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When to Give Up on Forgiveness

Randy got drunk, lost his cool, and hit the sliding glass door with a hammer. No one was injured, but Randy’s marriage shattered like the sheet of glass scattered on the patio.

His wife, Judy, began making her plans.

He did it all over again the next day. Drinking….this time he threw a pool ball at the mirror in the game room.

Without a word, Judy gathered their two children and left for her mother’s. Forget the plan to find a place of her own.

Four years later, Randy and Judy are still together. Having accepted his inability to handle alcohol and the reality of losing his family, Randy has been clean and sober during the same four years. Two years with a brilliant couples counselor helped tremendously. Randy’s career is now taking off in ways he never thought possible. Without the destructive effects of alcohol in the mix, Randy is a good husband, father, and provider – and Judy knows it.

Life is pretty good for this couple, except…

Randy is not forgiven.

Judy admits she still doesn’t trust him. She hasn’t let go and lives with fear that the past could resurface. At least once a week, gripped by what she can only call an inner panic, Judy confronts her husband, attempting to hold him accountable to his promise of sobriety, which has never been broken.

Typically, Randy patiently listens to his wife’s fears, as well as her recounting the horrors of his past behavior. He apologizes profoundly each time Judy relives the past and projects it into their future. No one knows better than Randy that he put his family through a hell they didn’t remotely deserve. He considers it his duty to listen and empathize with the worry and pain Judy has been attempting to reconcile.

Randy also attends AA regularly, in spite of believing he has recovered. Interestingly, Randy isn’t sure he ever was a classic alcoholic. His doctor concluded he’s deficient in ADH/ALDH enzymes, which prohibits the body from assimilating alcohol. Randy attributes much of problem to this specific biochemical reality. Still, Randy is not willing to take any chances and also feels it important to support the AA community, which he has come to respect.

Still, Randy isn’t attached to the word alcoholic. He neither denies nor identifies with the label. And he does not fear a relapse. To Randy, the likelihood of taking another drink is akin to cold-blooded murder. The magnitude of the wrong is such that he doesn’t consider it possible. He loves his family, and his new lease on life, too much. Alcohol is simply not on his mind.

For Judy, it’s different.

Any small reminder of Randy’s episodes with alcohol is disturbing. A slight edge to his voice, a certain look in his eyes that reminds her of the old Randy – or a beer commercial – can send Judy into an emotional tailspin. Even good memories cause Judy to flood with worry, pain, and fear. She loves her husband and cannot bear even the remote possibility that something unexpected might happen….that the nightmare might not be over.

Four healthy, incident-free years into the reconciliation, without a drop to drink, Randy is now beginning to notice a shift in his perspective – and his patience. For the first time, he’s not feeling guilty about his past.

The conclusion reached in counseling was still clear to him, however. Randy had destroyed the marriage. He would need to be patient and build a new track record of wise choices. Judy was advised to require Randy to earn her trust, one day at a time, over an extended period. And Judy alone would know if and when she felt safe enough to let go of the past and relax into a new life.

Randy had agreed the approach was grounded and fair. Indeed he felt blessed to have the opportunity to rebuild his marriage. Now, however, Judy’s worries and her tendency to relive all the pain were beginning to appear….self-indulgent.

He rebuked himself at the thought, but this new perspective was taking hold. To Randy, it was time to stop paying for his sins and shed the baggage. The time had come for Judy to put it all behind her. He realized he needed Judy to let go…and if she would kindly do so sooner rather than later.

Then, during a difficult time for Judy, the words just came out of Randy’s mouth.

“Judy, stop indulging yourself in the past and obsessing about the future. We’re OK. You’re OK. I’m a safe person. I have zero desire to anything that would hurt you! I’m a good husband. You know this! How come you can’t move on with your life  – our life? I don’t see myself spending more years being mistrusted and subtly accused of breaking my promises. I need you to live in the present with me. I’m serious. Now, maybe you can’t do that. That would be understandable, I realize that. Maybe I caused so much damage and there was too much water under the bridge. We might’ve been fooling ourselves to believe we could repair the marriage. I honestly don’t know, but I need to know. I have the rest of my life to live.

Randy paused, “And I’d like to spend it with you.”

Randy and Judy are back in counseling. Their goal is to discover if it’s possible to create a future together in which they both feel trusted and safe. Is Randy justified in his new perspective? Is it fair for him to require Judy to let go? Should Judy trust him? Can she? That’s for them to decide.










When to Give Up on Forgiveness

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2017). When to Give Up on Forgiveness. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Apr 2017
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