My husband had an affair with a co-worker. He no longer works with her, and swears he has told me everything, yet I don't believe him. I think it's because it took 3 years for him to finally confess that they actually had sex and weren't “just friends.” I felt like I was being tortured for years knowing the truth, but that he just wouldn't give me peace. Now that I have the truth, I still don't have peace. It's worse. I want to forgive him and move forward in our marriage.
He has shown genuine remorse, has gone to counseling, and has bent over backwards to change and to be a better husband and father.
BUT I just can't seem to let go of the images. I can't stop thinking about the affair, the woman, the details, where it happened, how it happened, the humiliation because EVERYONE knows about it… what feels like a million times a day. I can't stop the thoughts. I don't feel like I want to punish him, it's not that… but I can't get away from it. I also worked for a company that serviced the buildings he worked in. I had to see her and everyone who knew they had an affair. I had to quit a job I loved because I couldn't stay married to him and deal with that humiliation.
Now, I have to drive the long way to work every day just to avoid the area the affair happened in, but it doesn't really help because I just think about why I'm driving the long way to work! We have a great sex life, but half the time in the middle of it, my thoughts go to them having sex and I'm immediately turned off. And if I had the courage, I'd run screaming from the room, but of course I don't. I torture myself through it, praying I can refocus my thoughts. When I'm not thinking about it, I'm very much in love with my husband and think how happy I am that I've decided to stay and to work through it… but then something will set my thoughts off again. I feel like I'm going crazy!!!
How do I control my thoughts and move on? I know he deserves another chance, he deserves forgiveness and I want to forgive him, but why am I having such a hard time getting rid of the thoughts? Visualizing stop signs and refocusing events to see this as a positive event for change in our marriage isn't doing the trick. It doesn't stop my thoughts. Please help, I want to save my marriage and family. – Christina
Thank you for the opportunity to serve. I just want to let you know that I am very aware of what a sticky position you are in. On the one hand, you want to forgive. You want to move on. You aren't angry with your husband. You don't want to punish him anymore. You've decided to give him a second chance and you know he's basically a good guy and he does deserve this second chance. And he's done everything to prove that he really does deserve the opportunity to be a better husband to you. So far, all of these are great signs. And if I were your life coach… I would be very proud of you. I would tell you that you are moving at great pace down the road to recovery.
But on the other hand…
There does seem to be some stuck-ness. There seems to be a part of you that's not moving forward, that keeps circling the hurt, picking at the scabs of the wound by reliving the humiliation and images of them in the dark movie theater of your mind. What's happening here? How can a person both be moving forward AND falling behind at the same time?
That's a good question. And here's the best answer I can give you.
I believe the reason this is happening is because you have not yet experienced true forgiveness. At this point, you've only achieved partial forgiveness. In other words, you've forgiven him — but not her. You've forgiven some parts of this experience and not others. You've let go of some of the anger but not the injustice. You've healed the hurt — but not the humiliation, you've stopped punishing him — but not yourself.
Think about it like this.
Imagine you're playing a game of poker. In poker, all the players get chips. If a player believes they have a winning hand, then they will push all of their chips into the center of the table (the poker term for this is “going all in”). It means you've put everything on the line. You have no backup, you're holding nothing back. Now, there are times when a player will not go all in. Even though they have a good hand, they will hold some chips back… just in case they are wrong… so they can avoid being wiped out and being devastated.
Using this analogy, true forgiveness is going all in. It means you forgive EVERYTHING and everyone associated with this situation. You don't hold on to anything. You are fully committed to letting it go. Partial forgiveness means you do hold some things back. In other words, you keep a few choice hurts on the back burner… just in case.
How can you be sure you're dealing with partial (false) forgiveness?
Here are some clues:
- Although you bury the hatchet — you have a tendency to dig it back up.
- Memories still hurt and painful images still haunt you.
- You can still be negatively “triggered” by what happened.
- When you think about the people (or circumstances), you feel a burning anger, or painful sensations.
- A part of you wishes for revenge, harm or punishment towards those involved.
Do any of these ring a bell?
If they do, don't despair. The good news is that partial forgiveness is an important step on the way to true forgiveness. Think of it this way.
The experience of true forgiveness is like climbing to the top of a mountain. About halfway up the mountain is a beautiful rest stop called “partial forgiveness”. There are chairs and great vistas, and you can look back and see that you've come a long way from the hurt. And because it was such a difficult climb just to get to the halfway point, many people end up hanging out there for a long time. The challenge is that halfway is not all the way, and so they are still haunted by the past and still subjected to the harshness of contempt, shame and resentment.
Something to notice…
As far as you've come, you've not experienced total freedom. This is because 50% forgiveness is still non-forgiveness… just like 50% of the truth is still a lie. You are still in pain because when it comes to forgiveness, it's a case of forgiving it all or not at all.
The question you need to ask yourself is… are you willing to go all the way up the mountain and experience true forgiveness?
This is an important question to ask yourself. I must tell you that not everyone is willing. And no one will force you to. There are millions people on this planet who live their whole lives at that halfway mark where they have taught themselves to “tolerate the pain” rather than simply learning how to let it go.
But I have an intuition about you.
The fact that you've taken the time to write your question to me so clearly, I can only assume that you are not alright living in that semi-okay place. You want the whole fairy tale back, you want the love, trust and happiness to return to your life like a flower returns to a garden after winter. Am I right?
If this makes sense, then here's my suggestion for you.
Step #1: Read all the articles I wrote in the How to Forgive Infidelity category (and I do mean all). It’s going to take you about 2 hours to read them all, but don't stop short. Because by the end of reading all these articles, you will have a much better understanding of the power of true forgiveness and how it can be the difference that makes a real difference. For example, no more need to control your thoughts because your thoughts will naturally become more loving.
And as important as that step is… this next step is even more important.
Step #2: I suggest you listen to my coaching session on Healing the Hurt You Didn't Deserve. Because I believe the thing that's holding you back is not just about forgiveness but also about your pride. It's that sensation of shame and embarrassment that this happened to you in the first place… that is blocking your path to true recovery.
Why is listening to this session so important?
Because when it comes to healing the hurt, reading goes a long way, but it simply doesn't go far enough. You need more. You need to be coached (sometimes even coaxed). You need to be motivated. You need to be inspired. You need a new way of processing. And perhaps most importantly, you need to learn new skills and strategies for doing all this. I've designed this particular coaching session to give you all that and more. I have faith it will help you.
Until we speak again...
Remember... Love Wins!