Betrayal. Infidelity. Could you forgive? Would you?

Should you? Apparently not, according to psychologist Professor McNulty, who suggests that “forgiveness allows relatively negative partners to continue their negative behaviours.” Long suffering wives might do better to assert themselves: the recipe for a happy marriage is never forgive, never forget.

This picture of Hilary and Bill Clinton, reports that Hilary has forgiven Bill his indiscretions. Has she? Really? Is she able to look at her husband without the mental image of him in the Oval Office being “attended to” by a 17-year-old intern?

Mark Goulston MD comments: When as cared about and safe as you thought you were is as uncared about and unsafe as you turn out to be, you can never completely forgive or forget.

This reminds me of a character in Honor’s Shadow, trying to comes to terms with a betrayal by a man who continues to assert his love. She says “…you say you love me, and maybe you believe it. But I don’t. I don’t feel loved, I feel hated.”

If forgiving encourages further betrayal, there is a high cost to the forgiver, who is now at further risk. And it is quite a risk, judging by a sharp article in World of Psychology which comments on fidelity: the marital cheat has lost all respect for his/her partner and all hope for the relationship, and is personally dishonorable into the bargain.

Just as forgiveness opens a person to further hurt, unforgiveness exacts its own misery, through the damage you can do to yourself by harbouring bitterness. As a divorce lawyer in Honor’s Shadow says: “I see people heading for their graves with old grievances intact: they’ve spent years polishing an old betrayal, till it’s a glittering diamond of crystallised rage and resentment.”

For the loser in love, forgiving or not, there is always an emotional cost.

2 thoughts on “Betrayal. Infidelity. Could you forgive? Would you?

  1. Hi Voula, For some time now I have been interested in Voice Dialogue. This teaches us that we all have the voice of forgiveness within us – and the voice of non forgiveness. We also have the quality of loyalty and the quality of betrayal (though we might like to deny the latter). So the issue for me is the consequences of our actions. If we forgive we run the risk of being betrayed again, as Prof McNulty says; if we don’t we can live in resentment for ever (as your divorce lawyer comments). There is also a distinction between forgiveness and compassion. Forgiveness implies negative judgement, “you have done me wrong but I will pardon you” whereas compassion acknowledges that we all have weaknesses and the other person has acted out of that. It’s a deep recognition of the human condition. Having said that it doesn’t mean that it gives permission for repetition. I can have compassion for someone whose unfortunate background causes them to try to stab me but I am not going to let them have a second attempt. So from my perspective it all comes down to consequences. What are the consequences of our decisions – and which decision- consequences are we most willing to live with. (with the final rider that few of us are able to be that self aware and rational. I know I’m not – but I can still aspire !)

  2. Thanks Rob. Really interesting, especially the distinction between forgiveness and compassion. It is a real insight, that forgiveness, by definition implies judgement – if I haven’t judged you/your behaviour, then forgiveness is irrelevant isn’t it? Even the compassionate mindset implies some judgement – who determines what is “weakness?” Society I guess….

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