Do I Owe Her Anything? Do I Owe Him Anything?

He was 10 months post-divorce and asked me this question in my office; “Do I owe her anything?”  He said he’d been asking himself this over and over since our last appointment.

He had repeatedly apologized to her for his affair that precipitated their divorce.  She said she would never accept his apology.

I told him he needed to ask himself this question and answer it himself.  Further, if he decided that yes, indeed, he had a debt to repay her, he needed to “re-pay” his debt without expectation of reciprocation, appreciation, forgiveness, thanks, etc.

He argued that she’d just take whatever he gave her in payment and probably just ask for more, angering him.

I told him that payment of such a debt is not “for her” but rather, “for him”, to theoretically clear his conscience.  It didn’t matter if she accepted his payment.  What mattered was his (attempt to) repay it.

The process of becoming mature is long and arduous.  It requires that we not only admit our mistakes but that we attempt to make good on them (regardless of whether such efforts are accepted) and then live with the fact that you can never undo mistakes, only learn from them.

I told him that maturity dictates he tell her once with full sincerity, “I cheated on you, I am sorry, and I was wrong”.  Then, regardless of her reaction, you live with your actions and try to be a decent human being in the future.

Living with how you failed to live up to your promises keeps you humble. The memory of apologizing will help you repair your self-esteem. Remembering these two will help you avoid doing such in the future and be kind and forgiving with others in the future.

This process doesn’t work if you ask her if you owe her something.  If you do this, you are just doing what someone else told you to do to be “good” again.  And it is quite possible others don’t feel you owe anything or they don’t want your “repayment”.  That is not the point.

The point is…what you do (your beliefs, values) dictates what you do to address your mistake.  This is how one clears one’s conscience; this is how one learns to sleep peacefully at night with the mistake we have made.

But what if you have a tendency to be “hard” on yourself?  Then discuss what you plan to do to repay your debt with a trusted friend and alter your plans as you see fit.

But what if I know my attempt to do anything to my ex will only end in disaster?  Then consider a symbolic repayment of your debt, i.e., a sizeable donation to a charity, a year’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, donation of your professional/work skills to those in need.

This is who I am, this is what I did and live with.