Forgiveness after the affair is essential to the healing process for both the betrayed spouse and the cheating spouse. However, it is also just as essential that you do not forgive too soon. It took me well over a year after Doug’s emotional affair to completely forgive him.
Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t forgive too early after the affair:
1. Forgiving too soon masks the pain. One of the consequences of forgiving too early is that the couple (both the cheater and the betrayed) does not experience enough pain for each to make the necessary changes and to explore what went wrong in the marriage.
Believe it or not, but pain is actually a good thing. When someone experiences pain, it can promote self-exploration which can ultimately lead to change.
Think about when you go to the doctor when you are in pain. The doctor asks you to describe the pain, and from there he can help you to alleviate it.
Demonstrating anger and resentment often mask the pain and keeps the relationship at a standstill, as these emotions put up walls in the relationship and prohibit honest communication and exploration.
Often times when recovering from an affair, there is a seesaw effect, where one partner will experience the pain while the other does not. Both partners need to experience the pain at the same level.
2. Forgiving too soon after the affair can let the cheating spouse off the hook. The cheater wants to avoid the pain (one of the main reasons they were involved in an affair to begin with) by not wanting to talk about it. They just want to move on. By just moving on, the cheater thinks they can avoid seeing the betrayed spouse’s pain, while at the same time avoid experiencing their own.
This tends to stop the real honest communication that needs to be done in order to move on. It does nothing more than take the pressure off the cheater to do the work necessary to heal and to save the marriage.
3. Forgiving too early after the affair does not give the betrayed spouse sufficient time to explore what was most upsetting about the affair. Was it the lying? Was it the sharing of intimacy with someone else? Was it the betrayal itself? The betrayed spouse needs time to figure this out and be able to articulate that to the cheater.
Another important aspect of forgiveness is that it needs to be asked for. Just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. The cheater needs to ask for forgiveness and explain it in terms that are meaningful and from the heart.
The cheater also needs to show true remorse not only with their words, but with their actions as well. The betrayed spouse can choose to forgive, not to forgive, or state that they cannot forgive right now, but they are working on it.
Likewise, the betrayed spouse will need to ask for forgiveness for some of their actions as well. It’s very much a two-way street.