How do you know whether or not to forgive their infidelity?
If there’s one question that people have asked me over and over, it is this: Should you forgive a spouse for cheating?
Many will tell you straight away that you shouldn’t. However, as you know, if the answers were so clear cut, you wouldn’t be here right now. The reality is, knowing how to react to infidelity can be a confusing process, and at the heart of that confusion is deciding whether or not you should forgive them. And if that’s been the case for you, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, I will talk about the pros and the cons of forgiving, along with a few other things that will hopefully shed some light on your own decision-making process. As always, you can use the menu to go to a particular section, or you can read along at your own pace.
IN THIS ARTICLE YOU WILL FIND
Dear Suzie, I recently discovered my husband had a four-month affair behind my back. It’s plunged my heart into darkness and my life into turmoil. Now I’m struggling to decide not only whether to stay in this marriage or not, but whether I can ever forgive him for his affair or not.
Is forgiveness really the answer?
A girlfriend of mine was also having the same struggle — deciding whether or not to forgive her husband for cheating on her. Out of the blue, she received a letter from an unknown country lawyer. Turns out, an older relative had passed on and left my friend a legacy in his will. At first, she was excited, but then she began to feel a little apprehensive because not only did she not remember the relative, she wasn’t sure it was right to collect a legacy from someone she didn’t remember knowing.
Memories Like Movies
As she packed her bags to make the trip to the country to visit the office of the lawyer who sent the letter, my friend began to think about all the memories she could recall about the older relative she had never met but knew she had known. Try as she might, very few memories came to mind. Even those that did come mind, were vague and hazy like a movie she’d seen a long time ago and couldn’t remember the names or faces of the actors who played the parts.
On the day she left home, the skies were overcast. The sun was always weak in that part of the country, but on that day, it was especially anemic. “Going for a long drive deep into the countryside is a good thing,” she told herself. “It gives me time to process all the things happening lately in my life.” Because like you, my friend was also experiencing the push-and-pull of deciding whether or not her cheating spouse deserved forgiveness.
It’s funny how the things that once seemed so solid and permanent can shift in the blink of an eye. I must tell you, at that time, my friend wasn’t sure about a lot of things.
For example, she wasn’t sure if the man she loved was worthy of her love. She couldn’t tell if his infidelity was a sign that he was a bad person or simply a stupid man. (Even if he’s not a bad man, who wants a stupid one?)
Back and Forth
These thoughts kept her going back and forth between breaking up and battening down the hatches.
What should she do?
My friend just couldn’t make heads or tails of his behavior.
She’d been raised to turn the other cheek, but now she found herself questioning that belief.
Is forgiveness really the answer?
And what if turning the other cheek invites another slap?
Is forgiveness just another word for passiveness?
She wondered if you forgive those who hurt you, isn’t that the same as saying, “It’s OK to hurt me”? Won’t it send the message, “Hello, World, Doormat here. Feel free to walk all over me.”
Surely, not everything is worthy of forgiveness!
Aren’t there some crimes that are simply unforgivable? Child slavery? Serial killing? Mass murder? Men, who lie like dogs to their wives while sleeping around with their personal trainers?
It’s all very confusing.
Above all else, my friend wanted to do the right thing, but she was finding it hard because she simply didn’t know what the right thing to do was. So, she just kept driving, and gradually the city noise melted away, and the stillness of the countryside rose up to take its place.
Before she knew it, she had driven more than four hours to a part of the country where she’d never been before.
Is the grass greener in the countryside, or does it just look that way?
Are rural roads more welcoming than city highways, or does it just feel that way?
Is the country air fresher because it rolls over hills, valleys, lakes, and fields of wheat rather than bricks, blocks, cement, and office buildings?
Whatever the reason…
The drive allowed her mind to become more and more quiet.
Even though she discovered no answers for a while, there were also no new questions.
At about 3 in the afternoon, my friend arrived at the office of the country lawyer who had sent the letter.
His was an old colonial building that hadn’t seen much change in the last century. The only name on the front door matched the name of the lawyer she had come looking for.
So, with some apprehension, she opened the door and walked in.
Into the Old
Inside was not at all what you might expect. Rather than the dark wood paneling typical of older buildings, the foyer was alive with color. Sunny yellows, pale blues, deep burgundy draperies with exotic flowers potted everywhere.
Whoever had decorated the room certainly took the optimistic approach.
Before she even had time to give her name…
The elderly receptionist glanced up and said, “He’s been expecting you. Second door on the left.”
The lawyer’s door opened to what can only be described as a typical country lawyer’s office — law books crammed into shelves that towered all the way to the crown moldings, stacks of papers, paperweights, open reference books, dust, catalogs, print magazines, and ashtrays disarrayed on a massive oak desk behind which sat the man she’d come to see.
“Come in, come in!” he said. “I’ve been waiting for you, and you are just in time. Sit down. Sit down.” As he hurried around to assist her into an overstuffed wingback chair, he continued… “I’m glad you came. Your relative left you his most valuable possession. But before you get the wrong idea, I must tell you there’s no money involved.”
Instantly, my friend felt a twinge of disappointment, which surprised her because until then, she hadn’t realized that part of her had secretly hoped to learn of a financial gain. But that feeling was quickly replaced by a stronger emotion: curiosity.
If this elder relative had not left her money, then what could it be?
And if the possession was so valuable, why pass it on to someone you barely know?
“Here it is,” said the lawyer, handing her a large rectangular box. “I will leave now to give you some privacy, as you explore its contents for the first time.”
With that, the lawyer left the room, firmly closing the heavy doors behind him.
What’s in the box?
Gingerly, my friend sat with the box on her lap for a few minutes trying to work up the courage to open it. When she did, she was amazed to find a stash of old black and white photographs.
Who were these people?
Instinctively, she knew she knew them.
One by one, she looked at each picture, searching each face, some smiling, some gloomy.
There were pictures of old cars and old houses… smiling families standing in front of white picket fences… children’s birthdays, bright eyes looking at cakes and candles… long-ago trips to the beach… shiny tinsel and ornaments hanging on a Christmas tree… a picnic at the lake… high school football teams, framed portraits, school groups… even an assortment of country maps no longer accurate.
The longer she looked through the pictures, the deeper the sense of grief she felt.
There was no doubt these were her relatives, once alive, now gone.
They too must have had their joys, their struggles, their problems, but those problems had faded away now.
Suddenly, my friend found herself crying in earnest for all of these people, who once had lived and loved but were now gone forever.
So much life fades like a photograph.
And that’s when it occurred to her…
Just like her old relative, she’d been collecting pictures of the past, storing up hurts and memories of painful experiences in the shoe box of her mind. Lately, she’d been spending a lot of time revisiting those old images again and again.
Beneath the stack of old photographs, my friend discovered a bundle of old letters… about 25 never-opened letters… all stamped “Return to Sender”. On closer inspection, my friend was shocked to discover that all 25 letters had been addressed to her own mother!
My friend sat stunned for a long time, trying to decide whether or not she should open them. Then she realized she must have been meant to read them.
Where to begin?
Two dozen letters, some with just a few lines, some with pages and pages of writing.
She decided to begin reading them chronologically.
As my friend read more and more of the written words, a realization dawned. The man writing these letters was her biological father, the woman he was writing to was her mother!
Time stopped for my friend.
Until that moment, she had known next to nothing about her dad. Now here she was, holding in her own hands, letters written by him.
But these letters had never been read.
They were beautifully worded and elegantly written letters of apology, letters begging forgiveness, letters asking for reconciliation, even a poem begging for a second chance.
This discovery changed everything.
It turns out my friend’s father had been unfaithful to her mother during the war. After discovering the affair, her mother had left her husband (while seven months pregnant with my friend) and moved up north, where she eventually remarried and never bothered to tell my friend about her real father.
The force of this revelation crashed into her like a giant tidal wave.
Why hadn’t her mother told her the truth?
How could she have kept something like this a secret for so long?
How could she not have told her about her father?
Didn’t she realize that her bitterness, hate, and unforgiveness had ruined three lives?
What kind of mother would do such a hateful thing?
In her vengeful effort to punish her partner…
My friend’s mother had punished everyone around her.
A lifetime of loss that could never be undone.
My friend realized that what her father had done was wrong… but what her mother did was even worse!
That’s when it occurred to my friend…
She was in a situation identical to her mother’s all those years ago!
Just like her mother, she was struggling with how to deal with an unfaithful spouse, trying to decide whether or not to keep her family together or break them apart, struggling to find the best response — forgive or stay angry.
This realization so stunned my friend that she could only sit in silence for a while.
Not sure what to do, she didn’t do anything.
Slowly, the minutes ticked by and the silence stretched on. And then it occurred to her.
Her mother had refused to open the letters from her father all those years ago for the same reason she was now afraid to let her husband back in the house.
The reason? Fear. Plain and simple.
Both her and her mother were so afraid of being hurt again, so afraid of the pain of the past, that they allowed their fear to shut the door on the future.
This explained so many things to my friend.
It became clear why her mother had always seemed unhappy.
As a little girl, my friend used to try to make her mother happy, but she never could. Her mother just seemed to be perpetually angry, sullen and bitter.
Her mother was unhappy because she was unforgiving.
At that moment…
My friend would have given anything to be able to go back in time and say these words to her mother:
“Even if you can’t take him back, could you please not turn your back on him?”
She would have told her mother…
“Children don’t care whether their parents are perfect or not. A child doesn’t measure a parent by the same yardstick as a wife does. A man may very well fall short as a husband, but that doesn’t mean he’s a failure as a man, a human being, or a father.”
Now, my friend was facing a choice.
She had come to a place in the road that everyone gets to at some point or another.
She must decide…
Will she repeat the pattern of fear or learn the lesson of forgiveness?
She had to ask herself…
What does reconciliation have to do with forgiveness?
In her heart, she knew the two weren’t related because pain is found in unforgiveness, not in divorce.
The real cruelties are carried out by those who withhold forgiveness, not by those who grant forgiveness.
This is when my friend began to see her father’s letters asking for forgiveness in a whole new light.
His words spoke to her on a whole new level. It was as if by leaving them for her to read, her father was once again reaching out for forgiveness.
He was telling her what he truly valued.
He was letting her know that his most prized possession and his deepest wish wasn’t money, property, or trophies. It was his need to be forgiven. He had tried all those years ago with her mother and failed. Now he was trying again with her.
Could she do it?
Would she forgive him?
Looking again at the pleading letters (written but not opened) and the old photographs (prized but not permanent), a thought flashed into her mind.
Forgiveness is not the question; it’s the answer.
At that very instant, my friend said she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her heart. And just like magic, the darkness left, and a lightness came over her.
She thought to herself…
If she could have compassion for her father, could she not also have compassion for her husband?
If she would ask her mother to release her father from the terrible punishment she’d imposed on him, could she not also release the father of her own children?
And if she could see that her father was not a monster — just a man with flaws like other men — could she not see that the same is true for ALL men, including her husband?
In the moment she forgave one… she forgave all.
Tenderly, she gathered up a few of her favorite pictures of her father as a young man and a soldier, then returned the rest of the contents to the country lawyer. “I have taken what I wanted from within,” she told him. “You can discard the rest.”
With that, she got in her car and headed back to the city, leaving the past behind. To this day, she couldn’t tell you exactly what happened on that trip except to say that it was something really important.
What about your story?
Now that you’ve heard my friend’s story… what about yours?
Obviously, you’re at a crossroads in your own life. You have to decide… do you walk away or rebuild? And if you stay, should you (or could you) forgive?
If so, then ask yourself the same question my friend did.
Question: What does reconciliation have to do with forgiveness?
Here’s a clue: nothing! Like ice cream and apple pie, reconciliation and forgiveness do go well together, but they are not inseparable.
And speaking of clues, here are few more you should know about forgiveness.
A few clues about forgiveness
Healing without forgiving is impossible. If you decide to reconcile, forgiveness is totally necessary. If you end the relationship, forgiveness is totally necessary. So, no matter which road you take, if you want to be whole again, you will have to forgive.
Forgiveness is your bridge back to happiness. If you ever want to see and feel the return of love, trust, and happiness in your life, then forgiveness is the bridge that reconnects you with those higher experiences. And the opposite is also true. By withholding forgiveness, you burn the very same bridge you yourself must use to get into heaven.
Forgiveness is a gift that instantly gives back. Imagine if every gift you bought friends… you immediately received that same gift yourself? Wouldn’t you be out buying your friends’ cars, boats, and homes right now? Well, forgiveness works exactly that way. In the instant you give it, it is given back to you.
When you forgive them…
- It sets YOU free first.
- It allows YOU to rise above.
- It lets YOU out of the darkness.
- It lightens YOUR load.
- It releases YOU from the harsh, bitter, and hateful thoughts in your own mind.
Forgiveness cleans out YOUR emotional, psychological, and spiritual closets.
It opens the windows and basements in YOUR emotional house. When you forgive, YOU are the one that tastes, feels, and enjoys the last laugh.
Did you notice?
Every single clue on that list suggests that forgiving them brings more benefits to YOU than to anyone else.
For now, let’s keep in mind…
Just like many other things in life, forgiveness after infidelity has its perceived advantages and its perceived disadvantages.
When you think about it, it makes sense.
Because if there were no perceived disadvantages, everyone would just forgive, right? And since they don’t, that suggests we must perceive some potential drawbacks.
Let’s make some sense out of this.
I have always held onto the notion that making an important decision should be a process that combines intuition and logic. And so, coming up next is a list of my pros and cons about forgiveness after infidelity.
My hope for you?
Reading them will help shed a light on your own process, and that you’ll approach it in the spirit they are intended to be used: as pointers but not replacements for your own point of view.
ADVANTAGE Makes reconciliation easier. Forgiving gives couples a cleaning start by clearing out a lot of the hurt, anger and resentments that get in the way of reconciliation.
DRAWBACK Subject to misinterpretation. That’s because, even though forgiving them makes reconciliation after infidelity easier, it doesn’t make it risk-free.
ADVANTAGE Reveals graciousness: Forgiving is giving love in response to someone else’s lack of love towards you; therefore, it’s a sign of true graciousness.
DRAWBACK Subject to misperception. Because If graciousness is confused with “doing them a favor”, it can cause your gift of forgiveness to be poorly received.
ADVANTAGE Virtue modeling: Forgiving your partner allows you to model your true values and virtues for your children (rather than just preaching at them).
DRAWBACK Subjected to Ego-superiority. Virtue modeling can become a hiding place for ego inflation. And so, it’s important to note that modeling is about being an example, not demanding others follow your example.
ADVANTAGE Exclusivity: The willingness to forgive puts you in a very rare and exclusive group of people because, in today’s society, there are far more people not willing to forgive infidelity than people who are willing to.
DRAWBACK Subjected to social disapproval. You may encounter people who try to shame you or make you feel bad for choosing to forgive your spouse.
ADVANTAGE Proof of specialness: Not only takes a very special person to forgive this type of thing, but it takes a special person to inspire you to want to forgive them in the first place.
DRAWBACK Subjected to self-doubt. Sometimes, the very thing that makes us special can also become the thing we criticize and doubt ourselves about.
ADVANTAGE Indicates true love: True forgiveness can only be inspired by true love. Therefore, the willingness to forgive is a sign of real love.
DRAWBACK Triggers fear of vulnerability. True love and vulnerability go hand in hand. To forgive and to love means you will have to learn to get comfortable with vulnerability.
ADVANTAGE Ensures good karma: Every religion teaches some form of karma — that what you sow, you reap; what goes around comes around; forgive and you are forgiven. As you forgive them, you secure your own good karma.
DRAWBACK Absence of proof. The law of karma works on the invisible level, and so there’s no real way to tell if and when it’s working.
ADVANTAGE Transformation: Forgiving forever alters the way you see things. By forgiving you them, you are healed and transformed.
DRAWBACK Having to reimagine (reinvent) yourself. You will need to remember and redesign a new identity — one that’s no longer based on suffering.
ADVANTAGE Courage: Forgiveness takes tremendous courage, as it requires you to look past the surface personality and shallow mistakes to see their inherent worth and goodness.
DRAWBACK Ego pushback. Asking the ego to overlook slights, insults, and offenses is not something it ever wants to do, so expect some pushback from your own ego (including trying to make you feel that forgiving is an act of cowardness).
ADVANTAGE Peace of mind: Forgiveness is the remedy that calms negative thoughts and images that stir up chaos and disturbances in the mind.
DRAWBACK Boredom. The cessation of chaotic thinking can feel unfamiliar at first and sometimes can be confused with boredom. So, give yourself time to adjust to having a peaceful mind after you forgive.
ADVANTAGE Raises Self-esteem: Forgiving is hard to do. And so, when it’s accomplished, it often brings massive feelings of accomplishment which in turn raises self-esteem and self-respect.
DRAWBACK Entitlement. Because it’s hard to forgive, when we do accomplish it, there can be the tendency to believe we are “owed” a reward for having done it.
ADVANTAGE Brings you closer to enlightenment. Forgiveness illuminates the darkened heart and mind; therefore, for every time you forgive, you take one step closer to spiritual enlightenment.
DRAWBACK Games come to an end. The closer you draw to spiritual enlightenment (salvation), the more ego games you’ll have to end. Sadly, not every ego is ready to stop playing games.
ADVANTAGE Happiness. Forgiveness restores joy, love, and happiness back to your life, heart, and home.
DRAWBACK Suspicion and mistrust. Amazing as it may sound, many have been so familiar with unhappiness that they no longer trust happiness. And anything that is said to produce happiness is met with suspicion and mistrust.
There you Have It.
A list of my pros and cons for forgiving after infidelity. And I wouldn’t be surprised to know that after reading them, you’ve arrived at the same conclusion both my friend and I have arrived at…
Forgiving may cost a lot, but not forgiving will cost even more.
And just like my friend from the opening story…
I have also observed the high cost of not forgiving after infidelity.
I have seen husbands and wives who were quick to end their marriage after the discovery of an affair but fail to end the grievances, anger, bitterness, and hostility… sometimes holding on to their resentments for 5, 10, or even 30 years, as if they were cherished friends rather than emotional parasites.
And I’ve watched people lug their “bitterness baggage” from one relationship to another and then pass it on to their children like dysfunctional inheritances.
You can follow in those footsteps, or you can take your own path. Either way, it’s up to you.
Back to the question that started it all:
Should you forgive them or not?
Let’s take you one step closer to finding the answer for yourself.
Coming up next are five questions to ask yourself to help further uncover how you want to handle the question of whether or not forgiving them is right for you.
5 QUESTIONS TO DETERMINE IF FORGIVING THEM FOR CHEATING IS THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU
So, how did you do?
I have faith your answers revealed something helpful for you. Because, while forgiving is something I would highly recommend you do, it’s not something that anyone can make you do.
When it comes to dealing with infidelity, to forgive or not to forgive is a decision only you make.
Not even God can make you forgive.
And so, you’ll have to make the decision you’re most confident is right for you to make.
To forgive or not to forgive
The decision only you can make
I have a feeling…
Since you’ve read this article this far, you are leaning more towards forgiving than away from it.
And if that’s the case…
Then I want to do everything in my power to nurture and support that seed of forgiveness that’s blooming in your heart.
Recommendation #3: Read the book Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping
Recommendation #2: Watch (or Re-watch) the movie Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon
Recommendation #1: Get access to my entire collection of masterclasses for betrayed partners.
It’s the home study version of the exact same processes I’ve personally developed (and have been using for over 17 years) to guide betrayed partners to successfully forgive the one thing they never thought they would ever have to forgive (infidelity) and do so with their self-esteem and self-respect intact.
When you take this course, brace yourself.
Because my approach to forgiving infidelity is radically different than most other approaches, and yet it works.
My approach is only one of the paths that can lead you through forgiveness. It’s not the only one. If you belong to a spiritual community or see a good therapist or life coach, chances are you can find help there as well. The key is learning that you don’t have to struggle with forgiveness a moment longer than necessary, because the power of your wanting to forgive assures you a sunny spot in the universe.
Because those who are willing forgive will always be happier
than those who are unwilling to forgive.
Take that knowledge with you into the future.
And remember, with forgiveness in your heart, no weapon (or indiscretion) formed against you can prosper, and no pain can enslave you.
You are the master of your mind and the captain of your soul.
By giving you the option to forgive, life is giving you the wings to transcend any painful situation.
Until we speak again…
Remember… Love Wins!