Ever since I started the conversation about divorce with my husband, I have been thinking about forgiveness. The initial elation I felt when I finally made my needs known erased any resentment or punitive thoughts from my mind — I only wanted to get on with my life and stop feeling so sad and hopeless all the time. I cried when I told him I needed to leave, not because I mourned the relationship, but because I truly felt bad hurting him, yet hurt him I must. In those teary moments I realized I did actually love him as a person, but I needed to be outside of any circle of expectations with him.
I needed to be outside of any circle of expectations with him.
Eventually I worked my way to feeling anger at him. Things he did that I’d written off as just the cost of admission of our life together were revealed to be unfair and hurtful. They always were, but I’d had to look away from the hurt or I would have been even more depressed. As I journaled about this, I noticed some patterns. This was the dynamic I had when I still pursued my mother, trying to win her love.
She hadn’t wanted to be a mother, and I felt it in my bones my whole life. She would criticize my clothing but never help me correct it. She would bail on visitations, rush off to play tennis with boyfriends when she did have me, bribe me with gifts, or dangle future inheritance in front of me to keep me coming around when I would start to pull away from her toxicity. I would chase after her car when she dropped me off. She was my first unrequited love and she set me up for a lifetime of low expectations and lower self worth. I couldn’t be angry at her, or she wouldn’t see me. I had to succumb to her whims or lose her even more entirely.
If I had injured my delicate husband by telling me that he had disappointed or hurt me, it would derail into a spiral of how he’s a broken monster and how we should pity him being the worst at everything. My hurts were erased and invalidated, as I was accustomed to them being. Easier not to say anything. For a while.
My Mister never said he was sorry. If he broke something of mine, he might even hide that he had done it. But if I found it or even if he told me he did it, he never, ever said he was sorry he did it. He wouldn’t make reparations, or increase kindness to make up for it. I often had to ask for the most basic levels of support because he was too busy being exhausted or stressed. He’s not one to notice someone is laden down with bags and run and open the door for them.
When he was in job-search mode (even when employed) all other life stopped entirely. I was put in a box to be utterly ignored until he was done with that process. He would never take me out, lovingly dust me off, and make it up to me when he came back to the relationship. It was already in the past and now he could get stuff from me again. I had to just forgive him or else everything would be a fight. I should have just had the fights and then the relationship could have burned out like a bonfire rather than rotting from within like a forgotten woodpile molding behind the shed.
I tried to give my mother a second chance when she reopened communications after her cancer diagnosis; I didn’t want to kick her when she was down, nor did I want to just forgive and forget. I tried to approach her like we were adults meeting for the first time, putting no old beefs out on the table. She tore into me about why I never remember all the good stuff she did, I only remember bad things. She never acknowledged that anything she did was hurtful to me. I was just a failure at pleasing her, she didn’t do anything to me. I don’t even remember my response to her rant specifically, but what I should have said was it’s the never-acknowledged bad things I am still carrying with me and the intermittent good things did not erase them.
I had a shitty boyfriend 20 years ago who also never acknowledged how his dismissiveness and coldness affected me. He didn’t have the courtesy to break up with me when he didn’t want to be with me and had a woman waiting for him. I was a checkbox on his IBM punch card heart. He didn’t want to be the bad guy. What they all have in common is none of them ever took responsibility for how their actions hurt me. I couldn’t choose my mother, but I could choose my love interests, and I had chosen both those men. I still cannot forgive myself for that, either.
My mother had a lot of damage in her childhood, not that I officially know that. She never talked about any of that with me. My father met her when she was 20 so he witnessed a little of it and divined more of it from her words and actions over the decades since (they divorced >40 years ago). It’s clear from her behavior that she sustained a lot of damage that has never been resolved. She hurt me, in these ways. I have lived with that damage, struggled against it in vain for my nearly 5 decades, and I find it hard to forgive her. She had a choice to fight her upbringing and not pay her pain forward, but she did not choose to prioritize her child.
My husband had a lot of damage in his childhood. I know that for certain, not only from my initial impressions of certain visible cracks that would be easy to reopen, but also hearing his stories. He tells them so matter of factly even as my hand covers my mouth in disgust. He did some damage to me over the course of our marriage, damage already started by previous relationships, but also unique to this one. I am living with that damage now, struggling against it to try and start over from where I was so long ago. I find it easier to try and forgive him, but only because I was complicit in keeping our relationship on life support. You can’t see a red flag when you are wearing rose-tinted glasses. They just become shades of grey. He, too, could acknowledge that he had sustained damage, and even feebly tries to address it, but he does not employ all the tools at his disposal.
You can’t see a red flag when you are wearing rose-tinted glasses. They just become shades of grey.
He calls himself broken; my mother is a narcissistic superwoman. He may never apologize, or feel remorse, but she definitely never will. She waited for the same acknowledgement from her mother until that woman died and she does not understand that she’s done the same thing to me. Forgiveness from me is as conditional as love was from them.