Relationships, You & Your Family

The realities of seeking reconciliation

The realities of seeking reconciliation

As each new year begins, we may wish for different things. For some, it may be a promotion, finally getting to go for a dream holiday or finding that special someone with whom to spend the rest of their life.

With many of my clients, I see a desire to turn back the clock—to not have said those hateful words or to have shown more love and attention to their children, spouse or others. For some, they wish to be forgiven and get a second chance to reconcile with those from whom they are estranged. One case of wanting a better tomorrow comes to mind. Beneath an exterior of a responsible provider for his wife of 15 years and two children, as well as an active selfless volunteer, this client harboured a pattern of addiction to pornography and prostitutes. The two diametrically opposite lifestyles coexisted for many years till it was discovered by his wife. Attempts to reconcile were complicated by the slow uncovering of more and more damning details of the extent of his infidelity.

A year after the discovery, the wife asked him to move out. He did so in the hope that this might bring some peace. However, in a climate of little to no trust, not seeing him every day increased the wife’s anxiety and led to more conflict. Intervention from family and friends were viewed as unhelpful as they would be on one spouse’s side and biased. Appeals for reconciliation by the church, where both had been active members, were listened to politely but rejected.

After the wife blocked all contact between them for three months, the husband reached out to me for counselling. His attempt to reconcile through a counsellor was his last resort.

A rather unexpected turn of events made it possible for me to speak directly to the wife to consider counselling. My client’s expectation for her agreement was at an all-time high. After all, she had previously suggested they engage me for couple counselling only to have him rebuff it. Sadly, this time it was she who turned it down. She was too hurt and disillusioned. Asking her to consider giving the marriage another chance when there was no guarantee of success, along with the prospect of being hurt again was just too much for her.

His wife’s decision was devastating to my client. It took him some time to get over the shock that she would not consider reconciliation. He wondered if the wife he knew, who had strong religious beliefs, was the same person he married. As he struggled to understand her response, he wondered if his wife would ever forgive and take him back.

In the face of all this, I remained calm. When asked, I explained that it was not only because I was a third party, but also because of my hope and belief in reconciliation. I had earlier shared with him that after what had happened, he needed to begin the process of reconciliation by trying to make amends to those whom he had hurt by his habitual use of pornography and illicit sex. They included his wife, children and family members. Another person he had hurt was himself—his self-gratification had shamed and let himself down. Last, but not least, his behaviour had also hurt his fellowship with God, making it difficult to draw on God’s grace and love for him. So, while not yet reconciled with his wife, his work could still begin and continue with others. Some may even say that reconciliation begins first with God and thereafter with others. Since reconciliation is a process—beginning with admission of wrongdoing, to expression of remorse, to a promise to do better and finally, being completed by a response of forgiveness by the hurt person(s)—I encouraged my client to take responsibility by doing his part. How his efforts will be received is left to the hurt parties. Though he is hoping for their forgiveness, he has no right over how they, especially his wife, respond.

For believers, when we consider reconciliation, our perspective is on a different time scale. Perhaps, some relationships will not be repaired within our lifetime on earth but only when we get to heaven.

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.