Trying To Forgive A Lying Cheater
Wednesday - November 02, 2005
No, this is not a made-forTV drama. It’s real life. It seems I have quite a few friends who are suffering from the pain of being betrayed.
From the cheaters to the liars to the “suddenly changed” man or woman, I see friends and acquaintances whose relationships have fizzled and they are left with only the shattered pieces of their broken hearts.
Heartbreak is, I suppose, a part of life. But how do you get past that whole mess?
It’s a topic I addressed two years ago, which seems fitting to discuss again - the importance of forgiveness.
We all have that friend, who, against our better judgment and late-night prodding over the phone, decides to give his/her lying/cheating significant other a second chance.
Then there’s the friend who arrives on our doorstep in tears, destroyed from heartbreak, only to give his or her assailant another go.
They swear their lover has changed, and they didn’t mean the nasty things they said.
How many of those couples do you know who try to forgive the person who has hurt them, give the relationship another shot, only to be right back where they started mere months later because they can’t get past the pain?
What’s up with these people? Isn’t the hurt enough to show them the door - the heavy steel one marked “permanent exit to a place where you won’t have to suffer this torment”?
Maybe. Maybe not.
There are some relationships that can’t be fixed. And then there are some that deserve a second chance. Either way, the only way to move forward is forgiveness.
There are two sides to the matter of forgiveness, according to Dr. Thomas Cummings, a psychologist in private practice and at the Waimanalo Health Center, as well as the president-elect for the Hawaii Psychological Association.
Cummings says that if the person is trying to mend the hurt and forgive while still in the relationship, then they must realize forgiveness is a process. It will take time.
“You know that adage: Forgive and forget? Well, throw that out the window,” says Cummings. “You cannot forget. It’s hard-wired into us for survival. If someone hurts us, it would be ridiculous to forget because it’s part of our survival mechanism.
“You couldn’t forget even if you tried. But you can get to a point where you’re not so upset with the person.”
He adds that forgiveness and forgetting are two different things. Forgiveness does not require denying that we’ve been hurt.
“People think that forgiveness means condoning the offense,” says Cummings. “In fact, we must admit we’ve been hurt in order to forgive. That’s just the starting point.”
The myth that our partner will never hurt us is a naive one, says Cummings. “It’s the nature of intimate relationships that our partner will do something that hurts us. We’re so close, and human beings are imperfect.”
The strength in our relationships is having the ability to work through those hurts to bring you closer together.
“It makes a working, functional relationship that’s real,” says Cummings.
So let’s say Samantha’s husband lied to her. She caught him doing it several times about a variety of things - things as simple as what time he left work to who called on the phone to what he did with his friends.
Richard knows he was wrong; he’s hoping Samantha will forgive him.
Samantha and Richard have been together 10 years now, so she doesn’t want to just throw that relationship out the window, but how can Samantha ever learn to trust Richard again?
“The catch about forgiveness is when we really want to forgive but we’re afraid it will open us up to being hurt again,” says Cummings. “How do you forgive the past but still protect yourself from future hurt? Sometimes we don’t forgive because we don’t trust that it won’t happen again.”
Again, says Cummings, it’s a process. Rarely is there a point where a person says, “I completely forgive you and I will never bring it up again.”
“We forgive and then something happens down the road and those feelings get triggered again,” says Cummings. “The fear and the pain come up again. The husband says, ‘I thought you forgave me for this.’ But this process occurs over a long period of time.”
If your partner really understands how the hurt affected you, he says, he or she will be willing to spend that time empathizing with you, apologizing and easing your fears. This will optimize your ability to forgive.
How many times do you have to go over it? As many as it takes, says Cummings. “Do you want to be with this person? If the answer is yes, then the offender needs to do the work because the other person is feeling insecure.”
At some point, however, when the offender has done everything he or she can to ease their partner’s fears, then the burden of forgiveness will now fall on the person who was hurt.
This is important both in a relationship you’re hoping to continue and also in one you’re ready to walk away from.
Say the hurt is so big you can’t get past it. The person who hurt you never apologized - never redeemed your feelings - and they never will.
It’s still important to forgive so that you can move on.
There’s the side of forgiveness that is for yourself, says Cummings.
“A person has to see the value of forgiveness independent of the person who has hurt them. They have to say, ‘I’m tired of not trusting, of being worried and suspicious all the time.’
“Forgiveness is about changing our feelings about the offender and our attitudes about the situation so that we can move past it,” says Cummings.
If you can’t move past your hurt, it will become a giant wedge in your current relationship or in other relationships you have in the future.
Because who is it hurting if you can’t forgive? The only person it’s really hurting is you.
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