of contract, the deal’s off.
Getting past an affair means being aware of the damage done to the contract. It will mean putting together a new contract. There are many ways to do this (See Heim “Forgive”)
Re-writing a love contract is a start. A good start. Often the couples will need a therapist to help guide them through. But you have to want to forgive in the first place. You have to decide to forgive. We talked about that first step last week: deciding.
“I want to forgive him. You see, there’s the kids, my parents, our friends” Georgia continued.
“But what about you?” I said
“I still can’t believe he did that to me. I’m still in shock.” Georgia continued.
The second step to forgiving is accepting. Accepting that it really happened.
“Yes, that’s the hard part, accepting that it happened” I replied.
Georgia continued blow-drying my hair. “You’ve got quite a few grey hairs starting here”
“What! Where? No I don’t!” I retorted.
“Caroline, you have to accept that you will go grey one day.”
We both laughed. It felt good and eased some of her pain.
“I still don’t know how to start forgiving.” She sighed.
“You’ve started.” I replied. “You’ve decided to choose love over payback. It’s powerful.”
I think Georgia will make it, but it’s a long road ahead. They’ve decided not to go with the therapist and work through the issues themselves. But they’ve decided to work on it, so their chances of success are much greater.
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“Goodnight” Christian said.
I didn’t want to say goodnight. I didn’t want to say good morning, I didn’t want to say anything.
This was the night after our last argument. (I wrote about it a few months ago.)
I didn’t want to reconcile, I didn’t want to keep talking about it, I just wanted it all to go away.
I had just been editing some of Christian’s writings and remembered this:
Forgiveness is distinct from reconciliation; you don’t necessarily need to be back in relationship to forgive. With your love-partner, however, you need to reconcile. It’s part of the deal. Otherwise you can’t go on living together comfortably. Without reconciling, you’re in a stand-off, a cold war; the relationship virtually ends: sure, I forgive you, I just don’t want to talk to you anymore.
Part of the deal? Really?? (It is so annoying to be married sometimes.)
I also had a proverb going round and round in my head. I had been at a meeting at a service club during the week and we had to write a piece of advice in a card for one of the members that was getting married. About one third of the members had written:
“Don’t go to sleep while you’re still angry with each other.”
Far out! All these “shoulds” screaming in my ears. I hate “shoulds” and spend most of my life getting rid of them.
To stops the “shoulds” I started thinking about what we were arguing about and tried to make sense of it. Christian had said some things that hurt me and I said some more hurtful things that surprised even me. They seemed to come from left of the Nullarbor (a huge, flat, arid desert in South Australia).
Why would a person who loves you want to hurt you? In most cases, they don’t. They don’t mean to. But something inside them “makes” them do it: conflicting emotions, strong desires, unmet needs, unfulfilled ambition, greed, selfishness, jealousy or some other inner conflict. Something. Rarely is someone just mean.
Sometimes, you, their love-partner, become collateral damage in a desperate struggle happening deep inside their head. Your relationship mirrors what’s going on for them:
People who criticize are usually very self-critical
Hard task-masters are usually very hard on themselves
People who lie often, often lie to themselves
People who say they hate you, often hate themselves
People who push you away, often feel unworthy of love
People may hurt you to hurt themselves: self-sabotage
People who are insecure will test you to see if you are loyal
People who manipulate are usually deeply insecure
OK, so something was going on inside me and I was working it out on Christian. This needed much more thought. But right now I needed to do something to reconcile. Even though I didn’t really want to, I wanted to at the same time. (Humans are so complex and contradictory.)
“Goodnight” he said again … I begrudgingly gave him my hand.
There’s something powerful about touch. In the soft pressure of his hand I realised that Christian was my greatest ally … against myself and my own sometimes terrifying thoughts. As I was his greatest ally against his own terrifying thoughts.
“I’m sorry and … I … forgive you for what you said.” (sort of.)
It was a bit strained, a bit forced, a bit artificial, but there was a huge part of me that wanted to reconcile. (After I said it I felt my temperature go back to normal.)
“Me too” he replied.
At least we were talking again.
Love. It will keep getting up and trying again. It will work hard to forgive when hurt (even if it doesn’t want to). And it will wake up in the morning with fresh eyes and a heart that knows that its greatest ally is the person walking beside you.
We only hurt the ones we love the most.
Welcome to our blog. Each blog contains an insight into your relationship and how to mend or grow it drawn from Christian's 18 years of clinical experience working in psychiatry. They are told as stories. The central ideas are in bold. All the pictures are originals. We post once a month. Looking forward to travelling with you in this amazing journey called life.