Dear Dr. Archer,
Eleven years ago I had an affair with my boss. At the time I was in a 15 year marriage, with two sons, ages 13 and 8. I was in love with my boss, and I convinced myself that leaving my family was the best choice for me. I was in a state of mind where my judgment was very messed up. I left and got a divorce.
I was convinced my sons would spend half the time with me, and our relationship would be fine. It did not go that smoothly, and I went through great distress and pain trying to maintain a relationship with them because, of course, they blamed me.
After 11 years, our relationships are much improved. I see and talk to them regularly, although my ex has not talked to me since I left.
My sons say he is happy, but if I were to try and open communications with him it would open an ugly wound again. They don't want to risk that.
What will happen when one of my sons gets married? How will he be able to get through an event like this? My guilt over this situation has been tremendous. It has lessened over the years, but I cannot bring myself to accept what I've done and move on.
I don't think I deserve to be happy for the rest of my life for what I've done. I know this thinking is not helping me, so how do I move on?
I'm glad you wrote. Guilt can eat your heart and soul away, and you've been guilty much too long. If you ask your ex to forgive you of the infidelity and the end of your marriage, and he doesn't, that's his prerogative.
He doesn't owe you anything and he may even harbor ill wishes for the rest of his days. Harsh, yes, but that's a very strong possibility. Hopefully you have taken a very valuable lesson from what happened 11 long years ago. BUT, that is water under the bridge. Long gone and it’s time for it to be forgotten.
Let's face it, Sandra. You need to forgive yourself and get over this for you, not for your ex. Give up on the hope that he will forget everything that happened and the two of you can become friends.
Your son is in contact with his father and he says it would open up old wounds. Let it be and find peace within yourself. Here are some steps I want you to take:
**Realize how important and healthy forgiveness is -- this is true whether it's your ex, a neighbor or you, forgiving you. It's crucial. Also, Sandra, forgiveness allows you to live in the present. You've been living in the past for 11 years! Your past is holding you back from enjoying your life today.
**Acknowledge the misery you've been living since you've been unable to forgive yourself for splitting up your family. Terrible? You bet! Is it unforgivable? No, because we all make mistakes; we all do things we're sorry for; every single person wishes they could turn back the clock and change something, whether it's big or small, and do something over. Unfortunately, you're still living in the past, becoming drunk on regret. It's time to stop.
**Ask yourself why you're being harder on yourself than anyone else. Do you forgive others who have hurt you? Aren't you just as worthy of forgiveness? You are a human being which means you're just as imperfect as the next person. Learn from your mistake and acknowledge that you are genuinely sorry. It's easy to see, and you need to see it yourself. Eleven years, Sandra, yet you continue to punish yourself. Enough.
As for when your sons get married, you and your sons will figure something out at the time, but for now you need to consider yourself and finally be self-compassionate. No more self-pity allowed!
Paul Boese said "Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future." Nothing could be more true. Forgiving yourself doesn't mean you condone your actions from years ago. It's a process of realizing you did something wrong, acknowledge that fact, learn from the mistake and become a better person because of it.
Please see a therapist if you cannot do this on you own. Good luck.