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Anne Bercht, author
"My Husband's Affair Became the Best Thing That Happened to Me"

 
How Does One Forgive an Extramarital Affair?
by Anne Bercht

"The difference between holding on to a hurt or releasing it with forgiveness is like the difference between laying your head down at night on a pillow filled with thorns or a pillow filled with rose petals."

Loren Fincher

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Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free. The surprise is once you have forgiven, you find out that you were the prisoner, and not the person who wronged you.

There is a big difference between forgiving someone and restoring a relationship. On the surface forgiveness experts seem to disagree. Some experts say we should always forgive. Others say forgiveness is not always appropriate. However, when you dig deeper, you'll find their definitions of forgiveness are quite different, and when you define what is meant, they do actually agree, they just don't all call it forgiveness.

Forgiveness is releasing feelings of anger, hatred, bitterness, murder and revenge - the all consuming negative energy that is destroying the life and health of the victim who has been hurt. Some may call this letting go or acceptance.

Experts agree on encouraging this type of forgiveness to benefit the victim once an adequate grieving period has been embraced. Forgiveness is not synonymous with restoration. Restoring the relationship will take the effort of both parties and is therefore not always possible, nor advisable. Sometimes one party is unwilling to do the work of restoration or to change.

Within the context of forgiveness, there are two types. In the first, the offending party is truly sorry and asking for forgiveness, which makes forgiveness much easier. In the second situation the offending party is not sorry making it much more difficult, but it is still necessary to forgive them for your own benefit as to not allow that person to ruin your future as well as your past.

For example, in one situation where a man had an affair and in a very cruel way left his wife and family for the other woman, the woman had every right to feel hurt. As a result of their father’s abandoning the family, the children supported their mother and did not want to spend time with their unfaithful father. However, as the years passed the woman never forgave her husband. In fact, she nursed and rehearsed her grudge over and over again allowing it to fester and grow. Whatever you feed grows. She became a bitter and constantly complaining nag as a result of her choice not to forgive. Ten years after the event the children could no longer stand to be around their mother, whom they could not even visit for short periods without listening to her replay the hurtful events of the past, as though they had just transpired yesterday.

Meanwhile, their father regretted his actions, expressed his sorrow, changed his ways, did what was within his power to make restitution, correctly processed his feelings and forgave himself. He then became a happy and pleasant individual with a kind disposition. Over time his children forgave him and gravitated towards spending time with him. As a result of the mother’s choice not to forgive, she not only had to deal with the painful event forever, but she also lost her relationship with her children.

It is important to remember that forgiveness is a process. It is also important to realize that forgiveness is not synonymous with forgetting. My memory banks work great. Everything I have ever experienced is stored there. The difference is that when I do the work of forgiving, although I still remember, the stinging pain no longer accompanies the memory.

It is also important to know that our feelings always follow our thoughts and not the other way around. We have the ability to control our thoughts. Forgiveness is a choice. When I choose to forgive someone, at first my feelings do not agree. What this means is, when I think of the person and what they have done to me, I automatically feel pain. I want the other person to pay a price for the wrong they have brought against me.

Unfortunately in the case of adultery, what has been wronged cannot be righted. It’s water under the bridge. I can’t get the purity of my marriage back. Forgiveness means I make a choice to give up my resentment and my right to punish the person for what they have done. However, forgiveness does not mean that I allow this individual to continue to mistreat me.

 Let me explain it like this. First I make a choice to forgive, but I don’t feel like I have forgiven. The memory of what has happened flashes through my mind and it is accompanied with feelings of pain and anger and a desire for revenge. Then, I consciously choose to think “I forgive so and so.” At first I must do this many times a day (and I still feel the pain and the anger). Also when the thoughts return to me, I do not allow myself to dwell on them negatively, only in constructive ways to learn and understand more of what happened, to process the event and to move forward and heal. Eventually, the memory returns less often, and I am gradually able to put my thoughts and energy back into living a constructive and healthy life. Gradually each time the memory returns the pain decreases, until I reach a place where I rarely feel the stinging pain accompanied with the memory any longer. I am finally at peace. Forgiveness takes time and effort.

Another important step in forgiving affairs is education. The more I understand about affairs the easier it becomes to forgive. Educating myself, again, is my choice. For example learning that the affair had relatively little to do with myself, and much more to do with my husband and his own inner struggles helped me to heal. It was also important for me to understand that I am still a valuable person even though this has happened to me, and that I am not alone.

In my battle to forgive, it was also important for me to understand the truth about human beings. The truth is that we ALL fall short of our own ideals at times. While we don’t all have affairs, all of us have hurt someone and/or disappointed someone in some way at some time. No one has ever lived a perfect life. Remembering that I myself have sometimes done the wrong things helps me to forgive someone else. Have you never stood in a situation where you needed to ask someone for forgiveness? As long as I think of myself as better than someone else, I will have trouble forgiving. I need to be careful not to think of myself more highly than I ought, but rather with sober judgment in accordance with what is true.

 Here is an excerpt on forgiveness from my book My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me! It is taken from a chapter on my personal struggle to forgive the other woman. It was something I had to do. My pain was so intense; I feared that if I didn’t forgive her, I might have killed her.

 Then as if a voice was speaking somewhere, I heard the words “you have to forgive her”. I don’t think they were audible words, just words somewhere in my mind. Yet not my own words, for they seemed to interrupt my own thoughts. Tears began to pour down my cheeks. I knew the words were true and their truth seemed to penetrate the very center of my being. I wanted to do the right things, but I didn’t know how I possibly could.

A long time prior to learning of my husband’s affair, I had done a lot of studying about what it means to really forgive and why we should do it. Probably because I have had a tremendous amount of forgiving to do in my life, and quite honestly it has always been one of my weaker areas. If ever anyone could be a master of hanging on to even small offenses for years – it was I, and hanging on to offenses had contributed to a great weight of sadness throughout my life, hindering my ability to experience true joy.

When I became aware of this “root” in my life, I embarked on a journey of personal discovery, learning how to process in a healthy manner the grievances I had encountered throughout my life. Today, this foundation was invaluable. What I had previously discovered during my battle with forgiveness before learning of the affair was that the only person who suffers from not forgiving is the offended person, not the person who has committed the offense, and who deserves to suffer. Secondly the only person who really benefits from forgiveness is the offended person, not the offender. When we harbor unforgiveness within our hearts it literally destroys us from the inside out, and it gives the offender power not only over our past, but over our future as well.

Lucky for me I knew this already. It would have been too difficult to learn in the midst of my inner fight to survive this most devastating experience of my life. I could not yet acknowledge Brian’s part of the guilt. I viewed him as "friend" and her as "enemy". I was not an evil person, but this betrayal was driving me over the edge of sanity.

I crumbled to my knees and screamed out “Oh God, where are you? Help me. I don’t know how to live through this.” It felt as if there was an ocean of pain and tears inside of me so huge, that even if I cried all day, I would barely have made a dent in releasing its storming waves of grief. Yet as I cried out in desperation, I saw that the laws of the universe could not work on my behalf, while I myself was harboring hatred within my heart. I had to understand what was true and right, right now. “And you will know the truth and the truth will set you free," the voice inside my head seemed to be saying.

What was truth right now? The truth was my marriage was probably over. The truth was my husband had developed strong feelings for another woman and this truth seemed too cruel a reality to bear. I wanted to run away from the truth, yet I needed to be strong and brave.

And another excerpt later in the chapter:

“Lord”, I was decisively forcing myself to pray for my own benefit, not to benefit the woman who was ruining my life. It reminded me of the same will and resolve I had used many years ago, when I used to jump out of airplanes “for fun." I had been underage at the time, and in order to have permission, I had had to persuade my mother to sign a release waiver. When she had said to me “I’ll sign this paper, because I know once you get in the door of that airplane, you’ll never jump." one thing had been determined with unbending certainty, dead or alive; I would not be landing with the airplane. When the moment came for me to willfully throw myself out of the plane, I remembered her words and my decision. I was frightened beyond description, but when my brain gave the muscles in my body the commands to move, they obeyed. I always had a choice. Not a choice over what would happen to me, but rather a choice over how I would react to it.

I remembered reading Corrie Ten Booms remarkable story, The Hiding Place, her account of surviving unthinkable atrocities at the hands of the Germans during World War II, and seeing both her beloved father and sister die. And I remembered her challenge and courage to forgive, when she once had been speaking in a church years after the injustices had taken place, and there after the service stood one of the guards who had participated in the cruel treatment of her own dear sister, who had died at his hands. If others could do it, I could do it too. I thought of forgiveness as an inner decision. I understood that it wouldn’t make my pain go away, and I understood, that forgiveness didn’t mean I wouldn’t remember it anymore. What it did mean was that I was making a decision to release my feelings of anger and resentment towards the person who had wronged me.

“Please forgive my sister for the pain she has caused in my life," I prayed on my knees on the floor beside my unmade bed, my head collapsed upon the rumpled quilts wet with tears. As I spoke the words, between my sobs, I was trembling. The pain was so great that I wondered if I was bleeding. It felt as if there were one hundred pounds balancing on top of my head, yet with each word my load seemed to lighten. “Forgive her for her wrong in stealing my husbands’ affections from me. God, I know I need to forgive her, but in myself I cannot, yet it is my choice.” I willed myself to continue because I understood it was the key to my own freedom. “I choose to forgive her." I continued forcing myself. “Please help me to do that. Please bless her in her life and meet her needs, but not through my husband. Please help Brian to see the wrong he is doing, and please restore our marriage, if you can.” I believed it was my responsibility to take one step in the right direction and that God would walk beside me, helping me to take the rest. That was faith.

As I ended my prayer, an unexplainable peace filled the room and I collapsed upon my floor exhausted, as if I were a foot soldier, who had just finished fighting a grueling battle in the field, the battle for my own freedom. I had been a prisoner to my thoughts of anger, hatred, murder and revenge. They had been destroying me from the inside out, threatening my very future. The war with my enmity towards Helen was not yet over, but the first battle had been won and for the moment the vexation was at rest.

End of quote from My Husband's Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

I made a choice to forgive the other woman, for me, not for her, for my freedom. To do this I did not need to tell her I forgave her, and neither did I need to have any kind of relationship with her. I just consciously chose to release my feelings of anger, hatred, bitterness, murder and revenge towards her, that were destroying me, not her. In time, I forgave my husband also. Because of the closeness of our relationship, that was a much longer process.

©Copyright 2010 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.

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