An extremely important component of forgiveness after infidelity is effectively reframing the story that you tell yourself. This is also related to the concept of self-talk.

forgiveness after infidelity

By Linda

Each time we witness an event or think a thought, our mind automatically constructs a story around each thought or event. The story that our mind constructs can be a positive one or a negative one. Out of these stories, we develop a type of ongoing self-talk in our minds that reinforces the story, either positively or negatively.

But the good news is, we are in control of our perceptions, our self-talk, and even our ‘stories’. We can re-write our perceptions, we can choose a different type of self-talk, and thus impact the stories we tell ourselves.

This process is called reframing. Once we have reframed a story and keep thinking about it in more healthy terms, then these stories are committed to permanent memory. It’s like overwriting a file on your computer.

Here’s a rather extreme, yet very real example of how reframing works.

During the holocaust, many people were sent to concentration camps: Jews, gypsies, people with mental illness, or even anyone who did not simply agree with the prevailing viewpoint of the Nazi party. When people were taken, they were immediately separated from their loved ones, their houses and possessions were stolen by soldiers, and family members were sent to different camps. If someone happened to get out alive, they could be sure their family members did not. Entire families disappeared within the blink of an eye.

One man, a very well respected (newly married) Austrian physician named Viktor Frankl was taken to one camp and his wife and his elderly parents to another. Viktor was sent to Auschwitz, the most notorious death camp during the Second World War.

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Frankl almost died there—in fact, there were many times Frankl wanted to die since he never got enough food, since he was bitterly cold during the winter, and since he was forced to live in conditions to which even the lowliest animal would not be subjected.

But, somehow, the life force inside Viktor Frankl was so much stronger than that and he experienced a most profound shift in his perception. This profound shift in his perception kept him alive and he was able to eventually get free from the camp and begin a new life in the United States.

Viktor wrote a book about his experience called Man’s Search For Meaning and it is as relevant today as it ever has been. About the topic of perception and freedom of choice, Frankl says:

“Everything in life you have can be taken from you except one thing -your freedom to choose now. How you respond to the situation is what determines the quality of the life you live, not how rich or how poor. The quality of our lives is how we respond to these realities, the kind of meaning we assign to them, what kind of attitude, what state of mind we allow them to trigger because the mind is its own place and in itself it can make a heaven out of hell and a hell out of heaven.”

So, in a nutshell, this is what reframing is about—it is learning how to make a heaven out of hell. You know as well as I that there is no hell in marriage like the hell of finding out your spouse has had an affair. But, you have a choice and you have the power to change your perception of your situation. You have the power to make your own heaven despite what has happened in the past. If Viktor Frankl can do it, we can too.

Four Approaches to Forgiving Infidelity

Here’s an example of what reframing looks like based on my own experience.

Old story:

When I first found out about Doug’s emotional affair, I felt responsible and I felt utterly alone. I was constantly fearful of what would happen. I secretly wondered if I was the cause. I felt completely worthless, unlovable and I stopped eating and drinking. Thoughts of bitterness and fear flooded my mind and I was a mess. This is how I felt prior to forgiving Doug—I was locked in the cycle of being a victim.

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New story:

In order to break free from all that pain, I had to develop a new story or ‘reframe’ what happened. I had to move from the disempowering stance of being a victim to the empowering stance of forgiveness. I had to start thinking thoughts like this:

  • “We are going to work through this as a couple.”
  • “I refuse to allow adversity to bring me down any longer. I will use adversity to build a stronger marriage.”
  • “I am a good and loving person. Though I did nothing to deserve this, I refuse to be harmed even further by a mistake that was not mine.”
  • “Everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect—this life is not perfect. But I choose to be okay.”
  • “I choose forgiveness, love and hope over anger and bitterness.”
  • “I am inherently lovable and my worth is determined by the fact that I am a child of God. No experience and no human can change that fact about me.”
  • “I can choose emotional freedom. I choose my reactions and today I choose to behave in ways that are forgiving.”
  • “I did not cause or create the affair and I release the penalty to God (my higher power). I do not have to punish my husband for it or hold a grudge.”

So, as you see, rewriting the story is not about denying what happened, it is not about rewriting factual events that occurred, and it is not about closing your eyes to truth.

    17 replies to "Forgiveness After Infidelity – Reframing the Story that We Tell Ourselves"

    • still hurting

      I hear and understand what you are saying. I just can’t find the strength to forgive. It has been 1 year since d day and I still die inside when I think of my husband and his ap sharing their love for one another in all ways. He has recommitted to our marriage completely but I feel something is still missing for me. I feel he still sees his time with her as sharing love. I feel he just wants me to forgive and forget but I can’t. I see him as a weaker person for what he did for 5+ years. I know everyone says its a time of insanity, but how does someone, who is very intelligent make such stupid decisions? This is my struggle. I am not strong enough to take on this burden for him. I hate that he gets to destroy my life and I have to heal his.
      I will read this post repeatedly and hope that I can find the way to do this. I admire that you have done this. The mental story I have of my husband leaving my bed in the am to go to hers is a hard one to see positively and to rewrite.

      • Shifting Impressions

        Still Hurting,
        I so understand where you are coming from. It has been almost 11 months since d-day and although I want to forgive, I just do not have the strength yet. The fact that I want to forgive signifies progress for me.

    • lin


      Thank you for this wise post. I find this very inspiring today. So many days I struggle but when I read something like this, I feel peace. When my husband had an affair , I felt like my world was spinning out of control. My life was out of control for a long time. So much of life we truly have no control over and it feels so insecure. HOWEVER, there is one thing that no one can take from me and that is how I choose to think. Others may try to influence my thinking but ultimately I control my mind and thoughts. If victims of the holocaust can do this – then so can I. Thank you for this inspiration!

      • Shifting Impressions

        I was also inspired by this post…..I’m not nearly there yet, but I agree with you, If holocaust victims can do this so can I. Just because my husband made some very hurtful choices I can’t let it destroy me.

    • LA

      I agree with still hurting. I hope I can get there. We were not able to reconcile. I gave 150%- he was still in the fog. He decided that his happiness was with her. The once amazing father and husband is now with his affair partner. My focus is supporting my three young children. I just need a good string of positive events- I know I can move forward- but forgiveness will be hard. Too much has been thrown at me.

    • Lost33years

      I can say after 3years of too many lies I forgive myself for believing my husband was capable of honesty on any level. I forgive him for being a liar. I do Not forgive him for choosing to hurt me with his lies. I do Not forgive him for hurting our children.I know it is not my forgiveness that matters relating to his deliberate and intentional breaking his vows lying to me and about me and his serial cheating these are between God and my husband.I know forgiveness is for me not him and I work daily at it. I have wasted years asking for the truth from a liar and he has given every excuse in the cheaters manual. As I write my story it looks nothing like his story. My story is not perfect my story is full of my love my life it is what I lived I have no lies I hide nothing it is my story from beginning to end. His story is full of jealousy control manipulation lies cheating abuse failure selfishness immaturity unloving cruelty and his story has evolved and changed and mutated. Its as if he forgets (or hopes I forget) everything he has said as he changed his story . Meanwhile our story has been trashed shredded dissected flushed buried and yet he was the part of our story that changed .

    • crepowersnemesis

      It has been more than two years since I confronted my husband with my knowledge of his affair and I have yet to figure out what forgiveness actually is. Many of us know what it is not, but I have never seen a definitive statement of what comprises forgiveness. We can all tell each other that we are responsible for controlling our own thoughts and thus being able to forgive our spouses, but is this really true? The example Linda gives in her article about Frankel is interesting but does not seem relevant to our situations. Frankel did not have a singular relationship with vows of love and commitment with the Nazis before his incarceration. I would be surprised if he extended forgiveness to his captors and then lived with them in a trusting relationship for the rest of his life. After all, he was able to gain freedom and begin a new life in the U.S. He reinvented his whole life in order to free his mind and regain personal strength. Most of us do not have that option. Rewriting is not a simple state of mind. Our captors, our betrayers, will always be part of our lives no matter what. Our tasks are even more daunting than his because those who inflicted our pain and horror must also lead us to our freedom.

      • Pearl

        Completely agree

      • Seagull

        I absolutely agree with your comment, crepowersnemesis.

        Living in the same house with the enemy of our marriage and feeling under pressure to “reframe” their insidious behavior seems impossible. I wonder if “reframing” is a form of self-gaslighting?

    • Christy

      This is great. Such an applicable tool to use. I struggle immensely with my “stories” I create in my head and what I fill in the blanks with. I am 6 months post d-day of my husbands EA and I have been searching for anything to help me embrace forgiveness. It’s always my created stories/beliefs that keep getting in the way. I will use this tool every day like a mantra!

    • Jane

      Having joined this group many years ago, I had to re-read this again. What a difference these tears and years have made, THANK YOU, Linda & Doug for all your insights and sharing. You made this unbearable journey, bearable!! We are at such a better place NOW and battling breast cancer is just a blurb in this ride of LIFE~~ If not for all you two have written and shared along with therapy ….I would not have learned forgiveness and allowed my husband to stay in my life. The journey continues and much has been learned to bring my husband and myself to a better marriage. I could have easily taken this path without him and did so for awhile. There is definitely light at the end of the darkness and pain. Love to all on their journey ~~~ Never say Never ♥

      • Doug

        Hi Jane, Thanks for sharing your kind words and I’m glad that you’ve had success along your journey!

    • Angel

      I’m never going to be able to “re-frame” certain facts about my Hs EA. I cannotye”re-frame” the fact that he reached for his ipad 1st thing every morning before he even had both eyes open and stumbled into the bathroom with it in his hand to do his morning pee while sitting on the toilet logging into the website to connect to the AP. Even a cup of coffee first? Nope. Had to get to her first and morning pee, a cup of coffee, a cigarette, (for smokers you know that’s outrageous), but connected to her. Then make coffee and have a smoke once he had his real “fix” in hand and stay there til 4-5am the next morning. Then rinse, wash, repeat by 7-8am daily for nearly 5 months. Who operates on that little sleep for montha at a time? Someone on a helluva high, that’s who. I’lI spare you guys the rest of the gory details and skip to where we are now.
      I cannot “re-frame” the fact that he waited til I fell asleep at night to call her on the phone, and even 5 years later, he still expects me to believe all these oddball explanations for certain events(some of which he still blames me for) and to believe there “wasn’t even an attraction between them”. Pardon me but I call BS. I’ll teframe it if he ever mans up enough to tell the real story. The only reason their contact ended was because I eventually found a picture of her naked backside in his device. It didn’t even shock me because I had wrote him off the 4th time he sneaked back on her contact list at that website, but I was sick of being humiliated by his non-stop around the clock onsession with her and told him “you and _______ are through. I found your nude pics today. I felt I’d lost him weeks or even months before that and I knew I could never produce the 4 or 5 month trip she provided and I wasn’t going to try. Just slowly dying of a broken heart now.

    • Pearl

      Hi Angel – just wanted to say I read your comment… and also still feel the pain of utter betrayal. I found the website “surviving infidelity” to be the most helpful. Hang in there and put yourself first. Until he’s ready to own his sh*t, he is not a safe partner.

    • Collin

      It’s been just over three months since D-day. And I’ve struggled deeply with the grief, anger, humiliation, and rage. It has literally felt like I’m losing my mind many, many times. That notwithstanding, I understand that until I can truly accept and begin to forgive I will be trapped and end up paying the price for her affair. A friend gave me some offhand advice after listening to me complain. It was this…Your hurt pride is keeping you in agony. What do you have to lose if you try something new…if you just became willing to forgive…to accept…to stop comparing and trying to “live up” to some impossible standard? What’s the worst thing that can happen? I can always go back to my pain. But what if…just what if…there is peace, contentment, serenity, joy, freedom on the other side of acceptance? What if acceptance is NOT approval? What if surrender ISN’T giving in? Am I worth it? Did I deserve this pain? No flippin’ way!!! But do I deserve to feel good again? Do I deserve my own personal dignity? Am I worthy of love and respect? Dang right I am! So…like Victor Frankle I’m choosing to let go of the pain, to reframe the experience from weakness to courage (after all, the act of forgiving is really an act of courage to put myself at risk of betrayal again, isn’t it?) Just a thought.

    • Don't Put Up With It

      I truly do not believe forgiveness is a practical or even desirable, goal for most people. It’s foolish to even ask it. In place of forgiveness, which is something I would expect from Christ and not lesser mortals, I would say it’s better to try to forget. After a certain point, I think we have to accept our spouses are what they are, did what they did, said what they said, and we can either continue to live with them or not. If we continue to live with them, the monitoring and punishing them, as enjoyable as it can be (the punishing anyway) is tedious and holds us back. We need to reach a point of NOT CARING about the affair(s). And to me that involves forgetting. Reaching a point where we stop asking for details, stop looking to find out info, stop looking at pictures, stop the mind movies, just go and do something else, preferably something mundane and healing like cooking, knitting, playing golf, gardening, something that involves some skill & physical effort and is not completely mindless or involves putting us into a story, like movies or TV. The mundane details of life, of taking care of yourself, your kids, not necessarily the spouse, they come last at this point, but focusing on these things may help to take over the place of the affair details. We tend to obsess over these details. Once we stop, I think “forgetting” starts taking place over time. I’m kind of disjointed right now as I’m being constantly interrupted but….we have to stop caring. Once you stop caring so intently….time will start to heal the wounds. Stop worrying about forgiving. It’s not a practical goal. Are you ever really going to forgive this? I never did. But it doesn’t matter anymore. The river of time and jumping from rock to rock took me to a different place anyway.

    • Don't Put Up With It

      Whether you forgive or not, time will carry you to a new place. Your only decision is really do you stay with what you have or do you let go and try for something new? Or at least for peace? That’s your only REAL decision, everything else flows from that. Forgiveness is not practical because it requires someone who has been grievously injured and who likely has kids who are injured, to actively work to pardon the person who committed these offenses. Who caused this terrible hurt and destruction. I don’t think that is reasonable and I would NEVER ask it of anyone. In fact, I think it’s frequently harmful because once again, you are putting YOUR NEEDS AND FEELINGS behind that of the guilty spouse and the “marriage”. Your needs and feelings at this time, and your kids, must come first. That’s why I would advocate, once you’ve made your decision to stay or go (and that could change of course) to STOP CARING. Stop investigating, stop thinking about, stop questioning, stop obsessing over. Yell, scream, throw things, tell whoever, wreck his car, beat her up….whatever…..get it out of your system….and then try to get to a point of NOT CARING. Over the long run it will do you more good….until the next thing comes up if it ever does. And then you have to make that decision again. Do I stay or go.

      Some of you will say….but I “love” him or her. Well….what do you love? What qualities or behavior in this person do you actually “love”? Or are you in love with what you thought you had and you never really didn’t. Or maybe he or she has changed over time and become some other person you might never have picked in the first place. Or maybe you think you’ve invested so much time you HAVE to love him/her. None of that’s true – but do try to understand WHY you love them, why they are worthy of being loved, if they are, and why you might continue to love them, and what loving them means. If you really do love them…..then aside from practical matters like STDS, pregnancies, or finances spent on the affair….try to stop caring so much. You’re probably grieving something you only thought you had but it was what you created in your own mind.

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