“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” —C.S. Lewis
Forgiving someone is one of the hardest things to do for many of us, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. You open up to a person in hopes that they’ll never betray your trust, and then it happens.
Not only does your heart shatter into a thousand pieces, but your emotional scars run very deep. You then become determined to never feel that type of pain again and turn “cold” in the name of protection.
Recently, an associate of mine told me that her common- law husband of 12 years did the unthinkable. Not only did he cheat, but he also got the woman he had an affair with pregnant.
My friend was completely calm when she told me.
“I’m not going to leave him, and it isn’t because we have children or I don’t think I can do better,” she explained. “I love him, and I forgive him.”
She then proceeded to tell me that they’d both done their share of dirt throughout the relationship, but somehow, some way, the child was a wakeup call for the both of them.
Although I’ve never experienced this particular situation, I have experienced my fair share of trauma, hurt, pain and disappointment in love. Listening to her tell her story got me thinking about what it takes to move past such a devastating betrayal.
Here are five steps to forgiving when you’ve been betrayed by your mate:
1. Determine if you can/should forgive the act of betrayal.
Everyone says that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you. While that’s true, sometimes there’s s something in your heart that won’t allow you to move past a transgression. And that’s fine. If that is the case, end the relationship; otherwise, you’ll ultimately end up resenting—and possibly even hating—each other. But if you are willing to fight for the relationship and move past the indiscretion (whatever it may be), then decide to work on not placing it at the forefront of your mind. Forgiveness is letting go of all the negative emotions toward the offender for what they’ve done, and it will not work unless you genuinely work for it.
2. Have an honest conversation.
Acts of betrayal just don’t come out of nowhere. Yes, there are a lot of selfish people out there, but there’s often a pretty solid reason why someone hurts the one they love. No, I’m not trying to validate those who cheat, lie and father (or mother) children outside of their relationships, but I’d be inaccurate if I said all people who commit such offenses are doing it out of pure selfishness.
It’s time to have a conversation about why the offense took place, and it must be an honest one. Both you and your mate must be willing to be raw with each other for the sake of saving your relationship. Determining why the offense occurred gives you the opportunity to correct whatever issues might lie below the surface. Seeking professional help is critical during this time. Therapists can offer a very objective point of view because they only look at the issue at hand and aren’t emotionally connected.
3. Be willing to let go, but never forget.
Many times, people mistake forgiveness for forgetting. Rarely can anyone forget when someone does something to hurt them, no matter who it is. But all of us, especially the one who has been betrayed, just want to forget the offense ever took place. True forgiveness does not work that way.
Though you’re not supposed to keep score of how much someone has hurt you, it’s good to be aware of what has occurred in your relationship for the sake of redirecting triggers. Forgiveness is a two-way street. The offender cannot just expect for all to be restored at the snap of a finger, but the innocent party cannot continue to hold the offense over their mate’s head. Earning the trust of your mate back takes time, effort and tangible action that may be required for the duration of your relationship.
4. Remember why you chose your mate.
Relationships often end because people tend to forget why they chose their significant other in the first place. What was it about him or her that made you say, “That one’s mine”? Are the characteristics, actions and behaviors that made you fall in love still present? Now that your relationship has experienced a significant form of trauma, it’s more important to nurture your union. You cannot go on as if things never happened, but you can focus on the great things about being with your mate.
5. Be prepared for the offense to happen again.
We’d like to think that the devastation will never happen again, but forgiveness does not equal “no more offense.” You shouldn’t expect for your mate to let you down, but you cannot be surprised if it does happen again. Do not live, breathe and operate in paranoia. Just be real with yourself and the situation. The truth is that you are taking a huge risk by continuing to be in a relationship with someone who has caused you great mental and emotional harm, so just be prepared for whatever happens.
Forgiveness takes time, effort and a genuine desire to do so. Straight-up honesty has to present throughout every healthy, positive, joy-filled relationship, but it has to work overtime when trauma has occurred. Your relationship will never be the same once something foul goes down, but with an open mind, trust and dedication, you can get past the obstacles.
Shantell E. Jamison is an editor for EBONY.com and JETmag.com. Not confined to chasing headlines, this Chicago-based writer, radio personality and cultural critic is also the author of Drive Yourself in the Right Direction: Simple Quotes on How to Achieve Your Best Self.