Few other words strike up as many feelings as the word forgiveness. There are many opinions on what it means to forgive and how much gray area there is in the “forgetting” part that is often associated with forgiveness. This concept is one I have personally wrestled with for a few years now, and this is the story of my journey.
My Husband Betrayed Me
My ex-husband had an affair. The details of when and for how long are still a little blurry to me; but, nonetheless, it happened. I was able to figure out who “the other woman” was because, well—I knew her.
We had only hung out one time with our families, but we were friends on social media after that family play date, so we had the occasional comment and “like” on each other’s posts. The betrayal of an affair is already very deep and somewhat indescribable, but the added bonus of personally knowing the other party involved was like an extra knife in the back. I just did not understand why she would do this to me, why she would want to be a part of ruining my family.
What Is Radical Acceptance?
I work as a substance abuse/mental health counselor in a substance use residential treatment facility for men. I spend most of my day at work talking to my clients about resentments and trauma and how not working through one’s resentments and trauma can keep one mentally, emotionally, and physically sick. And, as you can probably already guess, a big part of working through those things is forgiveness. I even give them handouts in their treatment packet on how to break down the process of forgiving someone and themselves. Forgiveness of oneself, others, and situations outside of your control are a huge part of the recovery process.
One such day at work I was talking with my clients about a therapeutic concept called “radical acceptance.” The word “radical” is defined as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough” (definition from Google).
This concept is a part of dialectical behavioral therapy, which I admittedly don’t know enough about to get into a big explanation. But the concept of “radical acceptance” is easy enough to explain in that one can acknowledge an experience, acknowledge the emotions of that experience, accept that it happened, and create positive affirmations regarding the experience. My clients were very receptive to this activity and many of them said it was extremely helpful to some situations they were chronically hung up on. I gave my little therapist self a pat on the back and went to my office…
Radical acceptance is when you acknowledge an experience, acknowledge the emotions of that experience, accept that it happened, and create positive affirmations regarding the experience.
This Is How I Knew I Needed to Extend Forgiveness
As soon as I sat in my office chair, I was hit with an immediate sense of emotional discomfort. The first thought that popped into my head was “now is the time to reach out to her.” You see, ever since I figured out it was her who participated in the affair with my ex-husband, I thought of all the things I would say to her if I ever saw her randomly out and about or mustered up enough courage to contact her.
Many of those words were not very kind. That alter ego part of me was ready to give her every piece of my mind. I thought about her nearly every single day. While I had done the work of trying to forgive my ex, I was not ready to say anything kind to her or forgive her. She was the ideal my ex went for when he no longer felt I was good enough. She was the muse he needed to feel what he thought was love. And that wrecked me.
Those thoughts were holding me down from emotional healing like an anchor tied around my neck, even when I wasn’t conscious of them; but in that moment in my office, I realized the only thing that would set me free and let me come up for air was to practice the same radical acceptance I had been preaching to my clients.
How Do You Forgive Someone Who Hurt You?
Even with all these realizations, I tried to talk myself out of contacting her. I came up with a lot of reasons. She probably blocked me on social media, but then I realized she hadn’t when I was able to easily find her. I told myself I didn’t want to drudge up the past or cause any dissention in her home. I told myself she would probably just ignore me which might make me feel worse.
But still the booming thought in my head was “now is the time to contact her.” In the past, whenever I have experienced a consistent thought like this, I believe it has been the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding me because when I listen and follow through, the result is always good.
So, I went for it. I quickly wrote what came to mind. And I didn’t even have the desire to write anything hateful or negative. I knew that ultimately all I really needed to tell her was that I forgive her. I was done letting her take up space in my head and feed into my negative thoughts about myself. I ended the note by wishing her and her family well, and I hit “Send.”
Forgiveness Is Powerful
It took about 30 seconds for the “Seen” indicator to show up and then for the typing bubble to appear. My heart stopped. Never did I expect such a quick response, and I was honestly scared. Her reply took me by surprise and caused me to immediately burst into tears.
She said she was grateful I was brave enough to reach out because she had wanted to for so long but felt like she couldn’t. She wanted to give me the respect I deserve in talking with me about everything. And she apologized. Still to this day my ex has not apologized for his wrongdoing, and I didn’t realize until she said it how much I needed her apology to help me heal. Since we were both busy at work, we made plans to talk more that night, and that’s exactly what we did.
We texted back and forth for hours that night. Our conversation was honest, kind, and full of gratitude for how each of us was approaching this newfound territory of reconnecting and possible reconciliation. We unpacked so much of what we had built up over the last couple years, but never once did it feel hateful or vindictive. We realized we are a lot alike and have so many of the same insecurities, likes, and dislikes. From that one day, from that one moment of radical acceptance for me, a friendship has started to blossom that is full of grace and understanding.
We have talked nearly every day since then. I asked her for cookie recipes around Christmastime (she’s a wonderful cook!), and she’s asked me for advice on furthering her education. We talk about the joys and woes of motherhood and find solidarity with each other in having nerdy husbands (click here to read my story of remarriage and life as a blended family). We’ve been honest with each other in our expectations of this friendship and understand that full reconciliation takes time.
Full reconciliation takes time.
Forgiving Her Made Me Happier
I can’t describe the relief I have felt since taking this step of forgiveness. An actual, deeply felt, physical weight was taken off me that day. A client even commented the next day, without knowing what I had done, that I looked happier. And I believe that I honestly looked happier because I felt it!
The emotional and mental recovery from all of this is priceless. Of course I will never forget what happened, but since forgiving her, I no longer hold animosity towards her. I no longer look at her as “the other woman.” Instead, I see her as someone who made a mistake and is working to heal. I now view her through a lens of not only radical acceptance but also radical grace. The kind of grace that is far-reaching, thorough, and fundamentally changes a person.
I understand that not everyone will have such a positive experience with the final result of choosing to forgive someone and taking steps towards reconciliation. The person you need to forgive or apologize to may have passed away or may just be unreachable to you. You may not ever receive an apology.
In any case, as a counselor, I would first suggest you find a counselor to help you work through any and all life issues, but especially through the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
A second suggestion would be to write a letter to the person you need to forgive. I know from personal experience and experience with clients that writing is cathartic and can help organize jumbled and tough-to-understand thoughts. If the person is still living and reachable, then maybe give him or her the letter or read the letter to the person. If the person has passed away or is unreachable, then spend some time with the letter, and then find a ceremonious way to “let go” of the letter.
If you are a woman who has dealt with the betrayal of an affair, I understand that it may not always be possible to have a similar experience as mine with your “other woman.” God’s grace is still big enough to help you heal even if you never get closure from anyone else involved. Also, remember that forgiveness is ultimately for you, to help you accept and move past those painful experiences. If the other person isn’t receptive, that’s on him or her and not on you. You did your part—the brave and courageous act of forgiveness.
Find a counselor to help you work through any and all life issues, but especially through the process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
(This piece was written with permission from the other people involved.)