My Evolving Thoughts on Infidelity and Forgiveness
It was simple when I was younger. Infidelity was unforgivable. The only appropriate reaction to infidelity, under absolutely any circumstances, was to walk away from the relationship. Clearly.
And particularly if one had children. Because I knew that people stayed in marriages "for the children," and I thought that made no sense at all. Better to be an example by standing up for how people should treat each other. Better to dissolve the marriage rather than risk teaching a child to cheat or be cheated on.
Then, the first two ripples came to my thinking.
First, my friends started getting married, and I learned that one of the questions in a friend's Catholic pre-marital counseling was, "Could you forgive your spouse if they cheated on you." And the "correct" answer was "yes." So much so, that the priest wouldn't pass them until she said it, and she was really, really upset about it. My friends and I all agreed it was BS.
Second, a friend of mine cheated on their significant other, and for the first time I was faced with having to forgive infidelity. When I choose my love for them over walking away from the friendship, I knew I had moved from simple black and white, to gray.
But infidelity hadn't happened to *me*. Yet.
When it did, I was completely devastated and spun. I've never felt such pain, and it changed who I am forever. I'd already broken up with the guy, so forgiveness was never actually an issue.
But a few months into what would be a very dark period of my life, I saw the film "Spanglish." And though I wasn't there yet, it was the first time I began to glimpse, in John's love for Deborah, how there could a love and a commitment that might be open to forgiving infidelity.
Life moved on. I dated and healed.
My next leap was also from a movie (spoiler alert). "Sex and the City" has a number of amazing things about it, storywise, but one scene that blew me away was the therapy scene between Miranda and Steve. Specifically, he talks about how she also betrayed his trust when she was able to immediately break from him (upon finding out that he cheated on her) and completely walk away from their marriage. He asks how he can know that she won't do that again if the going gets tough.
I'd never seen it from that side. I couldn't stop thinking about it.
And then, when another person I care about shared a past infidelity with me, and thinking about (and talking to) my older friend and considering who both of these people are in their hearts and how they live their lives, suddenly something changed. I could see how in a long-term committed relationship, in the grand scheme of your intertwined lives, the answer to "Could you forgive your spouse if they cheated on you" could be "yes." I could see that good people sometimes make horrible mistakes. And I could see a me who could forgive infidelity in my spouse if they were willing to honestly recommit to me and our relationship.
Younger me saw only the catch-22 in that question. For if you say "yes," are you not giving your partner permission to be unfaithful? That was my perception. That the answer and your truth *had* to be "no." That your partner had to know that if they cheated on you, you would leave. No ifs, ands, or buts.
But isn't that an awful way to come at it? Isn't that actually saying that going in you don't trust that this person loves you?
Because what we're talking about here from beginning to end is trust. And if you go into a relationship trusting that your partner truly loves, values, and respects you, and trusting that you deserve that love, value, and respect, then I think the answer to whether you can forgive infidelity is "yes." Because we are human, and we sometimes make horrible mistakes. Surely love and commitment can ultimately forgive if love and commitment are still there to had?
Of course, I can't really know. And I certainly hope to never to put this theory to test. But that's where I am in my head now. Trusting that someone can truly love me, and that I can truly love.
Linky Goodness on Love, Friendship, and Infidelity:
Contributing editor Liz Rizzo also blogs at Everyday Goddess.