It is a cause of concern when clients tell me that they were previously advised to forgive and forget their partner’s betrayal. This advice is friendlier to the strayed spouse but constricting to the betrayed partner.
The betrayed partner could feel unnecessary guilt because he/she couldn’t do what was being asked of her. Marie was one example of this. She went to a confession to ask pardon and forgiveness because of the rage and obsessive thoughts that she was experiencing. She believed that she was committing sins because of the anger and unforgiveness in her heart. Little did she know that outburst of anger and obsessions are normal responses given her abnormal situation. READ: Infidelity and Post-Traumatic Syndrome and How To Deal with Infidelity Flashbacks.
This advice could also fuel more eruption and anger between the couple. Upon hearing this during couple counseling, Claire felt her pain was not validated. She didn’t feel that her painful experiences matter. It made her think that she must be the one who should make the adjustments and work hard to let things go. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with her. And so upon arriving home after their counseling, Claire and her husband had an intense argument.
Although counselors are well intentioned in helping couples, this advice is counterproductive. It is like telling a person who just experienced a grave physical assault to forgive and forget.
Infidelity is somewhat like being physically assaulted, only that the former is an emotional assault.
Consider this hypothetical scenario:
A man has been walking down the street for so many years. He knows that this street is secure and safe, regardless of the time he walks down there — morning, afternoon, and night. He knows that nothing bad is going to happen to him.
But then one night, a group of robbers jumped at him from out of nowhere. They wiped clean his possessions. They weren’t satisfied that they also mugged him mercilessly, leaving him with physical bruises and injuries.
The experience of being mugged and robbed unexpectedly was deeply traumatizing to the man. His strong belief that the street he has been using all this years was secure and safe. But because of what happened, he started to doubt and think that evil things such as this could happen anytime.
The deep injuries of infidelity are emotional and psychological
Telling a deeply traumatized and injured man is insensitive. But the thing with infidelity is that, the injury of the betrayed spouse, no matter how grave, is not physical. It couldn’t be seen with one’s eyes. The wounds were psychological and emotional.
The road to infidelity is not as easy as to forgive and forget. The recovery process must involve the validation of the effects related to trauma and how the betrayed and the couple must cope with the infidelity’s aftermath.
The forgiving part will take time and will require efforts from the part of the strayed partner. Forgetting never happens as if it could be erased from one’s memory. Instead the opposite should happen. The details of the affair and what led to it must be discussed for healing to begin.
If people tell you to simple move one, to forgive, and to forget, don’t listen. They maybe friends of your marriage and are well-intentioned, but they probably don’t understand the psychological and traumatic effects that infidelity could bring.