Dear Readers,

Today’s Ask Carolyn deals with forgiveness and school violence.


Dear Carolyn,

I am so angry that my anger is getting in the way of my life. My husband had an affair and we are separated. We have been married 20 years. When I uncovered who the woman was, the situation added insult to injury. The woman has broken up many marriages. I am not sleeping at night. I thought my husband was a good man from a good home, but I have recently heard that his father was a serial philander and his mother just swept it under the rug.

I am at the point I want to “wash that man right out of my hair,” as the Broadway song goes. But how do I forgive this? I know I need to forgive, but how? I am so very, very hurt. He has not acknowledged the wrongful adultery, and that makes this even harder. Why can’t he at least acknowledge the wrong and ask for forgiveness? I feel that would make it easier.


Carolyn Answers …

Forgiveness is one of those interesting words in the English language. It is a noun, and it can either refer to the process of forgiving or the process of being forgiven. Perhaps the two concepts are more linked than one might think. Forgiveness is a spiritual word, but it also has context in family relationships, including the breakup of family relationships.

It is easier to forgive a wrong when the other person is repentant and acknowledges the wrongdoing, makes reparations and then continues without recurrences of the wrong.

What you describe is going to be more difficult. You describe a situation where you are the victim, and the wrongdoer is not acknowledging the wrongful conduct of disloyalty, betrayal and adultery. So how do you keep from churning the bitterness in your soul? How do you change feelings and attitude, so that you can wish your offender well? Perhaps we should ponder this for a few moments, or even a lifetime.

So if you forgive the wrongdoer, have you let the unrepentant wrongdoer off the “hook?” No, the wrongdoer needs to be accountable, but holding him to accountability may be beyond your control. Let your attorney hold him accountable in the legal system. He may never change. He may be a philanderer with all his future relationships. Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation, so you should never let yourself be a victim again.

Forgiveness can happen if you can never get along with him again in a personal relationship. Be patient with yourself. Forgiveness is a process, and it is not likely to happen in a 20-year marriage overnight. Typically, it may take a year for every five years of the marriage to heal. Patience with yourself is a virtue. Be careful of forgiving too quickly to avoid angst and turmoil. To do so may merely cover a very dirty wound and create a devastating infection. We all know what happens when we fail to clean a dirty wound and cover it up with a band-aid. Ick – infection, and perhaps a dangerous infection, follows.

You ask will you ever be able to forget? Memory is an interesting thing in divorce recovery. I place memory in two categories: One, a memory that fades but has some occasional triggers causing recurrent pain on a less frequent pattern as time moves on; and two, a memory that is so painful it is a flashback, much like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). For PTSD, a counselor is a must on a regular and continuing basis. Hopefully, your triggers will become less frequent over time and your memory of the pain will fade.

How do you begin the process of forgiveness? You make the mental decision to forgive and work toward forgetting. A counselor or minister may help you work through the pain. Sometimes a symbol can help you – a visualization that you can shift your mind to when you start to focus on the problem. Try wadding up an old newspaper page and burning it in a candle. When the candle goes out, the burden is lifted from you. Remember this, every time you start to recall the wrong. In the children’s movie Frozen, Elsa sang: “Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore. Let it go, let it go. Turn away and slam the door.”


Dear Carolyn,

I have two high school age children in Guilford County. I am in a divorce proceeding with their mother. I am most concerned about the gun violence and murders in schools in this country. I believe in the Second Amendment, but this has gotten more than ridiculous. The children’s mother is oblivious to the dangers. My sons want to participate in school boycotts until something is done. Can I say OK to the “walk outs”? The media is, of course, placing this in the forefront of my thoughts. I would at least like to move our sons to a smaller, private school. While this might not be safe, it seems that the bigger public schools are the ones targeted. The mother and I are not on the same page. We do have a custody order, but I’d like to get control of education decision making. Can I?


Carolyn Answers …

I too am concerned. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the US have some kind of mental illness in a year’s time. Further, approximately, one in 25 adults in the US experience serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder (along with other mental illnesses). Plus, I add violent video games and screen time to the mix of problems. Mixing violent video games and screen viewing with mental illness is the recipe for an explosion. And we have that explosion.

While there is no legal precedent at this time that societal circumstances of violence equates to a substantial change of circumstances affecting the welfare of the child, I would like to see this area of the law challenged. If your sons are high school age and want to move to a school that is perceived as safer, the court should allow the sons’ testimony. Personally, I would let them participate in the walk outs to some degree, and I would get them in a smaller school with a border perimeter and a metal detector entry. Surely some of our schools are in the process of adding these features.

Every day, when I go to the Guilford County Courthouse, there are metal detectors and screenings to enter my place of work. Why should children have less protection than the Guilford County Courthouse? The price not to have metal detectors is too large. While we seek a societal solution, which is going to take a long time politically, let’s exercise some practical common sense. Get the metal detectors at every entrance. And, yes, a parent who is best equipped to deal with educational issues may be the better choice for a legal custodial parent on educational issues.



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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.