Who are you really hurting when you hold on to the pain?
Last week Hillary Clinton made a brief but profound statement about forgiving her husband after his affair in the White House. Clinton said, "Forgiveness is a choice." Clinton never mentions anything about her husband asking for forgiveness or even actually forgiving his actions. Instead, she discusses forgiveness as a gift to herself. She says, "But it's not by accident the great religions, the great writers talk about how the person who forgives is liberated, maybe even more than the person who is forgiven." Clinton takes no responsibility for her husband's behavior or his ability to accept forgiveness. She simply just teaches us with her words that forgiveness was for her own well-being and future happiness.
When a spouse cheats, we go through a myriad of emotions: grief, anger, guilt, hopelessness, and often, fury. We want them to pay, to repent, to beg for forgiveness, and ultimately we want them to take back what they have done. Of course, we know that this is impossible and that life as we know it will never be the same. We decide at this point if we will stay in the relationship or not. However, forgiveness really isn't about staying or going — it's about deciding how we will let this life-changing event affect our future.
Forgiveness isn't about telling the other that their behavior was acceptable. Forgiveness isn't forgetting about what has occurred. Forgiveness is about taking care of ourselves in a way that allows us to look at the world with hope, love, and trust. When you don't forgive, you aren't really hurting anyone but yourself. You are holding on to an anger that you hope will make the other suffer but ultimately it only hurts you. Your anger won't change your partner but it will change you. It will steal your energy, your hope, and your joy. Are you really ready to give those up because your partner behaved poorly?
It's easy to believe that our partner has cheated due to some flaw in us yet cheating isn't about us; it's about the cheater. Something is missing in their life that led them to seek someone outside of the relationship. Maybe our relationship needs work but the decision to cheat is their decision and not our flaws. Ultimately, when we forgive them we are doing so with the awareness that there is something missing for them and not in us. Healing the relationship means each partner taking responsibility for his or her own behavior and choosing to move forward in a healthier, more loving way. Forgiveness will be your gift to both yourself and your partner.
How does one achieve the type of forgiveness that Clinton discusses? They take care of themselves. They get emotionally healthy. They find self-confidence within themselves and not within the eyes of their partner. Clinton actually blossomed after her husband's affair. She found her voice, her confidence, a career that she loved, and the ability to live her life well regardless of her husband's actions. Who would have blamed her had she become bitter, unhappy, and out to seek revenge on her wayward spouse? But who would she have hurt by doing that? Only herself.
Maybe Hillary's ability to heal herself ultimately healed her relationship. I'm not suggesting that she played any role in Bill’s cheating but clearly she played a role in making their marriage a better place for herself. She wasn't (nor ever will be) responsible for his behaviors but by making herself both emotionally strong and without resentment, she made her life, and her future better. Isn't that what forgiveness is really all about? A way to heal ourselves and pave a path for a happy fulfilled life.
Forgiveness is a tool that you can use to not only heal yourself but to heal your relationship even if that relationship ends. Allowing the anger and hatred to leave you allows you to look at your relationship with a clearer eye. Is this a relationship worth saving? If so, how will I be part of the solution and not the problem? Was this affair a reflection of ongoing problems in my relationship and if so, what role do I play in those problems? This isn't an exercise in blaming yourself but rather in choosing to change aspects of your relationship that weren't working.
How can you follow Hillary's forgiveness path for yourself? Maybe it's time to redefine forgiveness away from others and more toward you. You can ask your partner to change their behavior and to never cheat again. You can set some firm limits around what is acceptable behavior within your relationship and you can choose not to hold onto your partner's behavior as if it were your own. It isn't. You can allow yourself to heal from the hurt as a gift to yourself, your relationship, and your future.