“Maybe you just have to forgive people to move forward.” – Kate
“But he didn’t ask for forgiveness, did he?” – Carly
“If you had something to lose, you’d understand how hard this is.” – Kate
“Like what, a cheating husband of my own?” – Carly
A few nights ago I was watching that iconic movie about women friendships and independence, that showcases what we definitely do NOT mean by Polyamory – The Other Woman. This movie represents what almost every monogamous male douchebag thinks polyamory is. The cheating, the lying, it’s all okay, right? It’s in the name of loving more than one person. Ha! What bullshit! I’ve never smelled so much shit from a bull in one place at one time. NO, polyamory is NOT about lying and cheating and just getting your way with whoever you want behind the backs of your loved ones. Screw that! If that’s what polyamory was I’d have already bought my one-way ticket out of here.
Luckily for all of us, polyamory isn’t anything like that. Of course we’ll get a scumbag here and there, but the overall polyamorous population is very loving and compassionate and understanding. Most importantly, they know that communication, honesty, and consent are key factors in the success of polyamory – and the success of being a nice person, for that matter. My life isn’t filled with crying and worrying about what my partner(s) may be doing when I’m not there, because for 1) I trust them and they trust me and they are honest with me about things, and for 2) I know it’s none of my damn business anyway. I allow their relationships with other people to be their own. However, if I am feeling insecure – I can voice those insecurities and be met with reassurance and affection. The best part about it? It isn’t fake!
When you’re dealing with someone who has been lying or cheating, you really have to take everything they say with a grain of salt. Or a whole barrel full of salt, if you’d prefer. Whatever keeps you safe and sound. Point is, once they’ve lied or cheated once, you can’t ever be 100% certain they won’t do it again. The reason for this isn’t that they don’t love you, but they lied or cheated for a reason. Typically it falls under 2 categories:
1) They were scared to tell you, and/or trying to protect you or your feelings.
2) They were being selfish and deceitful and manipulative for the fun of it.
I like to assume most people lie because of #1, but believe me it isn’t always the case. You have to be careful. You have to get good at recognizing patterns, and you have to have a good understanding of different Forms of Abuse. At the same time, though, you have to be loving and understanding and try not to become a completely psychotic bitch who thinks there is mystery and mayhem behind every turn. If you get into thinking people are always out to get you, everyone is shady, the world is a bad place, then it’ll turn into one in your mind. However, most of the time those thoughts will very quickly dissipate when the truth is revealed. It’s the getting to the truth that’s the hard part.
Are They Deserving?
Now I’d like to bring your attention to a key point in the above quotes. Kate is feeling insecure and lonely and is ready to forgive her husband because she is scared to step out into the unknown. But does her husband deserve to be forgiven? Let me be perfectly clear, I’m not saying people shouldn’t be forgiven. There are plenty of times when people make mistakes and then they never make those mistakes again. There are also times when people who have made the same mistake over and over again throughout their life finally realize what they’re doing wrong and decide to change for the better. It DOES happen. I even wrote an article on it called “People Can’t Change” that you can check out, here. The bit to look out for here though is this…When Carly says “But he didn’t ask for forgiveness, did he?”
Often times we assume we should forgive people so things can move forward. Shit, WE are ready to move forward! Let’s get this thing running already. Only problem is, if the other person hasn’t actually asked for forgiveness – if they haven’t admitted what they’ve done wrong and made the conscious choice to change – then us forgiving them does nothing but align us back into the lane with the rest of the pins waiting to be knocked down by our partner(s) next throw. Nothing is actually going to change in this scenario. Just because we want it to, doesn’t mean it will. We can’t just sit and say “This is what I want” and expect it to happen, especially when we’re just sitting there talking to ourselves. No effort has been made on behalf of the guilty party. And THEY are the ones who need to be making the effort here, not you.
So, how do we know when they are actually deserving of forgiveness? First off – they need to actually ask for it. They need to bring the problem to you, not them asking for forgiveness after you’ve brought it to them. A plea for forgiveness in the moment of being caught is not a real or genuine request. They aren’t asking “Can you forgive me?” They’re asking “Can you forget about this so we can move on like it never happened, so that I won’t be in trouble?” Of course, that’s impossible, because I’m sure whatever it is, it is now burned into the back of your brain. Betrayal can do that. Whether it’s something big or small, betrayal hurts. Lies hurt. Cheating hurts. For so many reasons! You feel like you aren’t good enough, you worry that somehow it’s your fault, etc. Though these patterns of thinking can become quite easily curbed when you learn more about yourself and your boundaries, and healthy relationships, and communication, and you start to realize your worth. When you love yourself, truly love yourself, then you aren’t as easily knocked to the ground.
After They’ve Asked
Once (if) they actually DO ask for your forgiveness, after giving it time and thought and coming to you on their own accord, then the ball is in your court. However, I’m going to stop you right here before you jump into their arms and forgive them and move forward. Yes, they have realized their wrong. Yes, they want to change. Yes, they love you and want to make things work. Blah, blah, blah. At this point, it’s just talk. Not to slap you right across your tingly, love-filled, ready-to-forgive heart, but HEY! How do you KNOW they’ll change? Where is the proof? What effort have they physically put in besides taking time to think about it?
Of course I’m proud, and you should be, too, that they finally came forward and met you in the middle. They faced their fears and decided to communicate about a difficult issue. It’s true they could have just ignored it, shoved it under the rug, hid from it, ran away from it, etc. But this isn’t the last step in the process of forgiveness, even when we really, REALLY want it to be. I know you’re getting antsy, but shake those ants out of your pants and sit back down. There is still work to be done. They have to show you they’ll change with their ACTIONS, not just their words. And I don’t mean just one sweet, loving gesture; or a romantic evening; or whatever they can conjure up. It isn’t about buying back your affections, it’s about proving to you that you can truly, 100%, trust them again. They need to show you that they CAN be honest, even when it’s hard to be. That they WON’T do things behind your back. That they’ll take responsibility for themselves and their actions, and be an adult. Finally capable of a healthy, grown up relationship.
It’s not my place to decide for them or for you how this is done. I don’t know your particular situation. I don’t know what they’ve done, so I don’t know what they can possibly do to mend it. But, remember, it isn’t just about mending what they’ve broken – but about showing you that they won’t break things in the future. They have to sit down and think about ways in which they can make lasting changes in their life, in the way they act, in the way they think, etc. They have to make the effort. Don’t do all that work for them and just hand them a list of things they can check off as they go along completing them. This isn’t about them hitting check points, it’s about them staying in the right lane instead of veering off into the left lane (even when they feel like they want to).
Tell your cheating/lying partner that you’re sorry, but you cannot forgive them, not fully, until they’ve gained your trust again. Don’t give a time frame, or a specific action. Just tell them it’ll take some time, and they need to put in the effort. Let them decide what to do from there. If they don’t make an effort, well, there is your answer – you can’t trust them. That really sucks! But now you can move forward…you’ll just be leaving them behind. On the other hand, maybe they will surprise you. Maybe things really will start to get better, and you’ll begin to feel like you truly can trust them. That is so great! You can now forgive them fully and the two of you can move forward together. I’m so glad things are back on track!
Now, I want to just pause for a moment and make sure you know that making them take responsibility for themselves doesn’t relieve you of openly communicating on your end. Just because you can’t tell them exactly what to do in order to change, or spell out how to meet the goal of achieving your forgiveness, you still need to be vocal about your needs and wants and overall feelings. If there’s something specific you’re wanting from them, tell them. If there’s something that upsets you, let them know. They can’t read your mind. The way they go about dealing with situations after you’ve brought up how you feel about things can tell you a lot about whether or not you can trust them as a partner, just don’t let it be your only indication. Communication goes both ways. The only way to make sure it flows, is to keep it flowing. You do your part, and hopefully they’ll do their part. Like I said, if they don’t – oh well. But, if they do…well, that’s pretty friggin’ great! Few things come close to feeling as amazing as knowing someone truly, genuinely, 100%, without a doubt DOES deserve your forgiveness.