Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Infidelity and the Fruits of Forgiveness

I have been following, unavoidably, the "news" stories around actress Sandra Bullock and the unraveling of her marriage, which follows a mere four months after golf great Tiger Woods' sorry story. These stories are not news, despite the news media's attempts to make them news. They are celebrity gossip on the international stage, and they poison the human psyche of those who read and absorb the sordid details.

To say that I am sorry for the pain inflicted on all parties concerned is an understatement. Having been through a marriage that broke up due to multiple infidelities on my husband's part, I know firsthand about the pain, insecurity and insanity that the cheated-on wife or husband endures. The after effects don't go away in a season or in many seasons. They are like the antibodies of a disease that stay in your bloodstream forever, lurking, and potentially able to flare up again if hospitable conditions develop to call the disease forth.

Forgiveness is a huge first step, but it is only one step to mend the loss of trust, belief in the story of enduring love, self-confidence, and optimism that come with being cheated on. The after effects include the likely projection onto new lovers and possible partners of the sins of the cheater.

Therapy is helpful, but changes in how one thinks don't easily become changes in how one feels. The changed thoughts in one's rational mind do not felicitously cause one's self to feel trusting, to believe in what one is told, to feel like someone who is worthy of being loved, and to feel like there are new possibilities that are worth trying.

There is a tendency in working through issues like infidelity in a marriage for the perpetrator to blame the victim. "If you had been more . . . whatever, then I wouldn't have done . . . whatever." This is a trap, for both parties. Blaming means never having to take full responsibility and ownership of one's own fault and sinful behavior.

There is a human tendency to want to share the blame and fault, to be only partially to blame and only partially responsible, because it feels better that way. The perpetrator doesn't feel quite as guilty and can even feel somewhat justified in his or her behavior.

Blaming means the victim gets more injury heaped upon her or him, from which the victim must also heal, on top of the original injuries. It's bad form, folks, and it's also bad therapy when counselors try to get the victim to share the blame for the infidelity.

Now, that's not to say that both parties haven't played a part in a damaged relationship, but that's different from saying that the victim has caused the behavior of the perpetrator. It's the same argument in talking about rape and murder. The victim doesn't cause the rape or murder by wearing revealing clothing or hurling provocative epithets.

I've been thinking about this subject, because it's been in the "news" so much lately. I can't view a news source without being bombarded with stories of what Sandra Bullock and Tiger Woods are or are not doing. The public appetite for celebrity gossip is a form of abuse that the public heaps upon public figures. Just because they are famous and have wealth and power derived from their public careers doesn't mean that the public is justified in heaping pain and abuse on celebrities. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

Decades after that fateful marriage dissolved, and after having had a huge forgiveness epiphany many years ago, I still find it difficult to watch movies that have stories of infidelity in them. A movie entitled "Unfaithful" is out of the question, and even a movie like "Love Actually" that I wanted very much to like, promoted as a romantic comedy, proved to be a sad experience for me.

I'm a great believer in the healing power of the passage of time and in the gestures that are about reconciliation even when one's feelings are not quite there yet.  Just as love is an act of will, so, too, is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a one-sided act of will. It doesn't require apology or remorse on the part of the perpetrator. So, including an ex-spouse in the family's Christmas celebrations is about reconciling the entire family, and I am confident that my feelings will follow.

Acts of love are the fruits of love, and acts of reconciliation are the fruits of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the huge first step, but the acts of reconciliation must follow for there to be progressive healing.


PseudoPiskie said...

Forgiving rarely involves forgetting but it makes the remembering less painful. At least in my life.

This comment has been removed by the author.

FYI, the deleted comment was my deletion of a duplicate of my 12:10 PM comment on March 24, 2010. Blogger is having issues.

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