The Road to Reconciliation: Don’t be Stupid

The addiction, the madness, the lying, the cheating, and the selfishness have just done too much damage. Your relationship has been crippled and you’re not sure whether it will ever be the same again. You’ve heard enough apologies. You’ve forgiven too much. You can’t forget all the things that have happened. You’ve decided to harden your heart, dig in, and refuse to forgive any more.

I will not argue against the justice of your cause. Yes, she did things that were unwarranted, things that hurt. Bad behavior wrecks things and some of those things are your feelings. You probably can’t even count the number of disappointments. It’s your right. Your cause is just, but don’t be stupid. Don’t be one of those people who think that, just because they are right, they can afford to be stupid.

The supremely stupidest thing would be to harden your heart and refuse to forgive while you continue to live with your partner. You’ve seen couples like that, who live together in a home, protected by force-fields of hate. Their sadness is disguised as hardness. They pass in the hall, throwing invisible daggers at each other. They eat in shifts. They have their own dens, their own TVs, their own unapproachable sides of the bed. They communicate through their children. Every couple endures moments like this, maybe days, following a fight, when all they give each other is the cold shoulder. Image a lifetime of it.

Forgiving is not something you do for the other party. It’s something you do for you, so you don’t have to constantly have those toxic feelings. Like the saying goes: resentment is a poison you drink yourself, hoping that the other person will die. Forgiving means you stop drinking that poison.

The people who live like that imagine that their resentment preserves them from harm; their hate is a cold castle wall of safety. They’re afraid that, if they forgive, they’ll forget, and they’ll let it all happen again. They fear that any warmth will just encourage the offending party. Of course, they are partly right. When forgiveness is given away cheaply or when you are still at risk, it’ll do just that; but, when the opportunity to earn genuine forgiveness is extended and taken, it’s a welcome rain on a dry day.

The next stupidest thing is to take the opposite tack, to grant cheap pardon, to rush forgiveness just because you don’t want to deal with it. We talked about that already.

The third stupidest thing is to move out on your partner, just so you can continue to hate, apart from him. It’s not nearly as stupid as sharing a home with someone you despise. You have actual walls separating you, so you don’t have to maintain the force-field quite so much. But, you are still living in everlasting enmity and drinking that poison, just not as strong a dose.

It might not be a bad idea to move out before any more hurt can happen, while you work towards forgiveness. If you’re in mortal danger, then you should move out right away. However, provided you are not in mortal danger, I would urge you to pause before you pack your bags. Moving out doesn’t change everything.

It’s important to remember that, once you’re in a relationship with someone, you will always be in a relationship with that person. It’s like the Hotel California, you can move out, but you can never leave. Even if you never speak to her again; if you move to the other side of the world, put up a dartboard with her face on it, refer to her only as, The Bitch, you will always be in relationship. There will always be a corner of your brain, I dare say, a corner of your heart, that has her name on it.

This is doubly true if you are in photos in Facebook together. This is triply true if she met your parents. It’s quadruply true if you were married. It’s doubly, triply, quadruply true if you have kids together. You’re hitched.

Love may not be eternal, but relationship is. The legal end of a marriage is not the end of a relationship.

Relationship, at its minimal level, means that your partner rents space in your head. You think of him sometimes, happily or unhappily, with fondness or regret. He’s part of your story and you’re part of his. You have to account for him if you’re honest. You’ll be flooded with memories, good or bad, after the most trivial cues. He’ll affect the way you relate to anyone else. He’ll be an item to compare and contrast.

Former relationships rarely exist at this minimal level. Usually there are more feelings. Many more. You might continue to hate her, but there will still be feelings. At some point, time and time again, for the rest of your life, after the right buttons are pushed, you will be transported by your passions for the person.

You’ve seen this in others. You’ve had beers with the man who, at the mere mention of his ex, goes on a ten minute tirade about the shrew. You’ve drained a bottle of wine with a friend who combs over every detail of her ex’s pervasive perfidy. These are people still in relationship even though their divorces are final.

By the way, love and hate are not that far apart. They are both intense. They are both very, very far away from indifference. You’ll never be indifferent about a former partner, no matter how hard you try to fake it.

If you agree that you will always be in relationship, then the question is: what kind of relationship will it be? Which road will you take? You have three choices: grant cheap pardon, extend everlasting enmity, or work towards genuine, but rewarding, reconciliation. You have these choices if you stay together, but you also have these choices if you’re apart. Your address, whether it’s where you sleep, where you call home, or where to get your mail, is irrelevant.