I understand that Tiger Woods is about to make a statement on Friday regarding the events since Thanksgiving and his infidelity.
It's an opportunity to see if he can do what John Edwards and Bill Clinton were not able to do. Will Tiger do what's necessary to earn forgiveness from his wife Elin primarily and then the rest of us secondarily?
In my thirty years of seeing couples who have dealt with and overcome infidelity, I have developed an "air tight" formula that is necessary to earn forgiveness after you've betrayed someone. I call it the Power Apology*, but very few powerful people and power hitters are able to do it.
The 4 H's
When you betray someone's trust at such a deep level you trigger in them: Hurt, Hate, Hesitation to Trust, Holding onto a Grudge.
1. Hurt - When you betray someone's trust and in the case of an affair let those you're having the affair with, know just how little you respect your spouse, you trigger intense, devastating hurt in your spouse. They can become physically ill, mentally unhinged when as much as they thought they could trust you is as untrustworthy as you turned out to be.
2. Hate - After that direct blow to there gut, mind and soul rips a hole in them, they become infuriated and enraged. One of the things that is most enraging and difficult to get past is that during the time they suspected you were cheating and you kept reassuring them you weren't or told them they were imagining things or being paranoid, you put them in an emotional Sophie's Choice. Either you were lying to them or you weren't and they were just crazy. Many spouses will choose to believe the latter, because believing you are lying to them is incompatible with their emotionally and literally remaining in the marriage.
3. Hesitation to Trust - After your partner went against their own instincts and was willing to think it was their imagination and that they were crazy, they are not going to lower their guard and trust you again only to be re-traumatized.
4. Holding Onto a Grudge - Being hesitant to trust is a way of protecting yourself, but having to be ever vigilant is exhausting. A much less exhausting way to protect yourself, but no less obstructive to repairing a relationship, is holding onto a grudge. Doing that enables you to keep your guard up and keep it up fortified with your anger.
The 4 R's
In order for a person who has been betrayed to forgive, their 4 H's need to be responded to by the 4 R's: Remorse, Restitution, Rehabilitation, Request for Forgiveness.
1. Remorse - This is not the same as regret. Regret is saying, "Okay, I messed up. I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I promise, can we just move on?" Regret is almost insulting to the hurt that the injured party feels. In most cases it makes them feel worse as if they're doing something wrong by not letting it go. Remorse is feeling incredible and almost unbearable pain for having hurt the other person, looking into their eyes, pleading with them to look into your eyes and show you what your betrayal did to them, having them see that your seeing that pain causes you unbearable pain. Think of what it might feel like if you loved both your parents (who were not manipulative or guilt tripping by nature) and you were too busy to visit them while your mom, who loved you, was dying. Think of arriving too late to see her before she died and your dad looking at you with intense sadness in his eyes and telling you: "Your mom was disappointed that she didn't get to see you before she died. And I'm disappointed in you for not visiting her before she died." This is something that John Edwards and Bill Clinton failed to do. In neither case did their apologies communicate what seemed like genuine remorse.
2. Restitution - Your betrayal cut the other person to their core and took something away that was incredibly important to them, the ability to unconditionally trust you. Hurt may be satisfied with remorse, but their hatred needs a payback. And that payback needs to cut to your core as deeply as your betrayal cut to theirs. Maybe it's money, maybe it's a home, maybe it's access to kids, or maybe it's listening to you continue to verbally berate and vent until they've emotionally punched themselves out.
3. Rehabilitation - In order for your partner to overcome their hesitation to trust you, they will need to see you have changed the way you deal with upset, disappointment and frustration in ways other than betraying them, abusing them or lying to them. Furthermore they will need to see that you actually enjoy your new ability to deal with things in a healthy way. If they feel you have only learned a new coping mechanism to appease them and your heart is not into it, you really haven't rehabilitated yourself.
4. Request Forgiveness - You can't undo or take back what you did; all you can do is practice the first 3 R's - Remorse, Restitution, Rehabilitation - over and over again until you have internalized them into your personality. And that can take 6 to 18 months. At that point, you have earned the right to ask for forgiveness, let their anger and distrust go and for them to give you a second chance. That doesn't mean that they have to forget what you did. If they are unable to do that, the problem shifts from your being unforgivable to their being unforgiving. And then the responsibility for finishing up the relationship repair rests in their letting go of their grudge. When I've run into resistance about this I have often asked the unforgiving spouse, "Who did you learn to be unforgiving from that you swore you'd never grow up to be like?" They often make the connection to that mother of father who made their life miserable.
If Tiger Woods fails at this, we the public may still forgive him if he goes back to winning - much as we forgave Bill Clinton - who went on to achieve things after his Presidency that were greater than what he did when he was in office. One of the other reasons we forgive such people is that we see what they did in their personal life as something that hurt and embarrassed them as opposed to us and we like going back to looking up to how well they perform in their specialty area. If either President Clinton or Tiger Woods had pulled a Bernie Madoff that directly affected us, we never would have forgiven them.
I hope that Tiger Woods can succeed with his apology in ways that Edwards and Clinton couldn't. But unfortunately I don't think this is a championship that Tiger would be favored to win.
* source - "Just Listen" Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone (AMACOM, $24.95)