Forgiveness After Betrayal: Is It Possible? (or How Well Do You Know The Man In Your Life?)

Posted at 20:49pm on 25th September 2009

Dear Mel,

I have never done anything like this before, but I feel I am at the end of my tether. I am 32 and I was previously in a relationship for 8 years, with someone who I thought was the love of my life. We had been friends since we were 16 and started dating when I was 21. We were engaged at 24 and then 6 months later I found out he had slept with my best friends sister. We split up for a year, but were drawn back together. It wasn't easy, but we somehow worked through it and we were happy and looking to the future. We put a deposit on a house and then bang, I found out he was in debt and he couldn't get a mortgage!!! I was devastated. Family had warned me about him, my sister-in-law even threatened if I moved in with him I wouldn't see my nephews anymore.

We split up and it took me 2 years before I entered my next relationship. With a man who I had known for 3 years and was the complete opposite to my Ex. He was quiet, sensitive, had a good job and we shared so many interests and just clicked together. We finally got together a year ago.

My new man turned out to be a bit of a loner and therefore relied on me quite a lot to be around and became friends with my "girlfriends". This started to grate on me a bit, not because I was jealous of his friendships with my girlfriends, but because I felt I couldn't chat to my friends about anything good/bad with my new man, for fear that I looked back talking about him. Anyway, I came to realize that this was just part of our relationship.

Next came a shock....he was in a well paid job, earning 40k, when he was suddenly sacked!! I was in shock. Although we don't live together and both have our own rented accommodation, I still found it difficult with this issue. When I asked him why, he said it wasn't his fault. He checked a piece of work for someone else (he works for an IT/Software company) and he had to sign to say it had been checked. However a customer had complained and he was told by his managers that he was a financial risk and was sacked!!

Nothing made sense to me. I asked questions, he said he didn't have the answers for me, or he didn't know. I asked why he was a financial risk, what did they mean? No answer. i felt sick and confused. I am at the stage now in my life where i want to get a mortgage, setle down and have a family. I work hard and have a good job, it's a natural progression.

Anyway, after much talking and still no answers, another bombshell he told me he was in 40K worth of debt. What? How? He comes from a very wealthy family, he has always rented. When he lived in the south he shared a rented house, until he moved up North 5 years ago. He then house shared for a year before moving into his own rented flat. Nothing unusual with that. It was a luxury flat, he didn't have designer furniture, just supermarket ranges....

I asked him how he has got into 40k of debt and he said he was frivolous when he was younger. He bought what he wanted. Gadgets, computer consoles, dvds-nothing of real relevance, but this didn't add don't get into that amount of debt by just buying gadgets. He doesn't dress in the latest fashion, he doesn't have a brand new car. That amount of debt is surely when you have an addiction to drugs, gambling etc, isn't it? He assures me he doesn't have any addiction, but his money used to go on nightout, drinking and smoking.

He took out loans to pay for credit cards and consolidated loans. This I have only found out after 6 weeks of him avoiding me! I don't know what to do. I have tried suggesting things to help. Get a smaller flat, sell your car, sell your computer and consoles etc. Debt management, but everything I suggest, he ignores and comes back with an excuse like it will effect his benefits etc. I have told him to tell his family-you need support emotionally if nothing else, but he won't for fear of them being disappointed.

He has told me he can't get a mortgage for at least 8 years till his debt has been cleared. He thinks you should just rent and doesn't listen to my point of view. As well as all of the above he says he is depressed, because of no job/debt. Which I understand, but he is lying in bed all day till 4 in the afternoon. He isn't looking for a job (I know how difficult it is with the recession) but anything would be good for him at the moment. I just don't know where this leaves us? How I can be with someone in a large amount of debt or where we go next. He said he finds it hard to talk and he is embarrassed. Please help! I need advice from someone who isn't involved in all of this!



Mel's Comment:

Dear Helen,

It seems crass to say “thank you for your letter” when what I really want to say is that I wish you’d had no reason to write it! Betrayal by someone you love is incredibly wounding. I know! I’ve been there before with a broken marriage, and I continue to have an ongoing situation with a family member.

The pain of betrayal can be immense, confusing, and debilitating. And sometimes, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, the only thing to do is what you have done: to ask someone outside the situation to hack away the undergrowth and clear a path before you. Whether you then choose to take that path is up to you.


Several things strike me about what you’ve told me:

  1. Clearly, from what you’ve said, you “knew” both your ex, and the new man in your life, for quite a while before establishing a relationship with either.
  2. However, in the first instance you ignored the advice of others warning you against the relationship.
  3. You say the current man in your life is the “complete opposite” of your ex, yet both have exhibited the same problem with money.
  4. You begin your letter by stating “I’m at the end of my tether” and link that with the fact that you’re thirty-two years of age.

I’d like to look at these issues more fully and then ask you some questions.

Obviously, you are to be commended for your maturity in getting to know both men before establishing a relationship with either of them. As a society, we live in an era of “serial monogamy” – one man at a time, over and over – and wonder why relationships don’t work. Too often it’s because people jump into a full-blown relationship without ever making getting-to-know-one-another a priority. I could write a book on this topic but it wouldn’t be appropriate here. Suffice to say, again, that you did things the right way around. Or at least, attempted to.


The trouble is, how well do we ever know anyone? There’s a Bible verse that says: the heart is deceitful above all things. It’s all too easy to conduct a little internal rationale with ourselves, which supports the argument for whatever it is we most want. We do it all the time when justifying our own indulgence - from eating a whole tub of Adidas ice cream in one hit, to buying two pairs of Jimmy Choo shoes at once. Or, in your case, from believing that someone is the love of your life, to (in his case) running up huge debts.

It’s my belief that we can only truly know someone to the extent that we honestly want to know them. Note that I’m not saying to the extent that they want to be known, although, obviously, that is part of the equation. But the point is that if you are with someone who doesn’t want to be known, in the fullest possible sense, then that is a factor in what you know about them.

In other words, you may know them to be someone who:

  • Either doesn’t know himself very well, in which case he may choose to seek help in order to do so; or you may know him as someone who refuses to acknowledge his need.
  • Alternatively, you may know him to be someone who has something he does know about himself but he chooses to hide it – from you, if not from himself.

So my first question to you is, how well did you truly want to know either of the men in your life?

If that sounds somewhat harsh, forgive me. But I know, from my own past experience, how easy it is to overlook the tell-tale signs of betrayal because – quite frankly – you don’t want to know. You convince yourself that the status quo is less painful than reality. The sad thing is, as you’ve found to your cost, it rarely is!

It’s very hard being honest with ourselves – especially when we’ve put our trust in someone and been betrayed. But being alive is all about learning from our mistakes, and allowing ourselves to be changed for the better by that learning.

From what you’ve said, you evidently felt that being with your ex took priority over the warnings from your family and I’d like to suggest, gently, that you take some time out to be honest with yourself. Because it seems to me that the second man in your life isn’t as different from the first one as you thought – at least as far as money is concerned.

Let’s look at each of the problems you’re now facing. First your new man being a “loner”. There’s nothing wrong, in my estimation, with a man preferring female company to male. My husband says he finds women are better listeners than most of the men he’s known; they’re more interested in him as a person; and they’re more honest about themselves.

However, it does sound as if he may have a problem with self-esteem. Your new man has suffered a huge set-back in losing his job. I don’t think that we women can full comprehend how emasculating it is to a man when he fails as a hunter-gatherer.

There may, as you appear to think, be more to the business of his being labelled a financial risk than appears on the surface. But perhaps he deserves the benefit of the doubt? In these days of recession, employers are looking for legitimate ways of ditching surplus employees. What, in another climate, may have been a forgivable misdemeanour (signing off another’s work in error) may, quite possibly, be used as an excuse for a sacking in this.


But what concerns me is that you say he won’t be honest with his family and ask for their emotional support “for fear of them being disappointed.” You then go on to say, “He said he finds it hard to talk and he is embarrassed.” From that I deduce that he feels that he has to live up to some image, or standard, imposed – directly or indirectly – by his family.

This is a very natural human condition. We come into the world as helpless babies, utterly dependent upon the goodwill of our parents to nourish us and protect us. Naturally, we instinctively cultivate their goodwill by smiling and cooing, and later by trying to please them in other ways. We’re rewarded when we do, and punished when we don’t. Remorse plus an apology reinstates us, and this return to favour is the reward for our repentance. It’s a cyclical state of mind.

This conditioning can continue into adult life. When we fail to live up to expectations (our own and that of others) we feel bad about ourselves. That’s the punishment. But there’s no one outside of us with whom to kiss and make-up – hence no reward. So what do we do? We comfort ourselves.

Some people do it by comfort-eating, alcohol, drugs or gambling; others through shopping. The concept of retail therapy has become an accepted part of our lives. I suspect that this may be how your man got himself into debt.

He’s not alone. You may think that it isn’t possible to have 40K of debt via credit cards, but believe me it is. I’ve spoken with young men who have reached that level of indebtedness very easily and very rapidly.

What’s more, I once interviewed various men and women about credit card debt for a series of magazine articles I’d been commissioned to write. One of them told me, very frankly, that the big spend is highly addictive. The fear of being found out provides an adrenalin rush; shame is the punishment; more spending the comfort and reward. For years he never, ever fully paid off his credit cards. No sooner had he paid enough to raise his credit-worthiness a little, than he was off again spending. All this, despite the fact that he had wardrobes full of unworn hand-made shoes and shirts.

So my second question to you is, do you want to encourage this man to confront the possibility of his frailties, and in doing so, have to face them yourself?


I must commend you for having “worked through” the ultimate betrayal with your ex, after he’d slept with your best friend’s sister. It takes a lot of courage and perseverance showing forgiveness when you’ve been betrayed in this way. I tried to patch up my marriage when I discovered on two or three occasions that my children’s father had been having prolonged affairs with other women. As you say, it’s not easy resisting the temptation to suspect everything, and learning to trust again.

It can be done, but I’d like to suggest that you don’t contemplate it unless your current man is prepared to talk, and to talk openly. Further, I would urge the two of you to see a counsellor together. You might try Relate if he won’t go for Debt Management Counselling. Alternatively, many churches have counselling services which don’t thrust religion at you (or they shouldn’t), plus some doctor’s surgeries support counselling services.

The point is that forgiveness is one thing; reconciliation quite another. As psychologist Aaron Beck says: "The one thing most toxic to a relationship is the other person can't change."

Which brings me to my final question.

Do you want to forgive and forget by working through this together? And if so, is this for legitimate reasons, or only because you are “at the end of your tether” because of your age?

You do see, don’t you, Helen, that this is only going to work if this man is the one you genuinely want to settle down with for the rest of your life? You qualified your relationship with your ex by saying that you thought he was the “love of my life”. I see no equivalent statement about your new man.

If you have any reservations, if that “grating” feeling about his friendship with your girlfriends is going to bug you in future, or if his depression over the loss of his job, and the lack of enterprise in trying to find another, is going to depress you, too, then you need to say so and get out. Because believe me, it will be a thousand times more painful and more difficult to do so once you have a shared mortgage / home / children.

My advice, as earlier, is to go – together – to talk things through with a counsellor. I hope that having hacked away the undergrowth, revealed the wood and the trees, and cleared the path before you, that counselling, together, will show you which path to take. It goes without saying that I wish you every peace and happiness for the future.

Related articles:

The Art Of Forgiveness: Is It Achievable?

Healing And Forgiveness

If you have some problem on which you’d like help or advice, write to: Dear Mel. I can’t promise to publish every letter I receive, but I will always endeavour to respond to you, personally.

Your Comments:

11th April 2012
at 11:35am
Dear Mel,
I need help. I feel like I will never be happy, or really anything except miserable again. I am a 39 year old guy who cries any time I'm alone, and often in church with my family. I am sooo heart broken. You see, I am in love with a woman who I have been inlove with since I was in high school. She got pregnant in high school and married the father, and I felt lost, so I married a good friend of mine, and have been married to this girl since. When I was about 25 years old, This girl came back into my life (recently divorced but living with a new boyfriend), and we quickly became more than best friends. We got pregnant and made plans of leaving our significant others to get married. We moved out (I moved with my parents, and she with hers). I owned and operated a construction company and was working on a very large contract out of state, so we communicated constantly on the phone. Her boyfriend called me everyday very upset. One evening she told me that he had been constantly calling her that day, and she agreed to meet him to calm him down. I begged her not to go, but she went anyway. He called me that night and bragged about having sex with her, and said that she asked him to forgive her, and that she wanted him back. I had my doubts, but the next day she said that she DID have sex with him, and she didn't know why she had. I was mortified, devastated. We cried on the phone for about an hour and I had this over whelming fatigue come over me, and simply passed out. The next day, she was unreachable, and sometime later that day, her best friend called me and told me that she was going to terminate the pregnancy.... I flipped out. I didn't know what to do, so I tried calling her a bunch more times, and HE answered. So I called her best friend a few more times, and all she would tell me was 3rd party messages... ie: she wants to start over,, she wants to give it a real try this time with him... etc..
I felt soooo alone... I didn't know WHAT to do. So I traveled... I lost my construction company. I stayed away for 6 months. I finally went back to my parents home and layed around for another month or two, while my wife begged me to just come home. I finally went home. I went back to work and sort of put the pieces of my life back in place. I found out through friends that SHE had two babies with him, which killed me. How can she kill my baby, and want his??? Why?
8 years later.... I still am in love with this girl and believed that my pain wasn't as strong as it had been, so out of the blue, I emailed her, and boom... We started talking like crazy. She told me that she wanted to leave him and marry my, but I told her that I cant.. Too much has happened... OMG.. I love her more than any person in the world, but I have so much pain... How could she leave me? How could she kill my baby? how could she run off to Vegas and marry him? and How could she have HIS babies. I hurt so Bad... What to do??? We began to fight all the time. She cudn't understand how come I wouldn't marry her if I loved her so much? But I can't raise his babies... and I know that the babies are innocent, but I have this hate for them or something... I can't describe it... The aren't to blame. I can't shake this feeling. I know that I will never ever stop loving her. I love loving her... She is my everything. But I have an equal amount of pain... everthing reminds me of what she did to me.... She calls me crying all the time,, begging me... I can't make it stop... I can't handle this amount of pain alone.... Please help..
11th May 2012
at 9:30am
Hi Tom,

Please don't misunderstand me, but I find it rather odd that you wish to have your comment made so public; in fact, I very nearly removed it.

It seems to me that there's an awful lot of pain all around. You talk of yours as if it's the only one, but what of your wife? She honoured her commitment to you and risked her future happiness by taking you back when you betrayed her with this girl. And what about those innocent babies? I certainly don't think you should go near them in the state of mind you appear to be in.

It's quite clear that you need professional help - certainly more than anything I can give you. You mentioned, at the beginning of your comment, that you go to church. May I suggest that you begin by telling your Minister everything you have told me. He should be able to point you in the direction of a good counsellor who, I hope, will be able to give you the help you so obviously need. God bless!

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