"Burying the hatchet", "Letting bygones be bygones”, “Getting over it”, “Getting a fresh start” and other clichés are easy to say, but not always easy to do. Let’s face it - cheating, lying, adultery, betrayal, whoring, inconsistencies, deceit or however you characterize and/or describe it – violating trust hurts. Emotional, financial and sexual transgressions injure us and can sometimes cause irrevocable damage to our relationships and to our souls.
Indiscretions are so hurtful because they expose the most fragile part of us; they reveal our deepest insecurities and our deepest needs. They wound us in ways that we can’t even articulate or understand. All we know is that we ache and that the pain makes us question ourselves, our partners, our relationships and our future. Make no mistake about it – disloyalty hurts, scars, threatens, poisons and can jeopardize our connection with ourselves and with others.
When affairs occur both partners are affected. Even though it is difficult to extend any understanding or mercy to the cheater, both partners suffer when trust is breached. The pain may not be readily noticeable, describable or immediate for both partners, but trust me, the wounds are there. The mere fact that a partner thought that cheating was an option is indicative of an unacknowledged wound, or at a least, an unacknowledged need.
But even though cheating is painful to the very core, I believe that relationships can survive the trauma and drama of affairs. I believe that reconciliation is possible, and it is based on that belief that I provide some “Rules for Reconciliation”. Just so we are clear. This list is not THE only path to reconciliation because healing happens differently for different people, at different times based on difference situations. However, the rules listed below are guidelines, directions and thoughts to consider if you and your partner decide to embark on the healing journey together.
Repairing and rebuilding a relationship takes work, and a lot of it. But I am convinced that trust can be rebuilt, restored and even strengthen if both parties are courageous, committed, patient, honest, vulnerable, transparent and humble with each other and with themselves. I emphatically believe that regaining trust is possible.
To start the healing process, it is first important to understand what reconciliation is. Just so we are using common language, reconciliation means to settle, to understand, to resolve, to compromise, to reunite, to restore and to negotiate. Reconciliation does not mean giving in, caving in, or doing anything else that does not honor you. Repairing a broken relationship has to be something that both partners want, that both are committed to, as well as something that respects both parties. Without those three variables, reconciliation is not successful, or challenging to say the least.
Someone once said that it takes seconds to lose trust and years to rebuild it. As a result, expect healing to be a process, a journey that will take time. So let’s review some of the Rules.
REFLECT– Be still and understand what is going on with you and in you FIRST. Iyanla Vanzant coined an acronym called P.A.I.N., Pay Attention Inward Now. Before you can determine if you can or want to reconcile, get still and identify the P.A.I.N. Identify what you feel, why you feel and where you hurt. Consider your thoughts about yourself, your partner and your relationship. Also understand that you may not be able to immediately access all of your emotions because clarity is progressive and rarely occurs in the midst of emotional chaos. Spiritual and emotional clarity takes time, distance and intention. Only after you have time to reflect, meditate and “hear your own voice” are you able to enter into productive conversations about re-connecting.
Even if you are the cheater, remember you have feelings and pain too. Many times the person who cheated is expected to be a punching bag and/or devoid of feelings. Disappointing someone, feeling like a failure or succumbing to temptations is not only painful, but it is also emotionally disturbing. Not living up to your own expectations or feeling as if you compromised yourself is distressing and embarrassing as well; it crushes your self-esteem. You may experience different emotions but your feelings are no less agonizing. Identify your P.A.I.N. Yes, you violated trust but it is critical that you are not only remorseful, but reflective too.
REALIZE - Realize that broken trust is painful and that it carries consequences. We know that intellectually but when our misdeeds are exposed, we sometimes get defensive. Sometimes after we get caught or after we confess, we attempt to deflect or shirk responsibility which only adds insult to injury. Yes, it is difficult dealing with an avalanche of emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Yes, at times you may vacillate between competing emotions. You feel love then hate, compassion then coldness, sadness then rage and indignation then compassion. Sometimes you may feel all of those emotions and more simultaneously.
So what do you do? Don’t deny, blame, minimize, excuse, manipulate, defend or rationalize the affair or breach. Also, don’t play the divorce card unless you really mean it. State what happened and discuss it to the best of your ability. Get everything out as best you can and also accept that emotional conversations can be difficult, draining, disturbing and depressing. Share your feelings of disappointment, discouragement, sadness, inadequacy, fear, insecurity and bewilderment. Why? You can not work on rebuilding trust if pain is not acknowledged so don’t let feelings fester. If you can not share with your partner, share with a therapist or a trusted elder. Many times pain proceeds progress so realize the expressing pain is part of the healing journey.
I would highly recommend enlisting the support of a well-trained and seasoned counselor/ therapist to help facilitate the healing journey too. Even if you are a great communicator, navigating the initial conversations/processes of reconciliation requires great care, understanding, listening skills and objectivity that most partners don’t have when starting the healing process. Believe me, dealing with trust breaches successfully, effectively and compassionately requires expertise. And just so you know, your friends and your family are not the experts. They are not generally objective and they usually don’t have the experience needed to facilitate, support and provide the emotional environment needed for resolution. So invest in your relationship by investing in a good therapist/counselor. You and your relationship are worth it.
REPENT – Apologize and understand that everybody has a different apology language. The Five Languages of Apology by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas is a great resource to use when you are on your healing journey. According to Dr. Chapman, if you receive an apology that ignores your apology language, it may not be fully accepted or even recognized as an apology. Those reasons alone should be incentive enough to learn your partner’s apology language.
I have listed the 5 apology languages identified by Dr. Chapman and Ms. Thomas. You may need one or all of these apologies to start the forgiving process. I have also provided the link for your reference. Take a few moments to see which apology language resonates and represents you.
- Expressing Regret – “I apologize”
- Accepting Responsibility – “I was wrong”
- Making Restitution – “What can I do to make it right”
- Genuinely Repenting – “I’ll try not to do that again”
- Requesting Forgiveness – “Will you please forgive me”
Apologizing is difficult, but opening your heart, mind and soul to forgiveness is equally challenging. Even though it can be heart wrenching, forgiveness, like love, is a choice; it is a decision. It is a gift to the person who offended you as well as a gift to yourself. One of my mentors says it like this: To forgive means to GIVE up the past FOR a better future. If that is true, why do we struggle so much to forgive?
We struggle for many reasons, and one of the main reasons is our pride. It is hard to see our pride and ego at work when things are good, but it is more challenging to see our ego operating when things are bad. The workings of our ego are especially difficult to see when we are hurt because we feel entitled, we feel victimized, we feel empowered, and we feel justified to hold on to our pain. At times, our pride serves as our emotional armor to conceal old wounds and to protect us from perceived assaults. Suffice it to say that our ego can damage and prevent needed healing and desired re-connecting if we allow it to make permanent decisions based on temporary situations. Our ego needs to be checked, controlled and confronted to do relationship work, especially healing work.
The Christian proverb says that pride comes before a fall. Even though we come from various faith traditions, I do believe that all religions admonish about the pitfalls of pride. Too much pride poisons, pollutes and prevents relationships from growing, healing, surviving and thriving. Take it from me; too much pride can be detrimental to you and to your relationship.
There are more “Rules to Reconciliation” but I hope this gets you started. Even if you are single, the rules apply to your other “Ships” of life too: friendships, fellowships, mentorships and leadership. Our human connections enrich our lives, and the ones that have proven to be helpful, hopeful and healing are the ones that are worth fighting for.
I look forward to continuing this series so stay tuned. I end with this African Proverb: To engage in conflict, one does not bring a knife that cuts but a needle that sews. I look forward to “sewing” with you during this series because you are worth it, and your relationship is too.