forgiving infidelity
Many of us are struggling with the thought of forgiving infidelity.

During the last several weeks we have noticed through the various emails we receive and the comments to the blog that many of us are struggling with the thought of forgiving infidelity.  After all, a great injustice has occurred to us and we all hurt tremendously.   

An all too familiar theme is presented over and over to us and that goes something like this:  “How could my wife do this to me?  I don’t know if I can ever forgive her.”

While it’s understandable to be hurt, furious and emotionally scarred because of a marital affair, you have to realize that by not forgiving infidelity you are actually holding on to anger, pain and resentment.  Only when you forgive can you relieve yourself of those burdens and begin to heal.

I chose to forgive Doug in this fashion by acknowledging that it was the only way to let the pain and hurt go and be able to channel those energies into trying to save our marriage.

By forgiving you can also allow yourself and your partner the freedom to live in peace and change for the better both personally and within your relationship.

Please be clear that forgiveness does not equal forgetting, and since the pain of the affair may not be completely gone, it is possible to still feel it even though you have forgiven your partner.

Forgiveness also doesn’t mean that you are letting your partner off the hook for the wrong that they committed.  You are simply agreeing not to hold them in debt any longer.

So what are some steps you can take to forgiving infidelity?

Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. in his book “Forgive for Good,” offers these nine steps to forgiveness:

1.   Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK.  Then, tell a couple of trusted people about your experience.

2.   Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better.  Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else. It will allow you to eventually make peace with the one you are forgiving.

3.   Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that upset you, or condoning of their action.  What you are after is to find peace.  Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”  It is in a sense a way to stop reliving the grievance and stop unnecessary dwelling on the negative.

4.   Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes or ten years ago.  If the threat is gone don’t continue to have your body injured. Think of the grievance, take a deep breath and create a loving image of your positive possibilities.

5.   At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.  One suggestion is to practice the Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique (PERT). PERT in short, means shifting your attention to something beautiful, or a loving memory. The purpose is to really focus on that and try to experience it as a way to calm you and move you from the less productive thoughts you may be having. Another idea is to simply choose a TV program that you wish to watch, or why not choose the life view that you want to live within?

6.   Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you.  Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave.  Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, friendship and prosperity and work hard to get them.

7.   Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.  Instead of mentally replaying your hurt, seek out new ways to get what you want.

8.   Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge.  Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you.  When you look inside your enemies you see their pain. When there is no revenge you are forgiving and a life well lived is your response. If you seek revenge you are digging two graves and we become what we don’t forgive. It is our choice not to define ourselves by the others who have hurt us.

9.   Amend your grievance story to remind you of  your heroic choice to forgive.

As you can see, Dr. Luskin’s process takes some work and involves adapting certain elements of your personality and how you respond to hurtful things.  Forgiving infidelity is a choice.  A choice that should you decide is appropriate in your situation, can set you free from the underlying pain caused by the affair. Forgiving infidelity is not forgetting, but it can help you move away from the everyday dwelling and reliving of painful memories from the affair.

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    20 replies to "Forgiving Infidelity: A Nine Step Approach"

    • Trudy

      Questions: Are emotional affairs typically a ‘deep friendship’ bond with someone other than a marriage partner, where that person becomes more important than one’s own spouse? Do these affairs usually end up becoming sexual or not so much? Finally, is it possible, or maybe even more likely, for women to have emotional affairs with women rather than with men?
      Observation begs answers for the questions it produces.

      • admin

        Hi Trudy, and welcome. I would say that you summed up the definition of an emotional affair pretty well. Statistically speaking, there is a very good chance that they can eventually become sexual in nature. Not all do though. I’m sure it is possible for women to have emotional affairs with other women. Is it more likely?…perhaps, but I doubt it.

        I believe a spouse that is neglected is more vulnerable to an affair. However, the choice to have an affair was not made by the person who neglected or abandoned his/her partner. It was the offending person’s choice–and his/her alone. Therefore it is not that person’s fault that it occurred. Sure there may have been issues within the marriage that both could share blame for, and after the affair is discovered, these issues should be discussed. At that time, if all goes well, you will analyze your past relationship to determine what went wrong. That would be a good time for the person who neglected or abandoned the other to admit they were wrong and thus share blame in past marriage problems–but not for the affair. Obviously this is the highly condensed version, but I hope you understand what I’m telling you.

    • Trudy

      One more question…

      Does a spouse that is neglected or abandoned not become more vulnerable and, if so, how do you encourage the spouse that neglected or abandoned his/her partner to take ownership for their part in the sin?

    • michael

      I’m having a hard day already.

      I’m having a hard time forgiving my wife for what she won’t take ownership of and share with me. The pain and destruction she brought into my life. And the feelings I know are/were in her head. Her idea is to work on herself without sharing in the healing with me.
      We don’t make a good husband and wife. We don’t connect in that way that I need and want. We are great as mom and dad. The kids a well taken care of. The house is taken care of. But our/my needs and disrepair are not.
      She is out of town this week and I’m feeling more and more disconnect. We only talked once yesterday, and I understand that she is busy. When we did talk last night I mentioned that to her and she didn’t see anything wrong with that. “I texted you”.
      I have little more than security to offer her. She knows I’m not going anywhere. And that’s enough for her I think. Is that enough for me.
      I’ve thought about asking for and open marriage or separation so that I can find that happiness in my life. But I’m scared to take that step. Because I don’t know if I can ever find that happiness again.
      I know I forgave her for letting him into our lives but how can I forgive her for all the feelings in her head that she did and didn’t tell me. And that she is unwilling to work on. She needs help. I need help. But she is unwilling to seek help outside of her head. I don’t know where to go from here.
      I feel happier when I’m with friends and don’t think about the pain. When I can just be me. But neither of us feels comfortable connecting with each other.

      We make a great mom and dad. We are terrible as husband and wife.

      • michael

        Ok so that isn’t what I want. It isn’t what I need. But yesterday was stressful and I had no one to share my feelings with. She called the one time.
        She called this morning as I was getting the kids off to school. She said she would call back in an hour and she hasn’t. Even though she knows that I felt disconnected yesterday. She must be busy.
        After all I shouldn’t have expectations of her changing. She is who I picked to be the mother of my children. And she does that well. And she does love me. And we have shared a lot of good times.
        Its just hard to know that she has a lot of feelings and pain inside her that she hasn’t and won’t share with me, her husband. But she did with him and she told everyone who knew about them, that he was her best friend.
        Is it too much to ask to be that person for her. Or is just living as mom and dad enough.
        I’m having a hard time getting past what happened. On days its easy. But not today. Not while I’m home alone with the kids. Wtf is wrong with me.

        • admin

          Nothing is wrong with you, Michael. You don’t want to live just as mom and dad. Somehow you have to get her to open up. You know she loves you, and I’m sure she is remorseful for what she did. If you haven’t already, let her know that you forgive her, but to go on, you need to know some things–and go from there. It’s only fair that she does so. (I’m sure I’m telling you stuff you already know). She will get over this guy if she hasn’t already, and realize that you have always been there for her.

      • michael

        I’ve thought about it more.

        The biggest thing I have a hard time getting past is the lieing. Its the hardest thing for me to forgive.

        She lied and deceived me while she was having her affair. She lied about the nature of her affair to friends. She lied and deceived the therapist about her feelings. And when I had more information, she looked me in the eyes, didn’t blink, didn’t think about her answer, and lied to me. Then when confronted with the truth she rationalizes the lieing with selfish reasons. Its is herself that she is lieing to. How can I forgive what she doesn’t want to change in her.

        She is now selfishly hanging onto me without regards to the selfless things she needs to do for me. As long as I’m in a good mood. She skates along. When I’m in a down mood she ups it just enough to keep me at bay.

        Like yesterday I told her I was feeling unappreciated. So today she ups it just enough. And then rationalizes it as “well I’m just too busy” I get that she is busy. But she has a moment to text her work at 6am but didn’t call me until 7 as I’m rushing the kids out the door.

        I understand where I sit in her scheme of things. And I should just be happy with getting what I get. And knowing I’m at the middle of the ladder. But I’m not happy thinking she is lieing to me every day.

        • admin

          Certainly she has lied to you in the past, and that’s a tough thing to get over, but other than the instance that you mention, how do you know that she still is? Forgive me, as I know you have probably mentioned this before, but has she told you how she feels about you and your relationship since her affair? Have you discussed together your expectations of your relationship going forward? Is she well aware of your most important needs?

          • michael

            She has told me that she loves me. And that the thought of loosing me is why she stayed. But I read her emails to him stating that it was for the kids. I Know, that was then this is now.
            But the recent lie to my face was well after she said that and after she said she had stopped talking to him. So why is she still hiding that. To protect him, or her?
            Every time I talk about my needs and what I am doing to get better from this she says things like “that’s just not me” “I wasn’t brought up that way” “I just don’t know how to do what you need” “sorry” or the ever so popular “I have been trying you just don’t see it”. Also the one that sticks in my head “you just need to let me handle things on my own and give me space”. Things that don’t sound like a team effort to getting passed this. When I catch her in a lie or deception she says “sorry” or “I just didn’t want to hurt you any more”. And it never sounds remorseful.

        • lass00

          I have to agree with you the biggest part I cant seem to get over is the lies right to my face and now he will not trust me enough to tell me the facts so I can heal. I need so bad to talk about this and get some answers. If I dont soon I may not get past this. I know he loves me or he wouldn’t be with me but I feel like I am walking on eggshell if I do anything wrong he will run right back to her. That why right now I am doing everything in my power to just let it go and not make waves. I wish I knew what to do to get passed this.

          • admin

            Lass00, you’re doing everything right. Don’t push the issue too much, but let him know that in order for you to forgive and to heal, you need to be able to get some questions answered. Do it calmly though without arguing, or he will back off.

    • lass00

      I keep thinking I forgive but do I really because I think about the betrayal and the secrets he keep so maybe I just think I forgive. I am so confused, I think because he hasn’t be total honest and open with me. He say it over between them but I am not so sure. Why do I feel this way when I have no proof. One thing I do know I will NEVER forget.

    • Heartbroken

      Trudy – Emotional Affairs are generally recognized by if a spouse is doing or speaking to someone but not sharing those conversations or meetings with their mate. I suppose it does not have to be gender specific. I don’t know statistically if they become more physical than not, but it is not a stretch to see how that would become the next step if allowed to continue. In the case of my wife, it did.

      Our marriage counselor encouraged us to examine and discuss what we wanted out of our marriage going forward and to accept that our relationship as we knew it died with that affair. To that end, she had explained that she felt like a zombie going through the motions of housework and child-care and felt invisible to me. While I had not seen it that way, I do accept her perception and have been working to help her more and verbally assure her how much she is appreciated.

      Affairs highlight someone’s positive traits without exposure to the drudgery of their everyday lives. She accepts full responsibility for acting on the affair and we both share blame on the events that led toward it. One, however, does not equal the other and wedding vows provide no allowance to be unfaithful with anyone outside marriage…perceived neglect does not magically equal an affair although both are certainly counter-productive to a strong and healthy marriage.

      All – Related to the topic of forgiving, next month is the one year anniversary of our d-day. Most of my existence has been spent in a daze since then, but improving over time. In my mind I have forgiven her, I understand the reasons and the whys…although I certainly don’t have to like them. I’m trying to put that date out of my mind and remember that the affair had been building for months prior to that, but it is really effecting me.

      I find myself increasingly sad and disappointed that this is the life that I have been dealt. I lay awake at night thinking is this somehow the best that I deserve? Would I be better off to walk away and find someone that wouldn’t hurt me in this way? Shouldn’t I be able to expect as much from my spouse as I do from myself? From an outsider’s vantage point, we probably seem to have the perfect family and the perfect life…even today. I feel like we are living a lie. I don’t think it is as much an issue with forgiveness for me as it is just the harsh reality that this is what we get.

      I know that life is not fair. I know that there must be bad to recognize the good. This funk has become a dark cloud wherever I go. I’m not sure I’ve smiled in days. My hope is that I can survive the mental stress of next month and recognize it for exactly that…a mental thought that I have allowed myself to feel. She has been great in reinforcing no ongoing communications with the other man. The battle now appears to be fully inside my head. I’m curious how other people deal or dealt with these kind of reminders? I desperately want us both to be happy again…

      • Broken

        Heartbroken… I have to deal with the “reminders” every day, because my H works with the OW. It’s mentally draining. I try to listen to the radio as much as I can, because it takes my mind off of things. When the bad memories come, I shut my brain down and not think about it. I’ll do almost anything to take my mind off of it. Cleaning, cooking, watching TV, you name it I’ll try it. I feel like I live with a dark cloud on top of my head to, just waiting for it to thunderstorm and send me into mental breakdown. I will never forgive my H for this… nor will I forget it. My D-Day is approaching and I’m not sure how i’ll be able to handle it. Life is definitely not fair. I guess God gave me this to teach me something. I try to look at it in that respect also. My lesson was to NEVER trust anyone, and to open my eyes to the life I was living. Allowing someone to place me second, which I will never do again. I come first now.
        Some people say they would rather not know if their spouse has an affair, I am happy that I found out. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t know who I married. I would be living a lie. Now I’m living the truth. I know who I am dealing with and what I have. I know that in order to make myself happy, that I have to do it on my own, that no one will put me first. I have to face the reality that my H is not fully satisfied with what I have to offer. I would be satisfied with someone who would love me so much that another woman would never be able to come between us. I accept that I didn’t marry someone who would forsake all others. There is so much reality to face now, and that’s scary.

      • admin

        It has been well over a year for us and the sadness still consumes me at times. I can’t figure out why I am so sad seeing that our marriage has become everything I had hoped it would be. I don’t know if it is memories, or the pain of knowing that he felt and voiced the same feelings to her as now he is with me. I wonder can I live and accept that. At times I also wonder if it would be better to walk away and find someone who didn’t hurt me like he did. I asked Doug yesterday what was it like on the other side. Was it better? Did you find what you were looking for? Then I ask myself what am I trying to run away from, will the pain follow me. Will I feel free or feel like I have lost everything? I really don’t know. I wonder if this is the way Doug felt during the affair. Was he trying to escape the burdens in his life, looking for something to ease the pain. Did it take the pain away, was his life better?

        I believe that anyone who has been hurt from an affair has doubts about their decisions and feels that they do not deserve the pain. I believe that is part of our recovery. I believe that everything takes time. It takes time to forget, and time to make new memories with your spouse. I have found that my bouts of sadness and ambivalence have decreased and they don’t consume me like they did before. I just hope and pray for the day when I can be free from the sadness caused from the affair and be the happy, carefree women I long to be.

        • Broken

          Linda… I feel the same way, if I left would I be better off? Maybe the memories of the affair wouldn’t haunt me so much, kind of like, out of sight out of mind. Then I think the aftermath of divorce and knowing that my marriage failed and the future problems divorce would have on my children would also be another hurdle I would have to overcome. Either way I turn I am faced with heartache and struggle.
          I would like Doug to answer the questions that you posed in your post above. Sometimes I think my H was trying to escape the reality of his life. I am guessing the good feelings he was getting and giving to the affair gave him something to look forward to, the excitement and fun that my marriage couldn’t provide for him.
          For me the most painful part of this affair is the lying and knowing that my H was interested and pursued another woman. Knowing that he toke time and effort to write emails and make her feel special. The late night talks they had via email while I slept soundly in our bed. It makes me sad. Those feelings, that appreciation, those words, are mine and should not have been shared with anyone else.
          The OW didn’t do anything to deserve that much attention. I did all the dirty work. She just sat back and toke it all in.
          Yesterday Heartbroken wrote a post about going to marriage counseling and that the counselor said that they had to accept that the marriage him and his wife had was now over, and they had to mourn that. They had to start over, have a new marriage. I couldn’t catch my breath when I read that. I thought to myself… well not only do I have to mourn the H I thought I had, and deal with the destruction of the affair, but on top of all that pain, I had to mourn the death of my marriage as I knew it. My marriage before the EA was never coming back. The same feelings and trust I had before will never be there again. The new marriage may be better in some ways, but the new marriage is also full of resentment, anger and pain, and horrible memories. My old marriage was wonderful, because although we didn’t always agree and had our fair share of arguments, I had trust, security, and love for my H. Now I have to work to get all this back. It’s like trying to build a skyscraper with bricks on your back.

          • admin

            Broken, at the time of my affair Linda and I were taking each other for granted and neither of us were attentive to meeting the other’s most important needs. Tanya filled a void at the time. Was it better? At the time, yes. Was it better than when Linda and I were younger and very much in love? No. Was it better than things are now? No. I told Linda when she asked me the questions, that I realized that the grass wasn’t greener. Ironically, ultimately I did find what I was looking and longing for–a passionate and loving relationship–with Linda.

            • Broken

              Well said Doug. I don’t know what else to say 🙂

    • Stephen

      wow, it is good to see these comments and know that I am not alone. In the comments today alone, I see lines I could have written in several different posts. It is just over a year after I discovered the EA and I still have days where I struggle just to get out of bed. Other times, things are great and we are talking and planning for the future. Rollercoaster is the right word to describe it.

    • Rushan

      I am still not certain that I forgave. I want to do it oh so much but then something comes up and I do not know if I have it in me to forive him I know I must do it but maybe in time. Forgtiveness is not for the other person but it is for your own good. A man showed it to us by putting something in you hand and you hold it to the person whom you want to forgive’s back. That person walks on with nothing on his back but you still has the thing in your hand. so you still carries that weight around with you and he doesn’t even feel the weight. If you forgive that person the weight is out of your hand and you are free to go your way. The other person doesn’t even have to know you forgave him, it is for you health and wellbeing only necessary todo it. So help me to do it like that. I think I will do it that way.

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