One of the weirdest days of my life happened when I was informed that I was under investigation for sexual harassment toward a female employee. Initially, the accusations floored me. I couldn’t believe that she said such things about me.
Being hit with an EEOC investigation by the feds was not my idea of fun. My job running the psychiatric unit was stressful enough without this new wrinkle.
It was awkward explaining to my wife that the EEOC investigation of me regarding sexual harassment was no indication of infidelity. I mean, it’s not every day that you come home and say “I’m being investigated by the feds for sexual harassment.”
If my reputation had been less than positive, such an investigation would have had repercussions for my marriage, my job and my professional licenses. Although unsavory, I found myself surrounded by false accusations.
I was also in the position of having to continue working with the woman making the accusations as her supervisor. Being stuck in that situation, it was essential for me to keep my composure calm, document everything and hope for the best.
Typically you assume that if you are being investigated for sexual harassment that you are being unfaithful to your spouse. In my case, it was a matter of a disgruntled employee with a long history of using litigation in bullying others (I just didn’t know it at the time).
Back in the late 1980’s while working in a psychiatric hospital, I had the pleasure of engaging in some fascinating conversations about affairs. One of the more interesting ones was when I was talking with Jack Manuel about whether or not cheaters were stupid or evil.
We discussed situations where either stupidity or evil prevailed. What was clear is that there are distinctive differences. In the case of stupidity, the cheater made some poor choices and ended up in an affair.
The cheaters didn’t consider any of the consequences. They were just plain stupid.
In the case of evil affairs, the cheater knowingly has an affair, being fully aware of the potential damage and consequences. With evil affairs, the cheater seeks out an affair, knowing that it brings change and hurt with it.
With the evil affair, the cheater either thinks they are immune to the consequences or that they are wanting the consequences. What makes them ‘evil’ is that they know what will happen and they do it anyway.
The conversation continued as we discussed the ramifications of stupid versus evil affairs and what type of spouse would be more likely to fall into each category. We discussed if men were more prone to one and women to the other. Back then discussing affairs was much simpler.
The other day, one of my distant relatives sent me an odd email regarding something called a “Memento Mori” coin. I’d never heard of such things. One side has part of a 17th century painting and the other, the Latin phrase “Memento Mori” which is a shortened version of a quote by Marcus Aurelius.
Aurelius’s full statement was “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Another version translates the saying as ‘remember death’. Either way, the coin is a reminder that your time for doing and fixing things is limited.
The purpose is that you carry the coin in your pocket as a reminder of what’s truly important. It also serves as something that spurs you into taking action and no longer putting things off.
Although the sentiment struck me as ‘morbid’, in the past two weeks, two guys I went to high school with in Pasadena died. The news of Andrew and David dying left me feeling unsettled. Hearing about the deaths of someone you knew is always sobering. At that moment, I saw the wisdom of the ‘Memento Mori’ saying.
I’ve also seen betrayed spouses who put off forgiveness until it was too late. They took their resentments with them to the grave. I’m not sure what they were waiting on. Perhaps an invitation, perhaps for the cheater to come back begging and pleading or perhaps they thought it was a way of making the cheater suffer.
Having grown up in Texas, I often saw signs with an old white haired soldier in his grey uniform, complete with sword, and the proclamation, "Forget, Hell No!" Those signs constantly reminded me that although actions can be forgiven, even those in the past, there's some that you don't forget.
That saying was on signs, Zippo lighters, posters, beach blankets and just about anything it could be emblazoned on. I saw that old geezer in every ice house and convenience store I went into.
When you don't forget, there are things to learn.
One lesson I took from my encounters with the old geezer meme is that some things need to be remembered. You don't want to make the same mistakes again. You learned your lesson and won't put yourself in a position to be exploited again.
In an earlier email, I mentioned that affairs shouldn't be forgotten.
The reason is that forgetting ruins your education. You don't want to put yourself in a position to be exploited again. If you follow the 'forgive and forget' you'll put yourself in a position to be hurt again.
It's not that you don't forgive, you just learn your lesson from them and recognize the patterns of unhealthy behavior patterns when they start showing up again.
Repeating the same sick dance you danced before is a sure sign that you didn't learn the first time. You may tell yourself "But it's different this time". Got news for you...it's not.
Have you ever considered “What comes after forgiveness?” Once you remove the bitterness and animosity inside of you and the barriers that kept the two of you apart, what then?
For some of you, it’s a dream come true. What you’ve been hoping for and praying for has happened. The walls are gone, the roadblocks removed and you are now free to re-connect with your spouse.
It’s like the discouraging dark clouds that had you down are gone. At that point, you are faced with rebuilding.
If your marriage survived the affair, there’s work for the two of you to do in re-connecting and making new memories. You’ll also face the temptation of ‘looking back’ and re-opening old wounds.
You may have grown so used to being in crisis mode, that you feel weird and uncomfortable not being in it. It feels more normal to be in crisis than to not be.
When that happens, you’ll experience anxiety about things going too well. You’ll wonder what is secretly going on. If nothing is going on, there’s a temptation to make something happen.
In such cases, the temptation is to trigger a crisis. When it’s scarier facing a life without conflict and crisis than with crises, you’ve gotten too familiar with crisis.
During this time, you’ll be re-discovering the person you married. Since you’ve done the forgiveness work, you’ll be able to see them in a new way. Seeing them anew helps you feel alive again.
At one point in my life I was car-less and needing transportation. In finding a solution to my situation, I visited the Bighorn Auto Sales car lot on Spencer Highway. It was a pay by the week type of operation. Since I needed transportation, I was keeping my options open.
Each car had the price on the window, along with a sticker indicating “As Is” in large bold letters. Those used cars didn’t come with warranties or service agreements. You bought them ‘as is’. What you saw is what you purchased. The stickers had me wondering “What am I getting myself into?”
In my case, the Monte Carlo I purchased worked out fine. Week by week I finally paid it off which felt good and improved my credit.
There are times I wish that spouses came with the same “As Is” sticker on them. This is especially true in the aftermath of affairs when the issue of forgiveness comes around. There are times you have to accept your spouse “As Is”.
Your spouse isn’t backed by a service department, neither do they come with a warranty. You may have ‘expectations’ and high hopes, but the reality is, there are no guarantees. There is no guarantee that there will be no future affairs.
Sure, they may make promises to you, but after their affair, you already know what their promises are worth.
So, when you find yourself with no guarantee or warranty, what do you do?
Whenever I mention the topic of forgiveness in a public meeting, I encounter a wide array of reasons given for not forgiving. One of those I encounter is “They aren’t sorry for what they did”.
In my mind, I call this the ‘sorry excuse’. On hearing it, I feel like I’m surrounded by nursery school children complaining how “He won’t say I’m sorry!” or “She has to say I’m sorry first!” followed by a crossing of their arms and turning their back toward me.
The ‘sorry excuse’ alerts me with a flashing warning signal, that there’s a lot of emotional immaturity going on in their marriage.
Not only is there immaturity going on, there’s also competition in the form of keeping score. Even though I want to tell them, in most cases, they aren’t in a place to hear it.
First, if they said “I’m sorry”, it’s a statement of regretting being caught rather than a statement of heart broken contrition. When you’re hurting, you are vulnerable to missing the signals alerting you to the difference between ‘being caught’ and sorrow over what they’ve done.
There’s a vast difference between being sorrowful for what they’ve done versus being sorry they got caught.
Second, the truth of the matter is that you don’t need them to say that they are sorry in order to forgive them. If you expect a statement of how sorry they are, you need some help differentiating between repentance and forgiveness.
About 20 years ago, while attending a substance abuse conference in Houston, I found myself shocked for a moment by what a presenter said. It was so surprising I found myself repeating it over and over in my head as I pondered his statement.
The presenter dared saying “An affair isn’t the worst thing that can happen“.
As shocking as an affair is, I realized that his bold statement was true. Since then, I’ve seen how true it is. As bad as affairs are, there are worse situations and events. Those worse situations are more difficult to forgive than the affair itself.
One of those worse situations is the sudden discovery of the true parent of an affair love child. This tragic situation happens quite frequently. It’s one thing to lie about an affair, it’s worse living a lie long after the affair is over.
This situation is painful for the child, painful for you and painful for your marriage.
Discovering that what you thought was your child is not and that it was hidden from you is stunning. It’s the kind of news that turns your world upside out. It’s definitely worse than an affair.
It’s not a matter that someone close to you betrayed you, they did it for years. you were lead to believe a HUGE lie. your parent was stolen from you. It’s a heart ripper of an experience.
One of the expressions in the English language that causes you to ponder what it means is the phrase “hope against hope”. The expression, first found in Romans 4:18 has stumped rhetoricians and theologians for centuries. Although the expression stumps some, those of you with cheating spouses have likely experienced it.
There are times when you found yourself hoping with part of yourself while another part of you sees no reason to hope. It’s as if your heart and mind are in two separate worlds. With a foot in each world, what makes sense in one is foolishness in the other.
When it comes to affairs, you know what it’s like to hope when you have little or nothing to base it on. When you do start hoping against hope, not all your friends will understand.
When your friends see little or no hope they’ll encourage you to ‘dump the chump’ or ‘ditch the witch’. They don’t see your marriage with the same eyes that you do.
The odd thing is that a window of opportunity does exist for a period of time, even after the cheater leaves. This window often has a duration of about two years. How you handle the situation during that time makes a big difference.
One thing your spouse looks for is ‘real change’. They want to make sure you’re not just saying things or that you are doing things based on a friend’s recommendation. They want the assurance that things are coming from your heart and that you mean them.
The other morning I received a call from a hurting spouse pleading "She won't forgive me!" His dilemma begs the question' 'What if your spouse doesn't forgive you?' There's also a few other questions it leads to.
Let me start with a couple points for clarity. One is that forgiveness is NOT a requirement for the two of you to be in relationship. Forgiveness certainly makes things go smoother, but it's not required. Let me repeat that, your spouse is NOT required to forgive you. You can work on your relationship without forgiveness.
A second is assuming that she HAS to forgive you or that you HAVE to forgive her. This kind of thinking turns forgiveness into a control game. Like other monsters and freaks, when forgiveness becomes a way of controlling each other, it becomes destructive.
Hopefully the two of you don't have 'freakish forgiveness', which is only forgiveness in name. In such cases, it becomes a ritual that is more about control than letting go.
If your spouse does forgive you, that's great. In all likelihood, they've only forgiven a portion of things. Since forgiveness is a process, what forgiveness has occurred is not in its final stage.
Assuming your spouse has to forgive you BEFORE you work on recovery is unrealistic. I understand how you'd want things being forgiven ahead of time.