When is betrayal too big to forgive?
They tell us we should forgive and forget.
In the Christian tradition, the concept is expressed through the turn-cheek adage. Buddhists are asked to have forgiveness in their hearts. There is a name for Allah - Al-Ghafoor - which translates to 'the most forgiving'. I'm told it occurs in the Koran more than 70 times.
Forgiveness is a huge part of life. So is love. So what happens when the two forces collide?
When is betrayal too big to forgive?
Stories of forgiveness for adultery rarely fail to capture the imagination. Being unfaithful to someone you're supposed to cherish above all others is largely considered an unforgiveable sin. Yet some couples persevere despite indiscretion, and some of them prosper.
One such couple are friends of mine. He discovered she was having an affair with a work colleague. It nearly tore him apart. It tore their relationship apart for some time. But they came back together, and seem all the stronger for it.
However it took a while. It took a while for them to repair the deep rips in the fabric of their relationship. It also took a while before their friends accepted the repairs were sturdy, and not the flimsy strings of sheer desperation.
Had he really forgiven her? Or had he simply given in?
Was she really seeking his forgiveness? Or was she just looking for his forbearance?
The distinctions are important.
Too often, people who have been betrayed in relationships appear to forgive, when they are simply giving in. They can't be bothered suffering anymore, and they'd rather go back to the way things were before. So they accept the apology offered by their lover, and agree to move on.
Talk about the couple in question among friends centred around this notion when their reunion was revealed.
How could he forgive her? He must just prefer their idea of life together to the reality of life apart. But is that any way to live? Is she taking advantage of his kindness? Is he giving in to his fear of being alone?
In time, it became apparent her betrayal really had been forgiven, largely because both parties accepted the betrayal was not hers alone. He had betrayed their relationship in many other ways - neglect and distraction were his mistresses as real as her other lover.
The betrayal wasn't too big to forgive because it was shared. And the forgiveness was genuine and ample.
Of course, that's not always the case.
Some betrayals are never forgiven.
But is that because the treachery was too big, or because the parties in question are too small?
Consider another couple. She accepted his apology for the affair he'd been having and his promises never to do it again. And he didn't, for some time, until temptation got the better of him and he went back to his old ways. Again, he apologised, and again, she forgave. At least, that's what was said - but it wasn't really what was done.
Forgiveness requires acceptance - in full - of all that has been done; the actions of both the betrayer and the betrayed. Forgiveness requires responsibility for those actions to be accepted also. Without which, there is still room for blame. And blame deepens the cracks in any relationship.
In part, she still blamed him for his betrayal. She thought it was entirely his fault. And his actions were ultimately his. But what about the situation that led to them? What about the elements present in their relationship that enabled it? What about the characteristics of her personality that contributed to the eventual outcome?
The betrayal here was hers as much as his. By not dealing properly with the problem, she cheated herself. Unsurprisingly, he continued to cheat on her, before he eventually left her for another woman.
Retrospectively, she realised her mistake, and attempted to forgive him, before forgiving herself. She's still working through it - forgiveness doesn't come easily.
If it comes at all.
Does it have to? Every time? Must we always forgive? Or are some betrayals too big. Is it too much to ask, sometimes, of ourselves and our partners, to really, truly forgive? In some situations, for some people, might the process of forgiveness do more harm than good?
Might it be better to simply live in sin?
You tell me.
Sydney Morning Herald