As you grow closer as a couple, your wellbeing depends increasingly upon the choices your partner makes, both good and bad, in addition to those you make as an individual. When you navigate the world from within the context of a relationship, you’re no longer alone in the cockpit, steering your own destiny—a phenomenon that’s wonderfully rewarding when things go smoothly, but terribly heart wrenching when things go poorly.
Depending on the parameters of your relationship, messing up can mean a lot of different things. Every couple lives by the rules of their own unwritten (but hopefully well understood) contract. Whatever the terms, however, each person is destined to step outside the bounds of what’s considered appropriate conduct on occasion. We’re all fallible, after all.
Betrayals of varying degrees of significance are inevitable in a long-term relationship. If you dare to love passionately, missteps are part of the bargain. You are likely to betray—and to feel betrayed by—the person you care about most sometimes. And when this happens—when one person in a relationship fucks up royally—the fallout undoubtedly sucks for both parties. For the person who made a mistake, it sucks to feel the pangs of guilt specific to hurting someone you adore more than anyone else in the world. For the wronged party, it sucks to feel the ache of a wound so deep and painful, only someone you love madly could have cut it.
The thing is, what happens in the aftermath of a betrayal often matters more than the betrayal itself. The injured party must make a choice: They can remain bitter, or they can forgive, and move forward.
It’s tempting to indulge vengeful fantasies. The desire to exact revenge—to inflict pain of equal measure on the person who elicited it in you—is entirely natural. It seems just, especially if you’re in the midst of nursing an open wound. An eye for an eye, right? Wrong.
Revenge will not taste sweet if it means hurting your significant other—at least, it won’t as long as you still genuinely love them. So if you want to salvage your bond, don’t reduce yourself to your partner’s level. Mimicking their misdeeds will only prolong the hurt on both ends. Other people’s lapses in judgment aren’t a license to act stupid or to make bad decisions. It isn’t fair to invoke suffering simply because you yourself are suffering. Hurting someone deliberately is a grave crime, especially in the name of payback.
Healthy romantic relationships aren’t built on tit-for-tat. They’re built on the courage to admit wrongdoing, and the strength to pardon one another. Behaving like a kind, respectable adult is never ill advised, no matter your partner’s infraction. Set the standard. Be a good person first, and a loving boyfriend or girlfriend second. Forgive. Say “I forgive you!” out loud, when no one’s around. Then say it to your significant other’s face. Forgiveness is about so much more than absolving someone. It’s the antidote to internal suffering, also. Those three powerful words will free you from the burden of pain, resentment, and overthinking—as long as you actually mean them.
Don’t forgive anyone if you don’t mean it, but don’t wallow in bitterness if you don’t have to, either. Forgiveness isn’t easy, of course. It demands fortitude and resolve. But if you can find it in yourself to choose forgiveness, it always proves worthwhile. Embrace it as wholeheartedly and quickly as humanly possible. If you can’t get there, consider ending the relationship before your spite burns it alive.