“Bad behavior is the language of the wounded. You can hate the behavior and still love the person. That leaves room for forgiveness.”
Recently I have been thinking about good people doing bad things and had a chance to reflect on my own experiences in this area. In so doing I realized that in both my personal and professional life I have learned the benefits of liking or loving someone whose behavior indicates their pain, separating the person from the action, at least for a while.
This ability to separate person and actions is part of my personality, and part learned. In my marriage there have been many times when I hated my husband’s behavior, yet still knew there was a good person beneath the acting out, loss of control, or defiance I was experiencing from him. It took effort to identify the good person, determine my responses, and consider the benefit of forgiveness.
Forgiveness – and knowing someone is good – can only go so far, however. If you just forgive over and over you become an enabler of poor behavior and also give up on your own needs. Nothing much changes, and you become miserable. So you must know your own values and limits, and stick to them, too. Sometimes I have found journaling helped me explore which response to make that would most align with my values and defend my own rights, while also being compassionate towards another’s pain.
It is also important to understand your own limits. How you respond to any person’s poor behavior is about you first, them second, and usually no one else. You are not required to ‘teach’ that person how to do better, and I find it generally is a bad idea to try. As one example, after I decided that I would prefer to work to see if I could stay with my husband rather than abandon the marriage due to an affair, my position was “I love you and would like to rebuild this relationship. However, you are the one who must decide what it is that you want. I won’t stand in your way while you do this, but I expect full transparency. And understand that there is only so long that I will be able to wait for you to figure it out.”
He did decide that what he really wanted was to be with me, not another, and together we healed that pain that had so wounded him. Our lives are good, and filled with warmth and love.
It could have ended differently, and still could. My husband knows where my compassion ends, and knows there are certain lines he cannot cross. And that’s okay. Forgiveness and compassion are not the same as being stupid.
Are there situations in which separating the good person from the bad behavior can help you find a more clear way to resolve conflict or injury in your own life?
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For those in marriages impacted by ADHD
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