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November 1, 2012

Forgiving Without Regret

by guest contributor Serena

Sam and I had been married nearly ten years when his best friend, Bill, was killed in a horrible accident that involved negligence and led to criminal charges being filed. In addition to the shock and grief felt by everyone who knew Bill, the circumstances were controversial and created some painful divisions within our circle of friends. It was a terrible time.

Sam had known Bill for many years before we met. I also grew to care about Bill as a dear friend. We had become close to Bill's new wife, Jane, who now was completely devastated by her loss. Coming to terms with such a premature death would have been difficult enough under any circumstance, but the ongoing legal matters, which involved several of Bill's friends and relatives in various capacities, created additional stress. We did our best to provide comfort to Jane.

At some point, I realized that Sam had developed a special attachment to Jane. Looking back on it now, I would say that they were probably on the brink of an emotional affair, but at the time I was unfamiliar with the concept. The first time I had a sense that something might be amiss was the day he took me to the airport for my trip to an important business meeting. My flight was cancelled and I went on standby. Sam waited with me, so that he could drive me home in case I didn't get a timely flight. But I realized that he was much more concerned that he might miss his lunch with Jane than he was that I might miss my meeting.

It soon become obvious to me that he was eager to keep in touch with Jane, thought of her often, and liked spending time with her. He wasn't secretive about his contact with her, and it always seemed legitimate. But I had a powerful impression that there was more to it than he was telling me. I had never been a suspicious or jealous person, but now I was tormented by the idea that the man I adored might be having an affair.

Having just lost the love of her life under dreadful circumstances, Jane was a sympathetic character. Smart and personable, she was attractive in a way that I knew appealed to Sam, tiny and fragile-looking, with wispy blonde hair and a toothy, vulnerable smile. She was also a damsel in distress, something that resonated very powerfully with him.

I didn't know what to do. I definitely didn't want to ask Sam about it. My suspicion might be completely unfounded, so why introduce such a hurtful idea at such a difficult time? And if something was going on, Sam would probably just deny it. Worse yet, he might admit it. And there was the real source of my darkest fear.

In all the years I had been with Sam, I had never seriously entertained the idea that he might be unfaithful. If I'd been asked, "What would you do if your husband had an affair?" I'd have automatically answered the way most people who've never faced that problem do: "I'd get a divorce." But I had never considered it a real possibility. If Sam and Jane were having an affair, my trust would be shattered, my happiness destroyed, and I would have no choice but to end the marriage. That seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen.

There weren't any real problems in our relationship. Sam's behavior toward me hadn't changed; he was, as always, attentive, affectionate and communicative. I was sure that he loved me. I didn't think that he had turned to another woman because of any dissatisfaction with me and our marriage. Rather, I thought his connection with Jane was based on the intense, emotional power of what they had in common. They were the two people in the world who had been the closest to Bill. Each had a unique relationship with him and now suffered a unique loss. Everyone was going through shock and grief, but for the wife and the best friend, the pain was even more intense. They would naturally feel deep empathy and tend to turn to each other for comfort and understanding. And that could so easily lead to more.

Without any concrete evidence, this could all be my imagination. I told myself that many times. And yet, there were certain moments. A casual comment that seemed to carry some extra meaning. The way he told me about something she had said. His tone of voice during a phone call. A glance exchanged between the two of them. A friendly hug that may have been too friendly. What did it really mean?

I never found out. Time passed, and the legal matters were eventually settled. Jane met a nice man, and a year later we attended their wedding. In the meantime, I decided that, if Sam had crossed any lines with Jane, I would forgive him. I didn't need a confrontation, a confession, an explanation, or even an apology. I forgave him unconditionally because the circumstances were so extraordinary. I forgave him because I knew that he was a good man who truly loved me and that I could trust him. Whatever had happened, it was that one rare exception that would never be repeated. And what if Sam didn't need my forgiveness because I had completely misjudged the situation? Then I forgave myself, for all the same reasons.

We went on with our life together and I never looked back, never doubted Sam's devotion to me, never worried about Jane or anyone else again. Months went by without my thinking about the matter, then years. One day, some random incident triggered a train of thought that reminded me of those old days. I was surprised to realize that I had virtually forgotten all about the worries I had then. That period of doubt and fear was just a tiny dot on the timeline of my life with Sam. Of course, our marriage had some ups and downs, but we had enjoyed many great years, filled with love and adventure. Fifteen years after that sad time, I couldn't have imagined a deeper love or a better husband.

I still don't know what did or didn't happen back then, and I don't care. What matters is everything else that has happened, our commitment to each other, and the life we have shared. I have never regretted the choice I made.

Identities have been changed to protect privacy.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

2 fabulous comments:

  1. I think that's a bit silly...never asking if your husband was inappropriate with another woman. But at least you were able to forget about it. And that's just my opinion, I'm not saying it to be mean or hurtful. Personally, I wouldn't care if it had been the most vulnerable heartbroken woman in the world; I would not tolerate my husband forming such a strong attachment to her. We, as a couple, could for a friendship TOGETHER with our grieving friend/widow...but I would never condone that happening without me there with him.
    Maybe listen to Family Radio...it talks about "building hedges" around your marriage. But you guys seem older and have probably worked all that out by now.
    -Miss Klein.

    1. When I decided to write about my experience, I knew that some people would think I hadn't handled the situation correctly. But I don't think there is any one correct way to deal with life's challenges. What worked for me wouldn't work for someone else. Right or wrong, it wasn't impulsive or trivially "silly"; it was seriously considered. If I had been older and more experienced (or younger and less experienced) I might have done things differently. In any case, my choice had nothing to do with what kind of person Jane was or what her problems were. It really had nothing to do with her at all. It was solely about the kind of people Sam and I were and what we were both going through, together, at the time. If I found myself in a similar situation today, I don't know whether I would handle it the same way or not. I do know that in that time and place, my choice gave me peace.


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