Can I Forgive You Coping with Infidelity by robbiecokkin



Can I Forgive You? Coping with Infidelity
by Ronda Bresnick Hauss

     This article is about the possibility of forgiveness and the freedom that is also avail-   –    The offender must seek to understand their behavior and reveal the inglori-
able if one chooses not to. It is based on the work of Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD, author             ous truth about themselves to the person they harmed.
of the books, “How Can I Forgive You?” and “After the Affair.”                                   –    The offender must work to earn back trust.
                                                                                                –    The offender must forgive themselves for injuring another person.

W       hen betrayal occurs in an intimate relationship, it is one of the most dif-
        ficult and painful experiences a couple can face. When one member of
the couple willfully hurts the other, it leaves the hurt person with the question of
                                                                                                What the Hurt Party Must Do to Grant Forgiveness
                                                                                                –   The hurt party must look at their mistaken assumptions about for-
whether to forgive and to reconcile or to leave the relationship. How is it possible                giveness and see how these assumptions may block their efforts to
for genuine forgiveness to happen?                                                                  grant forgiveness.
     While there are many definitions of forgiveness, one of the most powerful                   –   The hurt party must complete a process of acceptance (see below). In the
and useful definitions is offered by Janis Abrahms Springs.                                           case where forgiveness is the objective, the process is done with help from
     What is Real Forgiveness?                                                                      the offender.
     Genuine forgiveness is a shared venture and an exchange between two people                 –   The hurt party must create opportunities for the offender to make good and
bound together by an interpersonal violation.                                                       help them heal.
     Genuine forgiveness must be earned and comes with a price that the offender
must be willing to pay. In exchange, the hurt person must allow the offender to
settle the debt. The offender works hard to earn forgiveness through genuine,                    The Process of Acceptance
generous acts of repentance and restitution, and the hurt person works hard to let                   Genuine forgiveness is accomplished when both parties participate in the
go of resentment and the need for restitution.                                                  healing process. However, there are times when the offender does not seek
     The offender must demonstrate that they are fully conscious of their trans-                 forgiveness or the hurt party chooses not to forgive. Acceptance is the process
gression and intend never to repeat it. The hurt person must become less preoc-                 the hurt party undertakes in order to promote their own healing – regardless of
cupied with the injury and begin to let it go. Put another way, forgiveness expert              whether the offender participates.
Terry Hargrave says, “Forgiveness is accomplished when the victimized person                         According to Abrahms Spring, “Freedom lies, not from protesting the un-
no longer has to hold the wrongdoer responsible for the injustice; the wrongdoer                fairness of the violation or in getting the offender to care. Your freedom – per-
holds themselves responsible.”                                                                  haps your only freedom – is in deciding how to survive and transcend the injury.
     According to Abrahms Spring, there are many mistaken assumptions about                     … As you take the task of healing into your own hands, you empower yourself
forgiveness. One, for example, is that the offender categorically deserves to be                 and make peace with the past.” She also notes that acceptance is a process of
forgiven. Seeing forgiveness as a right, she points out, makes it much less likely              self care, a generous and healing gift to you, accomplished by you, for you.
that the hurt party will forgive you. Forgiveness, she points out is a hard earned                   The process of acceptance involves: honoring the full sweep of your emo-
process, and short of that it is actually “cheap forgiveness” that does not necessar-           tions; giving up the need for revenge but continuing to seek a just resolution; no
ily lead to genuine reconciliation.                                                             longer obsessing about the injury and reengaging with life; protecting yourself
     Another mistaken assumption is that if the offender works to earn forgive-                  from further abuse; framing the offender’s behavior in terms of their own per-
ness, they are saying that they are the only one who did wrong. However, Abrahms                sonal struggles; looking honestly at your own contribution to the injury; chal-
Spring notes that the offender is seeking forgiveness for the damage they caused.                lenging your false assumptions about what happened; looking at the offender
This is not the same thing as declaring the hurt person as innocent.                            apart from his offenses, weighing the good against the bad; carefully deciding
     Another mistaken assumption is that when the hurt party forgives, they relin-              what kind of relationship you want with the offender; and finally, forgiving
quish all negative feelings toward the offender. However, Abrahms Spring notes                   yourself for your own failings.
that this kind of magical reversal is not what happens to real people who have                       Forgiveness in the Abrahms Spring model is not a requirement for heal-
suffered real emotional injuries. When forgiveness is granted, room is made for                  ing from the injury. Thus, there is freedom for the hurt person not to forgive.
anger, and it is recognized as normal and adaptive. There are many other mistaken               Choosing forgiveness, however, involves both people being willing to under-
assumptions about forgiveness, and they are outlined in Abrahms Spring book,                    take a challenging process that entails hard work. It is a process that takes
“How Can I Forgive You?”                                                                        courage. The reward for that hard work is that it holds open the possibility of
     What then is the process that must be undertaken by both people for there                  genuine reconciliation for a couple. It creates the possibility of deeper intimacy
to be genuine forgiveness?                                                                      and real communication. It offers the chance to restore trust and allows healing
                                                                                                to flourish in the relationship.
What the Offender Must Do to Earn Genuine Forgiveness
       There are six critical tasks the offender must accomplish to earn forgiveness             Ronda Bresnick Hauss is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of the
       in the Abrahms Spring model:                                                             Quiet Waters Center for Trauma, Stress and Resilience on Capitol Hill. She uses
–      The offender must look at their mistaken assumptions about forgiveness and                an integrative & holistic approach to psychotherapy – addressing the connection be-
       see how these assumptions may block their efforts to earn real forgiveness.               tween the mind, body and spirit through the use of traditional talk therapy, medi-
–      The offender must bear witness to the pain they caused.                                   tation, visualization, and creative, non-verbal techniques. She can be reached at
–      The offender must apologize genuinely, non-defensively and responsibly.                   202-544-5050 and is on the web at ★
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