Christy Little Jones, 42 Fort Washington, Maryland
“You don’t know me, but I am no longer dating your husband…I’m sorry for any pain I caused your family.” Christy recalls the exact moment she read that sentence, in an e-mail sent to her last March. “My heart just stopped,” says the mother of four (to stepson AJ, 26; and Skye, 9; Blaze, 8; and Hayes, 6). “I felt paralyzed.”
Until that point, Christy, a relationship coach, believed that she and Adrian, 46, her husband of 10 years, were happily married. Certainly things weren’t perfect: Business was slow for Adrian, a car salesman, and their bank balance had taken a hit. “Adrian and I were feeling pressure about money,” says Christy. But she had seen no other warning signs. “We still had date nights and did things as a family. I never dreamed he would betray me.”
After reading and rereading that e-mail, Christy called her husband at work. Voice shaking, she demanded an explanation. “Adrian was defensive at first, said it never happened, and even hung up on me,” she remembers. “But a minute later he called back, crying, admitted it was true, and begged me to forgive him.”
The story unfolded: Adrian and a customer had flirted. A one-night stand had turned into a four-month affair. In February 2012, when the woman asked Adrian if he would ever leave his family, he broke off the relationship. “I was furious,” says Christy. “It was hard for me not to tell Adrian that we were over and make him hurt as badly as I did.” Instead the pair talked and wept together all night.
“Once the initial shock passed, I was faced with a choice,” she says. “I could either fight for my marriage or let this event change everything.”
Christy made a conscious decision to forgive. It didn’t happen instantly. For the next six months, she struggled with resentment and the fear that Adrian would not be committed to making the marriage work. “There were many times I asked him, ‘How could you live with yourself? How could you look me in the eye and lie for months?’ And to get closure, I needed to know every last detail of the affair. It was extremely painful for Adrian to answer my questions, but he did so with humility,” she says.
“Forgiving him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” says Christy, “but his honesty made it easier.” So did the fact that Adrian confided his wrongdoing to two friends from their church. The three of them began meeting each week to pray together and discuss their faith and the importance of marriage. “I appreciated that he wanted other people to hold him accountable,” says Christy.
While on vacation in Virginia last May, Christy and Adrian spontaneously renewed their wedding vows. “We continue to work on trust issues,” she admits. “But our marriage is stronger for it. I have no regrets.”
As children, Pascale and her younger brother endured constant torments from their mother: “She would hit me and my younger brother, fling plates in our direction, and call us names. My father tried to get between her and us, and she wouldn’t spare him, either.”
Pascale’s parents were both successful physicians, but their home life was deeply troubled. “My mother had had an abusive childhood,” says Pascale. “So maybe as a result, she subjected me and my brother, who was severely autistic, to her constant drama.” The harassment extended into adulthood. Even when Pascale was off at college, her mother would call once a week to berate her: “She disparaged my appearance, my friends, my academics. I felt that she was driving me over an emotional ledge.” After graduation, Pascale moved across the country, away from her parents. There she eventually got married and, in 2002, had a daughter of her own, Sofi. Pascale hoped that Sofi’s birth would soften her mother.
No such luck. “Once Sofi was five, she became independent-minded, and her behavior set my mother off,” says Pascale. Her rages returned, now directed at Sofi. Pascale sought help from therapists. “I wanted this relationship to stop causing constant pain in my life,” she says.
Then, in 2010, at the age of 73, Pascale’s mother suffered several massive consecutive strokes; her brain was irreparably damaged. Arriving at the hospital, Pascale was shocked to find her mother unable to communicate or even understand language. As the only relative capable of caring for her mother—Pascale’s father and brother had both died—she felt duty-bound to help. She sat by her mother’s side around the clock, reading books aloud and just talking—though not sure what, if anything, her mother could understand.
“At first I was angry. I felt she had left a mess that I had to take care of,” says Pascale. But as the months went by, her fury at her mother, who was now in such a vulnerable state, slowly dissipated. Finally, one day, an exhausted Pascale suddenly laid her head down in her mother’s lap. “And the hatred went away. It was just…gone,” she says. “For the first time, I stopped condemning her. And that gave me peace.”
Forgiving her mother also helped Pascale, who now owns a personal-health-and-wellness consulting firm, let go of other resentments (such as a rift with her ex-husband, with whom she split in 2007). “I’ve become less interested in holding on to all forms of bitterness.” Pascale’s mother remains in a vegetative state, but Pascale visits her at the nursing home weekly. “I see now that forgiveness is not so much about what you receive from people,” she says, “but what you give them.”
3 of 3Lori Paniga
“I Forgave the Drunkdriver Who Nearly Killed Me.”
Nettie Gibson, 33 Monroeville, Pennsylvania
A flash of silver. That’s all Nettie, a mental-health counselor, recalls about driving to work on the morning of August 10, 2011, when another car swerved into her lane, hitting Nettie’s sedan head-on. With her right leg pinned between the dashboard and the front seat, Nettie drifted in and out of consciousness for almost an hour before firefighters rescued her. In the emergency room, convinced that she was going to die, Nettie asked a nurse to pen a good-bye letter to her 13-year-old son, Dominic. “I told him how proud I was of him,” she says, “and how sad I was to leave him.”
Her injuries were extensive, requiring 10 hours of emergency surgery: Her spleen, her appendix, and two-thirds of her colon and upper intestine had to be removed. Besides nearly losing her right foot, Nettie broke her right arm and shattered her right heel. “For days it hurt to breathe,” she says, “and even feel the hospital gown against my skin.”
Not until several weeks later, when Nettie began to recover, did her lawyer break the awful news to her: The 63-year-old woman who had caused the accident had had a blood-alcohol level well over the legal limit. “Before that I hadn’t been angry. Accidents happen,” says Nettie. “But who’s drunk at 8:15 in the morning and driving around?”
Her distress only increased upon learning that the driver had minimal auto insurance and that Nettie, who was separated from her husband, would be saddled with hefty medical bills. The last straw came the day before Thanksgiving, when her boss announced that Nettie was being let go.
“I was so depressed. For the next six months, I got Dominic off to school in the morning and then spent the rest of my day sleeping,” says Nettie. She despaired every time she thought of the drunk driver who had brought such hardship into her life.
All that devastation took a toll. The following spring, Nettie started taking antidepressants and seeing a therapist. “In our sessions, I worked on acknowledging my anger and hurt, then letting those feelings go. It was hard to do,” she admits. “But asking, ‘Why me?’ over and over was getting me nowhere.”
In August 2012, Nettie was in the courtroom when the woman who had caused the accident was sentenced to 8 to 16 months in jail. (She was ultimately released after serving just three months, due to a heart condition.) “The woman looked so scared,” she remembers. “I couldn’t imagine what was going through her head.” Afterward Nettie approached the public defender. “I said, ‘Please let [your client] know that I forgive her.’ ”
The gesture gave Nettie a huge sense of relief. “I wasn’t in control of her actions that morning,” she says. “But I am in complete control of how I respond from here on out, and I decided to choose forgiveness over hate and animosity.”
Today, while she focuses on rehab, Nettie is a public speaker for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Slowly she is learning to walk again, and she looks forward to starting a job search soon. “Every day, I find something to be thankful for,” she says. “I couldn’t feel that gratitude without forgiveness.”