Dear Michele: Should I Forgive?

Dear Michele,My husband and I are divorcing. He left me in December and I later found out that he was having an affair. He would like to reconcile, but is not admitting to the affair. He only admits that he has had an “inappropriate friendship”. There is plenty of evidence and testimonies to the contrary. I could forgive him, but he is not telling me the truth. Should I take him back even though I know he is lieing?
Should I Forgive?

Dear Should I Forgive,
I am so sorry to hear about what you have gone through. Suffering through a divorce is a major loss and I urge you to take the time and space to discern the best way to proceed. It appears that you are divorcing, but at the same time there is a chance that you may reconcile? I would imagine that you have conflicting feelings and may not be sure which option you want to pursue.

As Catholics we believe that the marriage vow is permanent and cannot be broken. Jesus tells us that from the beginning of man and woman’s creation, divorce was not part of God’s design. The only exception occurs when a condition exists prior to the marriage commitment that made it impossible for one or both partners to freely, fully, and completely give himself or herself to the other. The only way to assess the validity of the marriage bond is to complete the annulment process.

In answer to your question, it will be extremely difficult to reconcile with a marriage partner who appears to be avoiding his responsibly for breaking the vow of fidelity. Without responsibility, you cannot build trust. Without trust, you cannot build a commitment. Without a commitment, you do not have a marriage. If he is unable to be authentic about his past behavior, I would question his ability to keep his commitment in the future. The very first step in reconciling a marriage that has suffered an affair is for the offending partner to recognize the pain and suffering that he or she has caused. I’m not sure how this can happen if he is unwilling to “own” the truth about his behavior.

Forgiveness is a different process, it is not an action or behavior. First, you have to be very clear on what you are trying to forgive. And remember, forgiveness is for you, not the other person. If you try to repress or deny your feelings of anger, pain, shame, or hurt, then you may be attempting to forgive, but you will end up with bitterness and resentment. Be sure that you have allowed yourself to have your true, authentic feelings about the situation. Take your suffering to the foot of the cross. Ask Jesus to journey with you. If you need a safe place to let these feelings out, consider a clergy, mentor, or licensed Catholic therapist. If you don’t allow yourself to go through the process, forgiveness will be very difficult.

On the other side of forgiveness is taking steps to make sure you are not hurt again. This means setting boundaries with your husband. I suggest couples’ therapy to learn how to rebuild the trust between you, but I can see from your letter that there is not much hope of building trust if the affair is not brought into the light. If you want to try to save your marriage, then push for what it takes to make any future commitment valid. Ask him for authenticity; ask him to take responsibility for his actions. Bring your own heart to the process. Even though there is an affair, many times both partners must look at how they contributed to the couple growing apart. Pray about it. Ask him to pray. And find the help and resources you need to walk through both the reconciliation and the process of forgiveness.

May God bless you in your efforts,

Michele Fleming, M.A.