12 Steps to Forgiveness
Forgiveness seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for their wrongs.
Understanding What Forgiveness Is
Webster’s dictionary defines forgiveness this way: To give up resentment against; stop being angry with; pardon; give up all claim to punish; overlook; cancel a debt.
That’s an awful lot to ask of someone whose spouse has been unfaithful.
Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free. The surprise is, once you have forgiven, you discover that the real prisoner who has been freed is yourself, not the person who has hurt you. You become free of bitterness, and free to enjoy your present and your future.
Forgiveness is a response to an injustice. It is a turning, goodwill, a merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge. Forgiveness is paradoxical, the opposite of what comes naturally because it is human and natural to be resentful and require others to pay a price for their wrongdoing.
Yes, the person who wronged us should pay for the wrong they have committed. They OWE us something. The problem is, there is no price high enough that would pay for this injustice. So we make a decision to cancel their debt anyway. It’s like bankruptcy laws.
In the old days, if you borrowed money and couldn’t repay it, you were thrown into debtor’s prison. Some people came along and said, “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t fair. Just because someone really screwed up once and can’t repay their debt doesn’t mean they are a bad person and will never be able to get it right in the future. Let’s cancel all their debts, give them a second chance and hope they have learned a lesson from their experience. That’s what bankruptcy is.
Now when you go bankrupt, they don’t just let you start over as if nothing happened. You have no credit at all. You can’t borrow a dime. You have to start building from 0. And you have to be accountable for all your actions, spending (“time” if you’ve had an affair). You have to send in a monthly report of your income and your expenditures to the trustee, and show that you are managing your money well, and paying your bills for a period of time before they discharge you.
Bankruptcy laws are a beautiful thing. Giving people a second chance is much better than forcing them to live in prison for the rest of their lives, and most people go on to live productive lives after bankruptcy. In the same way many couples go on to live monogamous marriages after an affair. Peggy Vaughan’s husband (www.dearpeggy.com) has been affair-less for over 30 years now. What if she’d never forgiven him?
So forgiveness is canceling a debt, like when your credit card company calls you and says, “We see you’ll never be able to pay back the $10,000.00 you’ve racked up. We’re canceling it, and letting you start over. Just make sure it never happens again.” (We all wish that might happen in real life.) But that’s what forgiveness is. You don’t deserve it, but the person decides to give you a second chance, to believe in you, and give you a fresh start.
Understanding What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness is NOT condoning the wrong behavior. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting about it. Forgiveness is NOT denial, pretending it didn’t happen. Forgiveness does NOT mean the pain has gone away.
To truly forgive we must be aware of an important distinction: Forgiveness is not reconciliation with the person. Reconciliation is different. Forgiveness is one person’s moral response to another person’s injustice.
The people who are hardest to forgive are our partners, ourselves, church people and God. Perhaps because we expect more from these individuals … and rightly so.
12 Steps to Forgiveness
1. Write down the name of the person you need to forgive.
2. Acknowledge how hurt you are, and even the hatred you may feel towards this person for what they have done.
3. Think of times in your own life when your wrong actions have hurt or disappointed others. We also owed a debt we couldn’t pay. None of us is perfect. None of us is without fault. It is much easier to forgive others, when we bear in mind our own weaknesses and failings. We are all in need of forgiveness from time to time. Maybe we have never committed something as awful as betrayal, but as long as we have an uppity “I’m better than you” attitude, we will have trouble forgiving others. It is important to be honest with ourselves, and to view ourselves with sober judgment.
4. Decide you will bear the burden of the person’s wrongdoing. In other words your spouse’s affair is causing you tremendous pain, that’s the burden. Be brave and decide you will face that pain, rather than attempting to escape from it. As you do, the pain will begin to subside. I honestly feel no more pain associated with Brian’s affair.
Decide to be bigger and better than the situation at hand. Do what’s right, and the situation will in time be turned in your favor. Remember that doing good sometimes includes confrontation. Doing good is not tolerating injustice.
5. Take your piece of paper and write: I forgive ____________ (fill in the person’s name) for _______________ (write it all down) and it made me feel __________________. Write as much as you need to.
6. Make a decision to forgive. Say it out loud, “I make a decision right now to forgive _____________ (verbalize the situation).” Take as long as you need to, and be real. Ask for divine help if you need to.
7. Destroy the list: Rip or better yet, burn. (I threw mine in a river.)
8. Do not expect that your decision to forgive will result in major changes in the other person.
9. Try to understand the person you have forgiven. What is their point of view? How do they feel? Why did they do what they did? What have their life experiences been that have made them vulnerable to such temptation and wrongdoing?
10. Expect positive results of forgiveness in you.
What are the benefits of forgiveness?
- It sets you free from the past.
- It significantly reduces vulnerability to physical sickness in you. It reduces the amount of toxins in your body. Forgiveness will make you healthier.
11. Think of what you’ve learned through this experience. What could you do better in the future? How can you help others going through the same or similar pain? It helps when you can redeem some meaning and purpose out of all the pain and mess. It feels much better, when we can think it was not for nothing, that it wasn’t meaningless.
Forgiveness is a learned skill. We don’t just know how automatically.
The ability to empathize with others going through similar pain is an important benefit we gain from forgiving.
12. Be sure to accept your part of the blame for the offenses you suffered, where applicable. I accept no blame for my husband’s affair. I do not feel I can be held responsible for something, when I did not have the opportunity to participate in the decision of whether or not it was going to happen. But I do accept blame for my part in our relationship breakdown. That was very hard to do, but when I finally did this, we really began to move forward in our healing.
Forgiving something as major as betrayal is a process. It takes time to process all of our emotions; anger, grief and sadness. The important thing is to be moving forward from whatever point we are at. I told Brian I forgave him six months after the affair. I threw my list in the river two years after the affair. It is healthy to give yourself appropriate time to process your emotions, when forgiving infidelity.
If you would like to share a success story, helpful insight or comment on this article we welcome your remarks. Email your questions or comments to Brian and/or Anne firstname.lastname@example.org