Forgiveness after an affair can be a real struggle. Some people struggle with forgiveness for quite a long time. And others are never able to offer it. But what happens if you’re asked to forgive an affair that happened years ago but you were not told about it until recently? Does it make any difference? I recently heard from a wife who was forced into this situation. She had thought that everything was fine within her marriage. In fact, the last of her children had just left for college and this had given more time to her husband. And they had finally got to a point in their lives where they had the financial means to travel and explore the things that had always interested them without any obligations. The wife felt like all of their hard work was finally paying off until her husband sat her down without any warning and told her that there was something he had to get off of his chest.
Much to the wife’s surprise, her husband confessed that early in their marriage (when their oldest son was an infant) he had cheated and had a short affair with a coworker who now lived in another country. The husband told his wife that he felt the need to tell her now because he wanted to be honest with her and didn’t want anything holding them back from starting their new lives together. Apparently, early in their marriage, the husband had to work closely with a woman who was only assigned to his office for a few months. So the affair had not lasted for long and it had occurred a very long time ago. The husband swore that he had never been unfaithful other than the one time and he hoped that one day his wife would forgive him.
Needless to say, this was quite a blow to the wife. Although it was clear that she didn’t need to worry about the other woman anymore (since she lived in another country and hadn’t been in contact with her husband for well over a decade,) the shock was hard to deal with. She said in part: “I have no idea how I am supposed to respond to this. I hope he doesn’t think that he’s absolved from his cheating just because it happened so long ago. It’s still cheating no matter when it occurred. And the fact that he cheated on me while I had an infant in the house just turns my stomach. Sure, we weren’t having incredible sex at the time because I was dealing with a newborn and I was recovering from giving birth as instructed by my doctor. What kind of creep cheats under those circumstances? I don’t care if the affair was a hundred years ago, it feels like yesterday to me. My friends say that I should at least consider that he told me the truth himself and that he’s been a good husband but I don’t know if I can. I’m just so focused on the fact that he’s not the man I thought he was. And cheating is always something I considered unforgivable.”
Considerations For Offering Forgiveness After An Affair: I couldn’t decide for the wife if she should forgive her husband. That had to be up to her. But I could tell her what many women in this situation consider and sometimes offer forgiveness to move forward. But this is a very personal decision. And while it was telling that the husband chose to tell the wife himself (when he certainly wasn’t forced to and the wife didn’t suspect anything) the wife would still need to understand why he cheated and whether those contributing factors were still present. Of course, the couple didn’t have small children anymore. And the husband was rarely in an office setting. But that didn’t mean that the wife didn’t need to understand exactly what happened and why.
In truth, forgiveness doesn’t mean that your husband is absolved from cheating. It’s usually something that you mean to be beneficial to you rather than to him. And I honestly don’t think that 100% forgiveness is always required to make the marriage work after an affair, especially initially when the shock is still present and the emotions are still raw.
Many times, forgiveness goes hand in hand with saving the marriage. After all, if a woman is just going to walk away from a man who cheated on her, what is the point of forgiveness except to just relieve yourself of that burden? I couldn’t decide for the wife if she wanted to save her marriage but even she admitted that her husband had been a wonderful partner throughout their marriage. ( Frankly, the wife never knew or suspected a thing because her husband was always loving and attentive. And this part actually scared her because she wondered how she would ever know if he was cheating again.)
Sometimes, Rehabilitation Can Make Delayed Forgiveness For Infidelity Possible: I think the key to many of these doubts is to begin some sort of rehabilitation. To ask someone to forgive an affair or cheating without rehabilitation and without re-earning or restoring the trust is a lot of ask. This is true no matter when the cheating occurred. (There’s certainly not a statute of limitations on infidelity.) Yes, it said a lot that the husband came clean after many years when he didn’t have to. It also said a lot that he’d been a solid and loving spouse. But he still had some making up and work to do. And he seemed more than willing to do that because he repeatedly stressed that he would do anything to help his wife move on.
I agreed with the wife that the distance between the cheating and the confession didn’t mean that there shouldn’t be repercussions. The fallout from infidelity doesn’t lessen just because it isn’t discovered right away. Time doesn’t erase or excuse what happened. But a person’s behavior in a marriage over time says a lot about that person also. And the wife was probably going to have to weigh all of these concerns before she could make a decision. So to answer the question posed, a wife certainly can choose to forgive an affair – no matter when the affair happened. But whether she should or not is her own decision and this decision usually depends upon the husband’s track record as a husband, how the infidelity comes to light, and how much rehabilitation occurs.
Surviving The Affair is a blog I put together to share my story in the hopes that it helps someone else. I know that this is a very difficult time, and that forgiveness can be elusive, but working through it can truly be worth the effort. Although I never would’ve believed this two years ago, better times were ahead. My marriage eventually recovered and is stronger than ever. Our bond and intimacy are much stronger and because of all the work I did on myself, my self-esteem remained intact. I no longer worry my husband will cheat again. You can read that very personal story at http://surviving-the-affair.com/