Dr. Martin Luther King advised us to “never succumb to the temptation of bitterness,” and boy, was he right. Forgiving infidelity and other wrongs is one of the hardest things to do, and at the same time, it may just help you live longer. A new book, “Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives,” reviews years of research on bitterness that shows not only is it unproductive from a social, emotional and spiritual perspective, but takes a devastating toll on our physical health.
Today’s CNN article opens with the story of a young college student who was tormented because of his race. The stress and bitterness he held towards the injustice eventually led to sleeping problems and panic attacks. Finally, he landed in the hospital and was found to have a dangerous condition of thickened heart muscles—one of the leading causes of heart-related sudden death in people under 30. It wasn’t until this young man was able to move on and release his bitterness that he recovered physically.
How can a mental state have so much impact on our bodies?
When we feel negatively towards another person, our brains trigger the release of stress hormones. This is a very effective mechanism for dealing with real danger situations. It prepares our bodies to attack, defend or flee from a potential threat. However, when these hormones flood the body for a long period of time, the stress begins to do some real damage. Heightened blood pressure endangers the heart, and chemicals such as C-reactive protein further weaken the heart and other body systems. Irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression also often occur.
The journey of marriage is wonderful and opens the doors to some of life’s greatest joys. At the same time, bitterness is one of the biggest marriage problems couples have. Unspoken tensions, jealousies, pet peeves, family drama… all of us experience some kind of event in our relationship that could spark bitterness. Suspected or acknowledged cheating often puts the greatest strain on a marriage. So how do we move beyond bitterness and get to forgiving infidelity?
Give yourself the time to grieve your loss. An infidelity is a huge blow to the foundations of your reality, and it is painful. Acknowledge that you feel this pain, that you are hurt, and that things are going to be difficult. Recognizing your feelings helps to soften them eventually and will get you ready for forgiving infidelity.
2. Seek solidarity
Read the news, talk to a friend, or find a support group. Realize that many people are going through what you are right now, and many experience worse. This in no way delegitimizes the pain you are feeling—it should give you a sense of strength and perspective to your emotions.
3. Talk it out
It is essential to talk to the person that hurt you if you are going down the path of forgiving infidelity. Communicate with your spouse openly and honestly about how you feel. At the same time, try to understand the other person’s underlying concerns and mental state. This isn’t an excuse—it is an explanation. Understanding will help you to reach a calm common ground.
4. Think of your health
Keep this article in mind. Realize how much damage you are doing to your body and mind by not forgiving infidelity. You have a right to your feelings…you also have the right to have a long, healthy, happy life regardless of other’s unjust activities. After all, “living well is the best revenge,” (George Herbert).
I also suggest calming activities such as yoga, meditation, prayer, or other mindful activity. These can reverse the effects of stress.
How about it? Do you find bitterness (and it’s ugly siblings, Regret and Envy) dominating your life? How do you deal with it? Share your tips and stories about forgiving infidelity and more!