As usual, I have about four books that I’m simultaneously reading. One of them, “Make Peace With Anyone” by David J. Lieberman, Ph.D., offers some suggestions regarding forgiveness for infidelity that I wanted to share with you.
Dr. Lieberman offers a ten phase approach to gain forgiveness after someone has clearly violated the trust, respect and rights of another. In other words, this is a process for the cheater to gain forgiveness from the betrayed for their infidelity.
The Ten Phases to Gain Forgiveness for Infidelity
Use the three-star approach. Lieberman’s three-stars are humility, emotion and respect. In essence, this phase states that if the cheater has anything other than complete humility (no ego), it’s a waste of time. It’s all about the betrayed, not the cheater.
Also it is important that the cheater be genuinely emotional and not to base their attempts at forgiveness on logic. At the same time, the cheater must maintain a high degree of respect. That means no arguing, screaming or making demands. The cheater needs to understand that it is not so much about what he/she did as much as it is about the underlying loss of respect.
Accept responsibility. Man up (or woman up) and take full and complete responsibility for your actions. Do not make excuses or try to shift blame. If you take responsibility then you have the power to make things right.
Sincerely apologize. Say “I’m sorry.” Say it sincerely or it won’t be believed. If you are not believed, you will not be forgiven. One important note that Lieberman makes is that if you are not truly sorry for what you’ve done…“it might be time to reevaluate the situation, the relationship, and yourself.”
Be willing to accept and even offer consequences. What the cheater did showed a total lack of trust and responsibility. Putting oneself in the hands of the betrayed and taking responsibility for their actions and any consequences goes a long way toward establishing the power that the betrayed lost. Don’t try and weasel out without accepting any repercussions. Freely giving the betrayed back his/her power by acknowledging that it is up to them to determine the fate of the relationship is very important.
Solidify in the real world with a specific action. The cheater should actually make changes in his/her life which will go a long way in letting the betrayed know that the cheater is sincere in their convictions. As Lieberman says, “Actions shout, while words whisper.”
The cheater can set the victim’s mind at ease by making changes in their life that show that what they did was wrong and they are not making changes merely to gain forgiveness for infidelity. “Whatever caused the catalyst, change the dynamics to prevent or severely minimize the chances of it happening again.”
Reestablish mutual respect. The victim has lost respect in the cheater. The cheater should show the victim what kind of person they really are by doing things that shows their true character. Do something good for someone else or stand up for someone or for a good cause. The cheater should let the betrayed see their true nature so that their transgression is filtered through this better light.
Restore the sense of balance. Lieberman says that the key to forgiveness lies in restoring balance to the relationship. It is important to let the victim know that the transgression produced no enjoyment or benefit whatsoever. It must be made clear that not only was the affair a mistake, but it didn’t produce any benefits either. If the cheater did gain in some way, then they will have to give back more in order to make things right as soon as possible. Continue to do what is right.
Establish peace of mind. The cheater has to answer the question, Why? Lieberman suggests that every wrong action comes down to the same motivation – and that is fear. Perhaps the reason for the affair was that the cheater feared he/she was unattractive or not lovable, for instance. Fear is what makes us all vulnerable and the root of this fear needs to be explored within the cheater’s mind. Then the cheater must relate this fear to the person they have hurt.
Now the transgression is seen less as a betrayal and more as an irrational act of fear by a confused person. This furthers the cheater’s vulnerability and helps to restore the victim’s feeling of power and dignity. This allows the victim to take an active and important role in restoring his/her own sense of control. By the cheater rooting their motivations in fear, which is a response to feelings of inadequacy to deal with the situation, it diminishes the perception of his/her ego.
After amplifying the fear-based motivation, reestablishing the commitment to the victim and to the relationship is essential.
Internal justification. The cheater must try to demonstrate how the relationship will be better than it was before the transgression. Otherwise, the victim will only feel that if he/she agrees to forgive, he/she’s thinking that it’s only going to go back to a damaged relationship, which might not be worth much anymore. But by showing the victim what happened and the subsequent changes the cheater has made to strengthen the commitment and relationship, the victim is gaining something better than what was lost.
Put together a specific, painless game plan. It’s important for the cheater to show the betrayed exactly how things will proceed – slowly, easily, and with the victim in control all of the way. The cheater needs to offer a clear-cut course of action that moves slowly and offers the option to continue, stop or change course at any time.
Lieberman ends this section with a spiritual reflection that I thought was wonderful: