I often hear from spouses who have decided that they really do want to forgive infidelity, cheating, or an affair, but they are typically having a hard time with this. The intentions are often there, but despite their best efforts, they just don’t seem to be able to really forgive.
I often hear comments like “what’s really necessary to forgive infidelity because clearly, I don’t have everything that’s necessary. I will tell my husband I’m going to forgive him but then later, I take it back because I’m still angry and, deep down, I don’t really think it’s right that he gets to cheat on me and I’m just supposed to let it go as though it never happened. In theory, I want to forgive for the sake of my marriage, but in real life, I guess I’m just not able to do that yet. What do I need that I don’t have?”
I find that many people misunderstand what forgiveness after infidelity or cheating really means. It’s not necessary that you “forget” it ever happened or you give your spouse a clean slate. In the following article, I’ll discuss what’s really necessary in order to forgive infidelity in your marriage.
An Understanding That Letting It Go Is Going To Be As Much For You As It Is For Your Spouse: People often tell me that they’re afraid that if they forgive their spouse, this is really the same as condoning the infidelity or saying it’s OK with them.
I don’t see it that way at all. I think it’s a fair bet that both you and your spouse know that you’re not OK with their cheating nor will you probably ever be. To me forgiveness is a way to let it go for you – not for them.
Carrying the heavy load of your spouse’s infidelity is crippling. It gets very old. Always being angry, scared, doubtful, and reeling is no way to live your life. After a while, you realize that you have to make a very important decision. Do you want to continue on this way or do you want to let this go for the sake of your own well being?
Holding on to the infidelity frankly hurts you every bit as much as it hurts your spouse – if not more so. It keeps you stuck. It keeps you in pain. And it keeps you from really experiencing and enjoying your life. So no, forgiveness really isn’t about them. It isn’t even primarily about the infidelity. It’s about YOU making a choice to reclaim your life.
An Understanding That Forgiveness For Infidelity Is Not The Same As Forgetting It Or Wiping The Slate Clean: People often tell me that they equate forgiveness with “starting over.” Or “wiping the slate clean.” And I suppose it can mean this for some people, but I really don’t always see it that way.
It’s probably not realistic to think that you’ll ever forget the infidelity or think that you’re completely starting over. You can’t strip your memory clean and the infidelity becomes part of the history of your marriage. The more important question becomes will you be able to look at it as something that you worked together to over come or something that destroyed the marriage.
Nothing says you have to give your husband a free pass when you chose to forgive him. You can forgive and still keep your eyes fully open. You can forgive and still demand that he becomes accountable and rehabilitated. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.
An Understanding That No Matter What, You Will Move The Past This: I think many people are afraid to forgive because they worry that doing so will lower their guard and leave them vulnerable to another bout of infidelity. So, they become so guarded and closed off as a means of self-protection.
The problem is when you’re holding on this tightly, you can’t really heal or repair your relationship because you are not open enough to do so. Yes, forgiveness is sort of a leap of faith. But it helps if you can make this decision knowing that you’ve done everything in your power to strengthen yourself and your marriage. Doing so allows you to have the confidence that, although the chances are low that you’ll deal with this again (because of the work you’ve done,) you can handle anything that comes your way – should you need to.
You Shouldn’t Rush Yourself To Forgive Before You’re Ready: Make Sure You Have What You Need First: As much as I’m an advocate for moving on, I wouldn’t advise you to try to forgive if you know that you really are not ready to do so. If you try to force it, then you both know that it’s not genuine and you both know it’s not likely to “stick.”
If there are still some things that you need from your spouse (like to know they are truly remorseful, rehabilitated, and will work with you to strengthen the marriage,) then please speak up so that you get it. As nice as it would be if everything that we needed fell right into our laps because we didn’t do anything wrong, this rarely happens.
Sometimes you literally have to spell out for or ask your husband for what you need. Sometimes you need more help moving on. That’s OK. It doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you eventually do. There’s no need to pressure yourself. Just know that you’re doing the best you can to keep getting what you need and moving forward. Eventually, you will get there.
Forgiveness was a big issue in my own marriage after my husband’s affair. It took me a long time to get there, but eventually, I had a few gentle nudges that got me there. I can frankly say that our marriage today is even better than it was before. It took some work and I had to play the game to win but I don’t worry about him cheating on me again. If it helps you can read that story at http://surviving-the-affair.com