In the first two parts of this latest forgiveness series, Donna Meredith Dixon (see interview below) demonstrates how wives of porn/sex addicts are often pressured to forgive. This pressure can come from the church, her husband and even herself.
The reality is: forgiveness is a multi-step process that takes time and God's help. The process includes disclosure/discovery (we can't forgive what we are unaware of), feeling the pain, grieving the losses and making an initial decision to forgive, with God's assistance.
My mother, the addictions counselor, often reminds the partners of addicts that forgiveness is for the sake of the one forgiving – not for the sake of the perpetrator. It frees us to live a full life that isn't weighed down by bitterness and pain.
However, forgiveness is not only about us. In Beyond Betrayal, I write:
While I stated earlier that forgiveness is not “for the perpetrator,” it can be an agent of healing in the relationship between victim and perpetrator. In fact, I believe forgiveness will always benefit the relationship to some degree: even if the relationship comes to an end.
Sound confusing? Consider that forgiveness has spiritual implications: for example, it's important for our own forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15). Moreover, I believe that those spiritual implications don't apply only to individuals, but also to groups of people: thus forgiveness comes up in the (corporate) Lord's Prayer, and in Paul's exhortation to the Colossians about life in the body of Christ. (Colossians 3:13).
Forgiveness, then, is obviously a necessity if the marriage is to be healed. However, even if the marriage cannot be healed, our forgiveness will have positive effects on our ability to relate to our husband—and can be a powerful witness to an unrepentant man. Moreover, it will have positive effects on our children, on our extended family... possibly even on our broader communities.
Forgiveness: What it Is and Isn't?
Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about what this forgiveness thing is. Forgiveness is not:
- Repressing our negative emotions
- Going back to “normal” (normal for him was acting out: we don't want “normal”)
As regards this first item, let's remember that trust, is a completely separate issue from forgiveness and it is not recommended that we try to marry the two. Trust should not happen until the one with the addictive behaviors has proven himself trustworthy.
So, that's the “nots,” but what is forgiveness exactly. That's a big question about a mysterious, spiritual concept that whole books have been written on. In Beyond Betrayal I explore forgiveness from the point of view that it is a journey we begin through an act of the will (I will forgive him) at a particular moment in time. On this journey we choose (time and again) with God's help to give up our right to retribution and embrace healing (our own and possibly others') and mercy instead.
This journey continues regardless of where our emotions are at: even if some days we feel we want retribution (with a blunt object). After the rage subsides, we look back at the one who has forgiven us and make the choice once more to grieve the pain, give it to Him, and walk forward once more with our Deliverer into the freedom he is leading us toward.
For myself, one of the most difficult things to forgive on this journey were the deliberately cruel insults Michael made about my body. That process (still ongoing if I'm perfectly honest) took grieving all the various layers of that wound and walking through an Immanuel Prayer process about it (basically asking Jesus where he was when that happened). I describe that powerful journey in Beyond Betrayal. At that point, I was able to move forward with forgiveness.
In the interview below (shot in 2016) Donna, Fonda and I talk about the damage to our self worth and body image that came about as part of our husband's betrayal—and how we are growing past that.