Dear Suzie, I had a four-month long inappropriate relationship with a consultant I met at my job. My wife found out and was devastated. I never meant for any of this to happen. I’m desperate for my wife to forgive me, but I don’t know if she will ever get over me lying to her and being with another woman. What can I do to get her to forgive me? I am truly sorry for what I did. I want my marriage back. What do I need to do? – William B.
Dear William, Learning how to inspire someone’s desire to forgive is like learning how to fly fish. It’s a very delicate process that requires both skill and intuition. The mechanics can be taught in a day, but the process might take much longer to master. As with fly fishing, successfully inspiring forgiveness is usually a matter of willingness to learn, the commitment to practice what you’ve learned, and the patience to wait for the right results.
Which reminds me of a story…
There once was a son of a powerful king. This prince had inherited all the riches and responsibilities of his father’s land. But he was young, and he wanted none of it. So one day, he coolly said to his father, “Father, my older brother is here. He is wise, dedicated, and loves to rule like you do. Why not give me my inheritance and let me find my own way… in another land?”
The father who was a very wise man shook his head ruefully but said “I understand,” and gave his younger child exactly what he wanted.
When the elder son saw what the father had done, he was raging mad. “Why have you let him go so easily, Father? Don’t you know he has not yet learned good sense? Don’t you know he will squander all the riches from your coffers? Don’t you know he will bring disgrace to our house, our name, and himself? Why have you allowed him to abdicate the responsibilities of his birth?” “Because,” the king replied, “above all, responsibility is a choice.”
And so the story is told…
The younger son made his way to another city. At first, it was great fun. He had never before tasted such freedom. The money flowed, and the friends followed. But eventually, the money ran out and so did the friends.
The young prince soon grew lonely and scared. What was to have been a great adventure had now become a horrible nightmare.
Soon, this son of royalty found himself joining the homeless, eating at soup kitchens, sleeping in a bus station that smelled like a pigsty. Until one day, it all became too much for him. The young man sat down in a corner and started to cry. Looking around, he thought, “Even the servants in my father’s land live better than I do.” And then he thought… “That’s what I will do… I will pick myself up, dust myself off, and go home. I will throw myself at my father’s feet, beg him for forgiveness, and ask him to make me a servant in his house. At least then, I will live better than this.”
Since he had no money, the prince had to walk all the way back to his father’s kingdom. There were many points along the journey home where he almost turned back, but the thought of living in poverty again reminded him he had nothing to turn back for, and so he kept on going.
Interestingly enough, as he crossed into his father’s land, no one recognized him. His clothes were those of a beggar, his walk was slow, and his head was hung low… like that of a condemned man. When he reached the gates of his father’s house however, a servant recognized him and sent word to his brother, who rushed out to meet him.
Once the elder brother saw the younger’s bedraggled state and recognized that his dark prophecies had come true, he began to chastise him.
“I knew this would happen! You are a worthless and selfish person. Why have you come back here to disgrace the name of our father? Have you not done enough? When you left, his heart was broken into a thousand pieces. Your betrayal brought him down like a blow from a sword, and now you come back to rub salt into his wounds and make him a laughingstock in front of his friends. Why don’t you just turn around and go back to wherever you came from?”
Indeed, the words hurt the younger son. “It’s all true,” he thought to himself. “I have earned great shame. But I’m too tired and I’ve come too far to turn back now.”
So he told his brother…
“I will see my father and throw myself at his feet. I will beg his forgiveness. If he so wills, I will leave. But not until I have told him how truly sorry I really am.”
Hearing the commotion, the old king came out and saw that his youngest son had finally returned. A great joy descended upon his heart like a dove from heaven. He strode forward and hugged his son with great joy and pride. He ordered a warm bath for him and commanded the servants to adorn him with a silken robe and expensive jewels. He called to the bell tower to ring the great bells. He ordered the plumpest calf killed, and immediately declared a national holiday.
Shocked at the warm reception, the younger son looked at his father with tears in his eyes and asked… “WHY, FATHER? Why have you welcomed me with such open arms? Especially after I have let you down, disgraced you, turned my back on you, and squandered your treasures?”
In response, the father lovingly gazed into his son’s eyes and said, “You could not have squandered my treasure because YOU are my treasure.”
Now… I’m sure you’ve heard this story told in many different ways. The reason it has endured and been repeated in many different cultures is because it points to two very important truths:
- Above all, responsibility is a choice.
- With love, all things are possible.
How do these two truths affect you?
When we look at the story as an allegory, how it applies to your situation becomes more clear.
For example, you could easily replace the responsibilities the son inherited with the responsibilities you accepted when you got married (or entered into a committed relationship). You could look at your decision to have an affair as a decision that you no longer wanted those responsibilities (or felt confined, trapped, bored or restricted). You could replace the exotic land with the lure of the other woman, followed by the dawning of recognition that doing wrong didn’t (and couldn’t) make you happy.
We could also look at your desire for forgiveness as your journey back to the responsibilities you had temporarily turned your back on (including your own self-respect and integrity). We could identify the older brother as your own internal critic who whispers to you that you don’t deserve forgiveness, that what you did was unforgivable. The father in the story could be likened to your partner, whose love you hope is strong enough to overlook your immature actions.
But there’s a key in this story that must not be overlooked, and it is this:
At no time did the father go searching for the son. The son’s journey home was self-directed. His desire for forgiveness was sincere. He had learned his lesson. He had seen the contrast between the bird in the hand and the two in the bush. This means he had already created the conditions for his own forgiveness. The father’s loving heart could feel this, and that inspired his willingness to forgive.
Now, think about this son’s future…
Knowing that he had learned that above all, responsibility is a choice (his choice), how likely is he to rebel, resist, or feel overburdened by his responsibilities in the future? If you thought not very likely, then I agree with you.
Therein we find the beauty of this story.
It tells of how we can make mistakes and learn from them. It tells us that by demonstrating that we have truly learned from our mistakes, we automatically create the conditions for forgiveness.
Notice I said we create the conditions for forgiveness, NOT just asking for forgiveness. That’s because the two are completely different.
Here’s what I mean:
What if the son hadn’t actually felt true remorse? Suppose he had come home feeling entitled or trying to bully, manipulate, or guilt his father into forgiving him. Do you think the outcome would have been the same? Personally, I believe the outcome would have been totally different.
This is because we can only inspire forgiveness through humility and sincerity. The thing to note here is that asking for forgiveness isn’t unique; anyone can do that. However, meeting the conditions by which forgiveness is inspired is a different kettle of fish altogether.
By now, you’re probably wondering… “How do I go about creating the conditions by which forgiveness is inspired?”
Good question. Here’s the answer. In order to create the conditions for inspiring forgiveness, you need to know this:
Key Insight: Forgiveness isn’t the real miracle. The real miracle is the love that inspires it.
Let me explain…
Your partner’s unwillingness (inability) to forgive comes from fear. In other words, it’s not love that causes your partner to hold on to the hurt, feel mistrust, and remain bitter, angry, or vengeful — it’s fear.
Where does that fear come from? It comes from the ego.
What’s the ego?
Here’s the definition I like best of all: the ego is that part of the mind that believes in fear. And that’s the problem with the ego. Fear is its foundation, and therefore, fear is its problem. Now, remember the ego isn’t personal. Everyone has an ego, and everyone’s ego is unforgiving (including your own). When it comes to inspiring forgiveness, the ego’s fear is your greatest obstacle (more on this later).
Now, the question becomes… if fear creates the conditions for unforgiveness, then what creates the conditions for forgiveness? As you probably already figured out… the answer is LOVE. It’s the only power in the universe strong enough to overlook the mistakes of infidelity. That’s why in order to create the conditions that will inspire your partner’s forgiveness, you must first remove the things that trigger their unforgiveness.
The number one secret to inspiring your partner’s forgiveness is to remove the obstacles that block forgiveness.
Sadly… I see many wayward partners doing just the opposite. Rather than creating (and meeting) the conditions for forgiveness, they foster the conditions for unforgiveness. Listen! That does NOT have to be your story. It really doesn’t, because coming up next is a crash course on three of the biggest obstacles blocking your partner’s forgiveness. As you find and remove these obstacles, you automatically create the conditions for your own forgiveness.
Turn the page and let’s go over the list…