Are you struggling with forgiving your husband or wife for having either an emotional or an extramarital affair?
Then you may find it helpful reading through this collection of frequently asked questions that I’ve gotten from people like you who also wanted to know how to forgive a cheating spouse.
You can either start with the first question and read straight through each one… or use the following links to go directly to a specific question:
In this article you will find
How Do I Help My Friend Forgive Her Husband?
Dear Suzie, My best friend’s husband cheated on her more than 3 years ago, and even though they are still together, she has never forgiven him. I love my friend, but I am tired of hearing about how bad her husband is for what he did and how he hurt her. I try to help, but whenever I suggest she do something to help herself… she rebuffs me, stops talking to me for days, or cries and says I don’t understand since this has never happened to me. I have sent her repeated links from your website and she always ignores them, saying that she will never forgive, but she will still live with him for the kids’ sake. Deep down, I know she’s taking this too far, but I don’t know how to help, and I feel like I have no right to because I have never personally experienced it. Any advice you give will be appreciated.
It seems that your friend is suffering from a heavy dose of victim-consciousness. And in case you’re wondering… what is victim consciousness? It’s the secret wish to be exempt from pain, unfairness or problems in life. Therefore, when bad things happen, those who suffer from victim-consciousness have a tendency to spiral down into a dark tunnel of resentment and self-pity (and often get stuck there). Now, since I don’t know your friend’s situation personally, there’s no way to say for sure if this is what’s happening to her. However, here are some general signs that might help you determine if this is the case. Read them carefully, and if you believe this is what’s happening to her, then I have also provided a little advice at the end that might prove useful in helping her to move on.
7 Signs of Victim Consciousness
Feels slighted when unfairness happens
When people are feeling like a victim, they’re quick to take offense, are easily insulted, and are totally unforgiving because they see mistakes, pain, and problems as happening only to them (as if they’re being especially singled out). What the person stuck in victim-consciousness often fails to see is that unfairness, pain, and problems happen to all of us. This lack of awareness causes them to suffer unnecessarily.
Wants you to feel sorry for them
This is because it validates their self-pity. If you don’t give them sympathy, then you become the enemy because you dare to question their powerlessness. What the person stuck in victim-consciousness often fails to see is that self-pity drains self-esteem. This means as long as they’re feeling sorry for themselves, they’re actually draining their own power.
Wants special recognition to compensate for pain
A good clue that someone is stuck in victim-consciousness is how much time is spent telling (and retelling) their painful stories. Often, they’ll spend hours (days, months, years) telling you why their unfairness is more unfair than everyone else’s. But what they fail to recognize is that the story of what happened is what keeps the pain alive, and the moment they let the story go, the pain goes as well.
Believes that if he or she “lets it go,” the other person wins
People stuck in victim-consciousness are passively competitive. What are they competing for? Specialness. And how do they gain that special recognition? Frequently, it’s by becoming the most wounded, suffering the longest, or being the most self-sacrificing. Unfortunately, what they fail to see is that you can’t keep crucifying yourself and gain respect from others. After a while, people get tired of watching you nail yourself to the cross.
Keeps the past alive in the present
Of all the clues to victim-consciousness, this one sticks out like a sore thumb: victims believe the past is still happening now, and so they spend a lot of mental and emotional energy reliving the past. Sadly, they fail to realize that by mentally carrying the baggage of their past around with them, they’re taking away vital energy from the present because the past (like yesterday’s lunch) is gone, and gone forever.
Views their thoughts as windows, rather than mirrors
A quote that could be useful for those stuck in victim-consciousness is this one from Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” This means our thoughts don’t give us a window into the souls of others; they are actually mirrors of our own souls. People stuck in victim-consciousness lose awareness of this, and so they condemn, hate, and righteously judge others — failing to realize they actually are judging themselves.
Looks at life from the basement, rather than from the rooftop
This, in my opinion, is the most important clue… and it’s also one of the many fatal flaws of getting stuck in victim-consciousness because victim-consciousness comes from looking at life from the lowest perspective (the basement view of life). From this angle, life is scary, lonely, threatening, and unsafe. This is why those caught up in the trap of victim-consciousness are usually negative, anxious, and fear-ridden.
If any of these clues makes sense, and if it sounds to you like your friend may be stuck in victim-consciousness…
Here’s a little exercise I suggest you try with her.
Explain to her…
There are two ways to look at the world. One is from the basement (victim consciousness), and the other is from the rooftop (survivor consciousness). Those who look at life from the victim’s point of view can see only the dark side — the problems, and the pain — therefore, they live in fear. Those who look at life from the rooftop experience have a totally different reality. They can see wider, higher perspectives; therefore, they can live from courage.
Now it would be really good if you were able to take your friend down to her own basement while you explain this to her. If she doesn’t have an actual basement, then you can have her imagine living in one.
Have her think about the things we usually find in basements — things like darkness, dampness, and lack of windows.
Ask your friend how she would feel if she only viewed life from the basement. How bleak would things look? How depressing? How dark? How fearful? How trapped would she feel?
Now, have her think about a rooftop deck.
Have her imagine life from this perspective. Have her notice the big sky, the sun, the light, the expanding horizon, and ask her how she would feel about life if she were looking at it from this perspective.
Why this exercise is important:
It introduces one tiny (but very important) concept: there’s always another way of seeing.
This is where people get stuck.
When they are looking from that “basement perspective,” they feel trapped, as if they have no choice. What your friend needs now… is to understand that there’s another way to see this situation. It’s different from how she’s been looking at it… and it works.
You have asked for help in helping your friend, and I have faith I have shed some light on your situation. You’ve even tried sending her articles from this website, and I commend you for doing so.
Do keep this in mind:
It’s not your function to fix or to try to save your friend (nor is it mine), but that doesn’t mean you can’t be helpful because her tolerance for pain may be high, but it can’t go on forever.
Eventually, she’ll get to a point where she starts searching for a better way.
Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to wait… patiently… like a cat at a mouse hole… for that moment to appear.
Then and only then do you want to send her links from this website (and others like it).
Good advice (like a house guest) is only appreciated when invited.
Dear Suzie, My husband is begging me to forgive him (if not for him, for the sake of the children). But I was raised to believe that if a man cheats once, he’ll cheat again. If I forgive him, won’t that just confirm that he can do whatever he wants to me and get away with it?
Let’s answer that question with another question. Who benefits from forgiveness, and who is punished by withholding forgiveness? This is a very important thing to look at. In the end… infidelity has no winners — only survivors. And I believe the key to surviving any unfair situation in life is to forgive it and let it go. If this doesn’t make sense to you, read my article about The Astonishing Power of True Forgiveness.
7 Signs Of Victim Consciousness
However, for now, consider this:
Would you be more willing to forgive if you knew (beyond the shadow of a doubt) this would be your spouse’s one and only indiscretion for the rest of your married life?
If your answer is yes, then trust is what you need to work on. But here’s the thing: without forgiveness, rebuilding trust is impossible.
I must ask you to consider carefully. What is it you truly want? Do you want to BE right or do you want to DO what is right for yourself and your family?
Here’s the thing.
Many of us are raised to believe that forgiveness is a favor granted by those who are right (superior) to those who are wrong (inferior). I would ask you to look closely at this premise and ask yourself… IS THAT TRUE? When you forgive, are you really doing the other person a favor?
And another thing…
Infidelity isn’t an unforgivable crime committed only by bad people. In fact, the opposite is more often true. Infidelity (like many other mistakes) is mostly committed by good people who’ve fallen into the trap of a bad decision.
Who among us hasn’t been in that situation?
This is why forgiveness should never be viewed as a superior gesture or some kind of welfare handout because forgiveness is a gift. It’s a symbol of love. We forgive not because we are better human beings, but because we are human beings ourselves… and so we understand that in this life, making mistakes and making bad decisions are par for the course.
One final note:
It sounds to me as if you’ve been influenced by the superstition that says… once a cheater, always a cheater. This type of cliché suggests that people cannot (and do not) learn from their mistakes and are therefore doomed to forever repeat their mistakes. Again, I must ask you. Is this true? If it were true, would we have made it out of the dark ages?
Here’s the beautiful truth:
The ability to learn from our mistakes is part of the reason that human beings have become the most successful species on this planet. So keep that in mind and be wary of writing people off or assuming that a person can’t be a one-time mistake-maker. I guarantee you, there are plenty of them out there.
Dear Suzie, I don’t believe my wife should ever be forgiven. She knew exactly what she was doing. I’ve been faithful for the past 17 years. Why is it that she should be the one that cheats and gets away with it, and I’m the one that is supposed to be noble and forgive it? It’s just not fair!
You would be wise to remember this: every thought is a boomerang. Because no thought leaves the mind of the thinker, thoughts of anger, indignation, condemnation, and spite are like parasites, and you are their host.
In other words…
…if you’re thinking hateful thoughts towards your wife, then you’re the one who feels the effects of those thoughts (not her).
Unfortunately, many people think the opposite is true.
They think that somehow, their thoughts are like a voodoo doll, that anything they think about another person is felt by that person.
Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
In reality, when you try to punish people in your mind, you don’t crucify anyone but yourself. So, your defiance in withholding forgiveness from your wife is like holding your breath and hoping that she’ll be the one to die from lack of oxygen. It simply can’t be done.
Think about it this way:
While the laws of the physical world are plain to see, sometimes the laws that govern the mental world aren’t so obvious. And yet, they operate on similar principles. For example, if you step off the Empire State Building, there’s no way you fall up because the law of gravity dictates that you will fall down. Everybody knows this, so the law of gravity gets plenty of respect.
But when it comes to the mental laws that govern thought, behavior, and consciousness, people aren’t so aware.
And one of the most important of the laws we tend overlook is this: No thought ever leaves the mind of the thinker.
YOU Create Your Own Emotional State
It works like this:
- When you think loving thoughts → you experience loving feelings.
- When you think unloving thoughts → you experience unloving feelings.
Keeping these insights in mind, let’s go back to those hostile feelings…
You say since she knew exactly what she was doing when she did it, you don’t believe she should be forgiven. You say you think that it’s unfair that you’re the one called on to do the right thing, after she so callously did the wrong thing. I can certainly understand how and why you would feel this way. As a matter of fact…
…this is a pretty normal reaction.
And yet, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s the best response.
So now, I have a question for you.
Are you more interested in being right, or are you more interested in being happy?
Here’s why I ask:
If your primary goal is to be right, then you’ll continue to defend your right to be hurt. You’ll continue to protect your position as the victim of her selfishness, and you’ll continue to feel justified in withholding forgiveness. After all, you didn’t do anything wrong! So if being right is where it’s at for you, then you’ve certainly accomplished that, and far be it from me to argue with you.
However, I’d like to put a few things on the table for you to consider:
Just like a cowboy can’t ride two different horses at the same time, you can’t hold on to being right and also be happy in the aftermath of infidelity.
You must choose.
If you want to be right, you don’t get to be happy. And if you want to be happy, you have to let go of the need to be right.
The question becomes, which is more satisfying to you, being right or being happy?
For some people, being right is where it’s at. How can you tell who those people are? Here are some clues: righteousness, smugness, sense of superiority, narcissism, and a tendency to look down on others.
And perhaps the biggest clue: misery.
Those who take greater satisfaction in being right are never very happy. Why? Because happiness is created via our relationships with others. It comes out of the ability (and willingness) to connect and feel compassion.
Think about this one carefully…
Yes, her actions were wrong. No one can argue with that (and no one will).
However, withholding forgiveness would be fighting a wrong with another wrong, and that wouldn’t make it right, would it?
If you find yourself struggling with these concepts, just keep asking yourself this key question.
Key Question: Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?
Remember, we’ve already talked about the fact that no thought leaves the mind of the thinker. And since forgiveness is a thought system, and unforgiveness is also a thought system, whichever you hold in your mind is what you will feel the effects of.
What does this mean?
This means that forgiving her frees you from the effects of her unloving actions!
Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
How could forgiving an unloving act cancel the painful effects that act has had on your life?
Well, like it or not, that’s exactly what it does. There’s no undo button in this life, but there is a cancel button, and it’s called… forgiveness.
Here’s your assignment:
Test these ideas for a week. For the next seven days, instead of thinking thoughts of condemnation, bitterness, anger, and judgment (which make up the unforgiving thought system), try the opposite approach. Test forgiving thoughts for a week. Remember, this is just a test. I’m not saying you have to forgive her. I’m just saying think forgiving thoughts for a week, and then notice who wins.
Dear Lisa, There’s a difference between true forgiveness and suppressing pain. Namely, one frees you from the pain, while the other simply buries it. Be warned, buried pain is like a vampire. It always rises again. For more information on the differences between the two, read my article Suppressing Versus Forgiving. For now, let’s talk about some of the practical steps to true and lasting forgiveness.
What exactly does it mean to forgive?
Forgiveness has a lot of conflicting theories, clichés, and superstitions attached to it. Chances are you’ve heard several contradictory ideas about what it means to forgive, so a good place to start is with some clarifications.
Let’s begin with what true forgiveness is not.
- It isn’t a mystical out-of-body experience that descends upon you from out of the heavens.
- It’s not a religious experience (although it’s taught by every religion).
- It isn’t a pardon or a truce you grant to someone for good behavior.
- It can’t be bargained for, sold, bartered, or earned.
So, what is true forgiveness?
It’s a decision.
To be perfectly clear, it’s a permanent, irreversible decision.
True forgiveness is inspired by Love. It’s the Love in your heart that is willing and able to look beyond your partner’s flaws, mistakes, bad judgments, false statements, irrational thinking, poor choices, wishy-washy promises, misguided loyalty, selfishness, secrets, lies, and imperfections… so you can see his inner perfection.
Does it sound like it would take a miracle to do that?
Well, in a way it does, but the decision to forgive isn’t the real miracle. The real miracle is having the type of LOVE that inspires that kind of willingness.
Let’s back up a minute. Let’s (you and I) take another look at the list of things true forgiveness inspires you to overlook.
True forgiveness is the decision to overlook:
- Bad judgments
- False statements
- Irrational thinking
- Poor choices
- Misguided loyalty
- Lies and dishonest actions (and other imperfections)
As you first look at the list, it might feel a bit overwhelming to be asked to overlook these kinds of things.
So, let’s examine it from another angle.
Ask yourself this question:
Can you honestly say that you, too, haven’t (at some point) needed others to overlook some of the same things in you? God knows I have. In fact, Lisa, at some points in my life, I’ve demonstrated all those things on the same day!
Here’s what I want you to remember:
You’re not excluded from the significance of true forgiveness.
We’re all mistake-makers; therefore, the decision to forgive is a mirror. As soon as you forgive another, you are forgiven as well.
Your partner is NOT the exception.
His mistakes are no more special or worse than anyone else’s are.
He deserves forgiveness for EXACTLY the same reason we all do — because he’s not perfect.
This is the miracle of True Love.
It has this capacity to overlook imperfections, and this is why true forgiveness can only be inspired by True Love.
Now, let’s tackle your most important question…
How exactly do you go about seeing the perfection (forgiveness) when the imperfections are staring you right in the face?
I’m so glad you want to know. Mahatma Gandhi said, “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
I like this quote because it points to a key insight.
Key Insight: Wanting to forgive is a key ingredient in the actual forgiveness process. Just the fact that you’re asking and reading this article tells me you’ve already taken the first steps.
What follows next are some tips, hints, and strategies to guide you along your path to true forgiveness. I believe any one of them can prove to be the turning point you’re looking for. However, for more in-depth guidance, enroll in my 7 Steps to Betrayed Recovery online home-study course.
For now, let’s go over the tips.
7 Secrets to Forgiving a Cheating Spouse
There is no hierarchy of mistakes
All mistakes are misguided decisions. No mistake is more worthy or less worthy of forgiveness than another. If you can forgive a child for bumping into you at the supermarket or a friend for being late, then you can forgive a spouse for cheating. The secret is to remember that with forgiveness, no mistake is ever too big or too small for you to handle.
Forgiveness is total
There’s no such thing as partial forgiveness. When you forgive, you forgive it all. You don’t exclude some mistakes from the process.
Forgiveness is a decision
It’s not an emotion. It’s a choice. You can make it and unmake it as many times as you wish. The choice for perfect consistency is the choice for true forgiveness.
Forgiveness awaits willingness... not time
No one can force you to forgive. However, if you’re waiting for time, remember that while you wait, YOU are the one that suffers. Who in their right mind would put off happiness? No one. (Think about that.)
Forgiveness is for you
One reason people don’t forgive is because they’re under the misguided impression that it’s something they’re doing for the wayward partner. This is just not the case. Forgiveness frees YOU from the negative effects of the affair. It’s a gift you give yourself. It’s one of the highest acts of self-love.
Forgiveness is a sign of love… not weakness
Many people think that to forgive a spouse is a sign of weakness. They believe it’s an indication of passiveness or desperation, and yet the exact opposite is true. The weak cannot forgive (and that’s what keeps them weak). The passive do not have the courage. Remember: forgiveness is an attribute of LOVE, and Love is the most powerful force there is.
Forgiveness is an activity... not a theory
It’s something you do. You don’t just forgive… you practice forgiveness. Once you make the decision to forgive, you must practice that decision until it becomes automatic and goes on autopilot to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore.
Here’s one final tip I want to leave you with you:
Trying to forgive IS learning how to forgive.
You said you’ve been trying to forgive and falling short. Don’t despair. Trying to forgive is part of forgiving!
Think about it this way…
Learning to forgive is like learning to walk. Think about how many hundreds of times babies fall before they finally get it. A baby starts by crawling, then tries to pull up, inevitably falling down. After much trial and error, though, babies learn how to balance their weight and adjust their center of gravity, until one day… after many failed attempts… babies walk!
It’s the same with forgiving.
Every true attempt represents progress. Every sincere effort brings you closer to freedom. Until one day… after many failed attempts… there comes a moment when you won’t remember what you thought you couldn’t forget.
Such is the miracle of true forgiveness.
It happens so quietly… and so completely… many never notice the moment.
And you know the best part?
When you forgive, the seeds of goodness are flung far and wide. You forgive today, and you reap rewards today, tomorrow, and forever.
Think about it.
What you really want is a happy life and a better future.
Part of what I know is that planting the seeds of true forgiveness today is the best way to ensure the future you want.
Dear Suzie, Although my marriage did not survive and even though it’s been years, I still feel bitter and angry at how selfish and mean my ex-husband is, and how he let his urges destroy what we had. I still have thoughts of revenge and getting even with him. Even though I know it just doesn’t make any sense, I can’t seem to stop my mind from wanting him to suffer for what he did to me. Please help! — Barbara R.
Hi Barbara, Before we try to make sense of your feelings, let me first share a story with you. My daughter, Sydney, was going through a stage in her life where she was getting her feelings hurt a lot. She’s always been the sweet and sensitive type, and this was her first real experience at school with having to deal with mean girls.
One day, when we were about to go meet some friends at the park, Sydney panicked. She threw a mild fit and yelled, “Mommy, the world is mean! I don’t want to go play at the park anymore.” She flung herself onto my bed. She wasn’t crying this time. She was just really, really angry.
What she said next really shocked me!
It was so out of character for her. “I want to get back at them!” she said, “I’m so angry that they would be so mean. I feel like punching them in the face.”
At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do.
Like most mothers, my first instinct was to protect her. I even felt a flash of anger at the mean girls myself. A part of me wanted to march up to the park and give those girls a piece of my mind! Thankfully, the higher part of me intervened, and I went right into teaching mode.
That’s when I remembered a story my mentor told me at a time when I was feeling victimized by an unfair circumstance. I sat down next to Sydney and told her this story exactly the way it had been told to me.
Once upon a time, an owl was walking along a deserted beach, just enjoying the sunshine and watching the waves roll in, when suddenly, the water was full of seals frolicking and diving in and out of the waves.
The seals began to swim ashore and throw themselves on the sand. They lay there basking in the sun and rolling around without a care in the world. More and more seals began to come ashore. Then, to the owl’s surprise, a bear swam in, hauled itself out of the surf, and shook its fur dry before flopping down on the sand.
The bear saw the owl watching and said “What?”
“Oh,” said the owl. “I didn’t mean to be rude, but I never expected to find a bear in a seal colony.”
“It’s a long story,” said the bear, “I was brought up among these seals, and I have learned to survive among them. Actually, I am quite proud of myself. No other bear can swim as well as I do.”
The owl thought for a while and said, “I can see that you have learned skills that are unique and useful to you, but is that what you want?”
“I can swim outstandingly well, you know,” said the bear.
“Yes,” said the owl, “but is that what you want?”
“What else could I need?” thought the bear, as the owl walked on.
Time passed, and the question just wouldn’t go away.
The bear still did not understand the question, but couldn’t let it go. So one day, the bear just couldn’t stand it anymore and he set out in the direction that the owl had gone.
The bear trudged for miles until he came to another beach. This one was crowded with humans. They were all sunbathing and reading and digging holes in the sand and all the other things that families do at the beach. In the middle of that crowded beach was a man in a coat with a fence around him.
The bear just had to speak to him, so he went up to him and said, “Why are you fully dressed when everyone else is nearly naked?”
“Oh,” said the man, “that’s the way I like it. It means I am never exposed.”
“And the fence?” asked the bear, politely.
“Actually, a lot of people ask about that. The secret is that I carry it with me everywhere. No one can put up that fence faster than I can.”
“Ah,” said the bear, finally understanding the owl’s question. “But is that what you want?”
I was glad to notice the story had captured Sydney’s attention the way stories often do.
To find out if she had gotten the point of the story, I asked her a couple of questions.
“Sydney, I know those girls were mean to you, and I know that right now you feel like you want to punish them by being mean back. So let me ask you this… is that what you want? Do you want to be mean, or do you want to be treated with respect?”
“I want to be treated with respect,” she said in a small voice.
“Well, then,” I said. “If respect is what you want, will being mean get that for you? Think about it. The girls that are being mean, do you respect them?”
“No,” she said, “I don’t.”
“Then how will being mean gain you respect?”
“It won’t,” she said.
“Well, then, is being treated with respect what you want, or do you want to punish them for being mean to you?”
“I want to be treated with respect.”
“So if that’s what you want, then let’s come up with a strategy that can get you what you really want, rather than following one that gets you what you don’t want. Fair enough?”
She thought it was, and we spent the next few more minutes role-playing strategies for winning respect with a positive approach rather than a negative one.
Which brings us full circle, Barbara. Now I want to put the same question to you…
What is it that you want?
Is it to punish your ex-husband or to be happy? (You can’t have both.)
Which brings us to another question…
Who exactly are you punishing anyway?
Think about it.
Does any thought ever leave the mind of the thinker? Do your wishes and fantasies of him suffering really create suffering for him… or do they create suffering for you?
Look closely at the situation. Who’s really being punished here? Who’s failed to move on? Who’s still suffering after all this time?
So, the question I must ask you again…
Is this what you want?
If it isn’t, then you have some decisions to make.
- Forgiveness is a choice, and unforgiveness is a choice.
- Happiness is a choice, and unhappiness is also a choice.
These choices are yours to make (or unmake) at any moment. It doesn’t matter how long you have suffered, you can let it go at any moment.
Say (out loud) the following:
“What do I want? Is it to be a hostage to hate or to be a host to love because I know I can’t have both? So, what do I really want for myself?”
Did you do it? (If you didn’t, go back and do it now.)
When you honestly answer the question of what you really want, you will have solved your own problem.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!