Friday, January 7, 2011

A Banker's View of Forgiveness

So many of us get tripped up at the prospect of "forgiving" our spouses – especially if we choose to stay with them. Somehow forgiveness becomes akin to letting him off the hook, dismissing what he did and basically letting him wipe his brow and say, "Whew, glad that's over!"
And because of that perception, many of us withhold forgiveness – or any thoughts of forgiveness because we feel it puts us into a position of powerlessness. As long as we're still holding that trump card, we feel as though we're strong. 
But I recently came across a blog post in which the author, a survivor of childhood trauma, offers a really interesting take on forgiveness, based on her former career as a mortgage broker.
Using that model, she suggests we look at forgiveness the way a bank looks at a defaulted loan.
The bank, she points out, trusted the client and showed that trust in the form of loaned money.
Turns out, the client screwed up – whether once or serially, doesn't matter – and abused that trust (sound familiar?).
What does the bank do? Say, I "forgive" you and offer up more money? Of course not. But they don't necessarily withhold trust forever. Instead the bank takes steps to ensure that the client understands the consequences of their betrayal of trust. That they recognize how their actions will affect future credit history. Then they offer the client the chance to create a plan in order to make amends. If the client refuses, then trust, though not necessarily forgiveness, is withheld.
Applying a similar model to your own situation might mean that you insist that your husband take certain actions in order to make amends – perhaps that's allowing you to check cell phone messages or e-mails. Perhaps he has to give up "boy's night out", at least for awhile. It undoubtedly means that a "no contact" letter is sent to the OW. Like a bank, however, it's prudent to use discretion before you extend trust again – based on consistent evidence that he's cleaned up his act.
Forgiveness is never to be confused with meaning you have to extend trust. Forgiveness is acknowledging that the other person hurt you but that you're not going to hold their feet to the flames forever. Indeed, you're going to move forward knowing what they're capable of, but giving them the chance to show you – over and over – that they won't do it. 
It's accepting you can't change the past, but that you'll no longer be hostage to it. And you're open to a different future.
It's not easy though it seems the important lessons in life never are. And, in my experience at least, forgiveness wasn't something that "arrived" or that I "decided" but rather something that grew organically over time, as I loosened my own hold on anger and opened myself up to hope. Not rainbows-and-unicorn hope, but the kind that arises when I trust my own place in the world and feel on solid ground. The kind that arises when, most of all, I forgive myself.

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