When to Forgive Infidelity

When you are hit by the pain of infidelity it hurts. Like the wounding of a close friend it is deep and painful. Many people describe the sensation as a “knife in the back!” type of sensation. Some also report the sensation accompanied by a nauseating, burning sensation deep in the pit of their stomach. One reason for these sensations are the betrayal and lies that accompany cheating.

Although words like “cheating” and “affairs” are borrowed from the business world to mentally lessen the impact, your pain is not lessened. No matter what you call what happened, you were betrayed, you were rejected, and you were hurt. In earlier times, words from church like adultery, infidelity, pervert, and reprobate were used. Such terms are not used frequently in modern discussions of infidelity since they carried with them the associated blame and wickedness with them. Changing the words used helps soften the hurt, but does not eliminate it.

In addition to these unwanted sensations, there is also the experience of ‘disbelief’. You do not want to believe that something so distasteful could happen to you. You may not want to acknowledge what happened. You may even find yourself fighting having to admit that it happened. The affair did happen, and it happened to your marriage. You can choose not to believe it, but that does not erase what occurred.

You do not want to believe that the affair is happening. There is often a sense of the ‘unreal’ to the whole thing. You make statements like “I can’t believe this is happening! ” The stunning news of your spouse cheating often leaves you with the unpleasant and unreal sense that hangs around your head and heart for what seems like forever. It may take hours, days or even weeks before you actually accept that the cheating did happen.

Cheating rejects you. It rejects who you are and the role you are in. It sends you the message written in neon lights-“YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH! YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH! YOU ARE INADEQUATE!”

Cheating is a total rejection. The cheater rejects the life you shared, the dreams you shared, the struggles you shared and you. The hopes that you and your spouse shared have been shattered. With the shattering of those hopes, comes massive disappointment. Everything that you had hoped for and believed in is gone. With infidelity, there are many losses. Your spouse, your best friend, your future, your family and your dreams are all gone. In overcoming the infidelity, one of the issues that eventually needs to be dealt with is forgiveness.

You, like other spurned spouses may find it utterly distasteful and beyond your capacity to ever forgive the cheater. Choosing not to forgive torments you and your spouse, although over time, the one most hurt by holding that grudge is you. It may give you a temporary sense of power and control, but it brings with it a BIG price tag.

When you finally choose to grapple with forgiveness, there are often two questions to consider:

Can I ever forgive them? and When do I forgive them?.

First you have to choose whether or not you can forgive them. if you are one of those who told yourself, “There is no way I can ever forgive them for this!”, then you may find yourself experiencing problems in this area. Since your mind is programmed by you, the messages you send to yourself will determine what you can do. Telling yourself that you can NOT forgive will limit what you can do.

If you are serious about forgiveness, you will need to make the choice that you are willing to forgive.

It is helpful to remember that, forgiveness is a process. It is not a one-time event. It is not something that is done once and forever. Forgiveness occurs gradually. You forgive a little each day. Forgiveness is not approval of what they did. It is not so much about them, it is more about you choosing not to emotionally hold onto the grudge and resentment over what happened. It is about you choosing to let go of the hurt. Forgiveness can only be given and directed toward the person, NOT the event (more on that later).

Since forgiveness is a process, it is something that is on-going. This on-going process requires the forgiver to let go. You will need to let go of the pain, the desire for revenge, and resentments. Each day those resentments and hurts build up, you will need to let go of them.

After you choose to forgive, it will be convenient to find reasons to resent the cheater. You may find more reasons to resent them each day closer you get to forgiving them. This is part of the process of forgiveness.

The “letting go” involves releasing your emotional and spiritual baggage about the cheater. The letting go may likely involve issues you have towards your spouse, yourself and your God. God is often blamed when you entertain thought like “How could God allow this to happen?”, “How can God expect me to forgive them? “Remember with the cheating, it is the cheater that chose to do what they did, God did not make them do it. Blaming God for what they did will only displace your emotions and make forgiveness messier than it already is.

In some cases, forgiveness may require you let go of feelings toward friends or family members that were involved in the whole affair mess. It may not be just the cheater. It could involve their family, friends, work associates, etc.

As to when you need to forgive, there is no one size fits all answer. Since everyone deals with pain differently the answer regarding when you need to forgive varies greatly as well. The simple answer is when you are tired of holding onto the pain and grudge. When you are ready to stop hurting, then you are ready to forgive.

My own experience is that before forgiveness can occur, you need to have a clear idea of what you are forgiving. It is easier to let go of something if you have a clear idea of what you are letting go of. Some forgiveness never occurs, because it is never clear what you are forgiving them for.

Some questions to consider in the matter of forgiveness are:

  1. What is it that you are forgiving? Is it a behavior? Is it an attitude?
  2. What was done to you?
  3. Are you tired of hurting?
  4. Are you ready to let go?
  5. Is holding on to your grudges helping or hurting you?

In answering the questions, you will gain focus and clarity about what needs to be forgiven. You may stumble in forgiving since many people do not understand what it is and how it works. It is not making excuses for the person. It is not condoning what happened. Forgiveness is not pardoning.

A pardon is a legal action. Criminals can be pardoned or released from their sentence. When you forgive, you are not legally put your stamp of approval on what they did.

Forgiveness involves emotional and spiritual concerns. You can forgive, yet still hold the other party accountable in a legal sense for their betrayal of you and your marriage. You can hold them accountable for the lies, secrets and exposing you to communicable diseases.

Another stumbling block concerns grudges. Oddly enough, some people have magical thinking regarding holding onto their grudges. It is as if you are holding onto a mental voodoo doll and use the memories of what occurred to wish ill on the offender. You somehow believe that holding the grudge gives you power or control over the other person. With grudges you do not want to forgive now since it would involve surrendering the magic power you think you have over the offending spouse. Grudges do not work that way. Instead, grudges do just the opposite, controlling those holding onto the grudge.

Another common mistake is forgiving too soon. When you forgive before there is a clear idea of what is being forgiven, there is a risk of free-floating resentments. Forgiveness can occur without knowing all the minute details of the affair. Many times people have to forgive before they can grasp what happened from all the perspectives involved.

Forgiving too soon does not allow for the other spouse to be held accountable. When you forgive prematurely, the guilt, which often serves as a motivation to bring about changes, is suddenly dissipated. The forgiven person no longer feels a sense of remorse or need to correct things. The cheater wrongly assumes that once they have been forgiven the whole affair episode is concluded. Forgiveness does not mean the cheating episode is closed by any means. Forgiveness only stops the emotional bleeding, not repairing the trust or damage that was done.

When you forgive too soon, the issues leading to the cheating are often not dealt with. The forgiveness reduces the pain level, but does not repair the relationship. The error is made assuming that when the pain is gone, the affair is settled. Before the relationship is healed, the damage will need to be repaired and the intimacy restored. Premature forgiveness often keeps a façade of intimacy, when the reality is that the couple does not feel close to each other, they are just terrified of being abandoned, and take steps to avoid those sensations.

You may find yourself making excuses to not forgive the infidelity. The only way to overcome those excuses is to confront them when you see them. I have listed out the ten most common excuses for not forgiving.

  1. If I forgive them they will only do it again.
  2. They were not truly sorry
  3. They never asked for forgiveness
  4. I don’t like them
  5. They did it on purpose
  6. If I forgive, I’ll have to be nice to them
  7. Someone has to punish them for what they did
  8. They aren’t sorry for what they did
  9. They are just going to do it again
  10. I was hurt too much to forgive

The simple answer to “When should I forgive?” is when you have a clear idea of what you are letting go of, and you are tired of hurting.

The decision point needs to be with you. The priority needs to be set by you in terms of choosing to let go of the pain and emotional baggage. When you do forgive, DO NOT tell the cheater you forgave them unless they ask. Telling them that you forgive them before they ask often comes across as a put down and lets off pressure prematurely. You need the pressure in the relationship in order to drive them to make changes.

You may have put off forgiving, hoping and waiting for the cheater to ask for forgiveness. When they do ask for forgiveness, make sure that their actions and talk are in agreement. True repentance of wrong doing is needed. True repentance is showing that they repent of what they did both in word and deed. Look for changes in how they talk and how they behave.

You may desperately want to hear that they are ‘sorry’ and regret what they have done. If they are only giving you lip service, it is merely an incomplete repentance. They are doing what they think will reduce the tension in the relationship between the two of you. In cases where they are truly repentant, you will see it in what they say and what they do. There should be a difference in how they talk to you and how they treat you.

If you fall for the lip service only repentance, you are being manipulated. Cheater often know what to say and how to ‘charm’ people with their ways. They may be using those skills on you. They told the lover all kinds of lies as well. They led the lover to believe in something that was untrue as well.

It will be nice if they ask for forgiveness and show repentance of their actions in word and deed. This may or may not happen prior to the time that you choose to forgive them. If you choose not to forgive them when they ask, it does not make you a bad person. You may need some extra time to sort through everything that has happened and what you are feeling.