Now You Want Forgiveness? and, Is Friendship Worth the Flaws?
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner of 18 years cheated on me a few months ago. He lied, and even asked a friend of ours to lie for him until the lies became ridiculous. Obviously things have changed in our house. Mainly, he now gets angry with me when I don’t automatically trust him. I hear, “Why can’t you forgive me? It’s been three months! Don’t you love me?” Yes, I’m still angry and hurt. And no, I don’t trust him. And yes, I still love him. What can I say so he’ll get it?
Dr. Hurd replies,
He wonders why you won’t forgive him? You might tell him, “The problem isn’t forgiveness. I’ll eventually get over this, even if we break up. The problem is that I can’t look at you in the same way. I’ll never know if you’re lying—about sex, or about anything. I can no longer respect you or admire you. What you did took all those things away. There’s no way to get them back, at least not anytime soon. You want me to forgive you, but how am I supposed to like you again, much less respect you?”
He’ll probably respond, if not a bit accusatorily, “So you’re not forgiving me!” That’s the problem with this platitude we have about “forgiveness.” Why, to not forgive is unthinkable—it’s downright…mean! We’re taught as children that anything less than forgiveness is ungodly, and mental health professionals preach that anything less than forgiveness equals bitterness and depression. Wow, that sounds like an awfully good deal for the transgressor, doesn’t it? But what about the transgressed?
That being said, the issue here is trust and respect. A good friend of mine says, “If I don’t respect someone, I can’t like him.” It’s the truth. And our emotions won’t let us fake it—at least not for very long.
Of course, a partner of 18 years is an important thing. You might actually end up forgiving him, and it might even make your relationship stronger. But nobody should expect it as an entitlement, and nobody should expect it to happen all at once, if at all.
So tell him, “I’m OK that you want me to forgive you. What I don’t respect is that you feel entitled to it.” In that critical moment when he was awash in the desire to have sex with someone else (a desire of which anyone is capable), your partner made a crucial decision that set all this into motion. At least he finally came clean, and has apparently concluded that you’re the one he really wants. That’s good for his personal growth, but you’re just as entitled to attend to your own personal growth. Tell him to stop bugging you about it, because it’s not helping him to achieve what he wants.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My best friend (not a girlfriend) is a delightful person with one huge flaw: She can’t say “no.” She volunteers for everything, accepts every invitation, commits to anything—all in the interest of “being nice.” And then, when she can’t possibly do all she has promised, she simply doesn’t show up—and expects people to understand.
Everyone knows her to be a flake. The running joke is that when you invite her to something, everyone takes bets on whether she’ll make it. She acts resentful and hurt when people bring up this aspect of her personality. I’m her best friend; is there anything I can say?
Dr. Hurd replies,
It’s not what you say that matters (she’s probably heard it all before). It’s what you do that matters. Weigh the pros and cons of holding her accountable. In some cases the thing you’re holding someone accountable for might not be worth the effort. So what will be the consequences of not letting her get away with this any longer? And what will happen if you say and do nothing? This is for you to decide.
Sometimes a friendship is worth overlooking things. Indeed, what you get out of being with a person might make their flaws (the emotional price you pay for being with them) worth putting up with. But in other cases, it just might not be worth it. So you back away or end the friendship.
The key is this: Does she know what she’s doing? Or does she deny it? If she knows, and admits she doesn’t like it, she might change if you encourage her to. If she refuses to acknowledge what she’s doing, then she’s not going to change. In that case, the choice is clear: let it go, or move on.
People usually don’t modify their behaviors until they’re good and ready. And even if you do address this with her, others will probably continue to put up with it. So my advice is to focus on yourself, and give up trying to change her.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, life coach, and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email your questions or comments to Dr Hurd.