Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

Forgiving Infidelity: The Gift of Forgiveness

Gift of Forgiveness

Long ago when I was first starting out in business, I had a friend who abused and misused me. The circumstance was simple. After committing to partner with me on a business plan, he told me he had found a more promising partner, took my idea and ran. In the blink of an eye, I was on the outside, crushed by the fickle state of relationships. What I felt then were the same base emotions many experience when first discovering infidelity (although the intensity absolutely pales in comparison to what Stephanie experienced with my own betrayal 34 years ago).

At first I felt devastated and alone. I wondered what was wrong with me that he would choose another business partner? My pride felt destroyed and shame washed over me like a roaring river. Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity were my constant companions, and although I was very young, I knew enough to understand I hated what I felt and wanted nothing to do with him, or the feelings now associated with him. Would I ever find another business partner I could trust? Would anyone ever want to work with me again? Similar to forgiving infidelity, I didn’t know where to start.

Then I began to catch my emotional breath and gain perspective. No one was going to treat me that way. I found that each time I rode by his house anger flooded my soul. I imagined hurting him in the same way he’d hurt me. I'd ignore him when we met in public. If we were both outside, I'd move to the other side of the street. If I encountered him in the store, I'd leave. If I saw him at church, I'd move to the other side of the room and pretend he wasn't there. I wanted to make sure he paid for what he'd done. I was going to make sure that I would never be treated that way again. If someone had suggested that I forgive him, I would have laughed, cursed or even thought them to be insane.

In my mind he didn't deserve forgiveness. He deserved death, pain and suffering. The rage I felt was seductive in many ways, but not at all helpful and provided no real comfort. I wasn't interested in getting even - I wanted to get ahead. I was sure that the antidote to bitterness was revenge.

To Forgive or Not To Forgive?

I find that to be a common belief. The incredible pain of the betrayal may create a near impossible situation for the betrayed. To forgive or not to forgive is where almost every betrayed spouse ends up. Overcome with a myriad of emotions, the mind of the betrayed is maxed out with paralyzing questions of whether or not to forgive.

The betrayed spouse can be overwhelmed with questions like:

  1. If you forgive and give your mate what they want, what will keep them from doing it again?
  2. Will they have suffered enough or even long enough to discourage them from doing it again?
  3. Maybe I need to hold this over their head for the time being, in order for them to get the point?

Bitterness and anger are the weapons used to inflict the pain necessary to discourage future indiscretions. By not forgiving infidelity, betrayed spouses may even notice their mate working harder to reconcile and gain forgiveness.

But Is Forgiveness…….Losing Control?

For many, granting the gift of forgiveness is their last point of control.

How can you maintain safety once you release your anger and bitterness?

What we fail to realize due to the overwhelming and practically incapacitating pain, is that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. This is one of those issues where for those that come from faith, the teachings of Jesus are very clear. Forgiveness is not optional, not even when it comes to forgiving infidelity. It is not for the benefit of the betrayer, but rather for the benefit of the offended that forgiveness is given. I learned this concept early on as a young man, yet the lesson has stayed with me for decades.

I discovered that my unforgiveness affected me far more than my friend. As long as I held a grudge, he had control over my life. When I saw him, I had to alter my plans to make sure he knew I was still angry. I lost my peace. Just the very sight of him stirred deep emotions of hatred and ruined my day. It stole my joy. Nothing made me more miserable than seeing him living well while I still suffered. My unforgiveness served no good purpose other than to harm me, and in reality, I had already been harmed enough. Unforgiveness kept me blind to anything but my anger and the injustice I felt. If I was to heal, I needed to see clearly.

Now, don’t think for a moment I'm at any level alluding to the fact that forgiving infidelity is quick or cheap. In fact, it's far more than the offender deserves. If I had this much trouble mustering forgiveness for a business partner-someone I had committed no more than a few months and some money too-I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it is to forgive an unfaithful spouse, someone who vowed “till death do us part.” Again, though, it is not for their sake that we forgive. For those that come from faith, we forgive for God's sake, and for our own benefit and ultimate recovery. If you don’t come from faith, forgiveness still sets you free and provides context for a life free from the desire for justice or vengeance. It’s about finding freedom to get your life back again and move forward, despite the fact that your heart has been crushed. 

Bitterness and unforgiveness will never bring peace or joy and will most certainly frustrate any sense of hope for reconciliation and restoration. They are the poison I take to kill another.

I'm also not saying that forgiving infidelity is synonymous with trust or reconciliation. I'm not even saying that the anger and hurt should be gone. The forgiveness I'm writing about is between you and God, where you (like Jesus) say “Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing”. It may seem as though they should be aware of what they are doing but in reality, it’s part of the fog they are enveloped in. They are just not in touch with the magnitude of what their choices have done, or are doing to you, the betrayed. Nevertheless, the most important type of forgiveness is about releasing them to God and allowing Him to forgive them through you. This is to set yourself free, not your mate.

“See…..You Have To Forgive Me!”

If you are the betrayer, please don't use this to say to your mate “You have to forgive me”. That's between them and God or themselves, and you demanding your spouse to forgive you will only intensify their feelings of hurt, pain, frustration and anger. In fact, if you feel you need your mate’s forgiveness in order for you to be ok, then I'd like to invite you to consider the possibility that your mate may be your god and their approval just might be out of balance in your own life. Those from whom we seek to gain forgiveness in order to find peace, or to relieve our fears, are the ones who we actually look to in order to fulfill us.

One of the ways that I look at forgiveness is as a process, an event, and then a process on the other side. I believe we must sit down and prayerfully consider what it is we are really forgiving. Numerous losses are experienced with betrayal: loss of the idea of who are mate is, loss of hope for the future, loss of friendships – the list goes on and on. Ultimately, it involves no longer holding the other in indebtedness to us for what they have done. One definition of forgiveness is “Giving up all hope of having a better past.” The event can be freeing for us. The process on the other side of the event is to remember I have forgiven the particular offense when bad feelings pop into my mind, or when the person does something else hurtful in the present.

If you’d like to learn more about the gift of forgiveness, I’d strongly encourage you to sign up for our Harboring Hope course. It’s a gentle yet effective way to start your own journey back to healing and restoration, as a betrayed spouse. You’ll find community, expert curriculum tools necessary to get your life back. You can read more and sign up here.

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Forgiving - on going but worth it

I remember my ex-husband's ex-Affair Partner telling me that "The act of not forgiving is like taking poison every day and waiting for the other person to die" .... and I thought to myself, what right did she have telling me this? She was the one who was the active participant in the very betrayal that destroyed my marriage and family. After many events and lots of time, and him betraying her, she and I eventually came to stand on the same side of betrayal and forgiveness (even though it was at differing degrees - me being the wife with children and her being the AP). And she still held true to her prior statement.... I took the step back and gained a deeper appreciation for the verse "Lord, please forgive them for they know not what they do" and then I forgave both my now ex-husband and the now ex-AP. Trust me when I tell you that forgiving her was easier than forgiving him. I struggle with the very act of forgiveness of him every day, especially since we are in the midst of a heated custody battle..... But I will testify that I am much happier and at peace and was so after the first instance that I forgave him. Now he is the angry, bitter one .... and I am growing in my faith in the Lord and moving forward by no longer being tethered to the anger, hurt and bitterness brought about by the betrayals in my marriage. I now know that forgiveness is FOR ME! Not for anyone else.... I choose to be happy and at peace.

forgiveness

Everything you described feeling towards the ex-business partner is exactly how I feel toward my spouses affair partner. She still works in his office and I try to avoid her as much as possible, but when I see her, I'm filled with anger towards both of them, but especial towards her. She acts like nothing happened! I'm not sure she's convinced that I know everything. She seems to have no shame around me. My husband only speaks to her when he has no other choice, but his words and manner are caustic. I know I need to forgive her, along with him, but she really doesn't seem to care one way or the other.

Reply to Jeanie

I feel the same. I've seen photos. of her on her daughter-in-law's FB page of her with her husband at their son's wedding, and photos. of them all - except husband, out ice-skating (husband really doesn't look like ice-skaitng sort!). She and my husband had both a very sexual and emotional affair for FOUR years - yes, before we married. In November 2016, same month I caught them, they'd booked a week's holiday to Tenerife for August 2017 - he told me it was golf as usual.

I bet she goes to bed at night with no triggers bothering her, no pain, no nothing. Same as him. She just had the "Oh cr*p" panicked feeling of getting caught and her kids not speaking to her for a month or so but now it's gone back to normal for her. I made sure her family also knew about the first affair she and my husband had about 15 years ago when he was in his first marriage and they both had young children. Yet, she still sleeps at night without bother. How are you now, four years on?

Giving up all hope of having a better past

One definition of forgiveness is “Giving up all hope of having a better past.” - this sentence really struck a cord with me. I think that has been my problem with moving forwards with forgiveness. I keep replaying the past in my mind, looking for ways it could or should have been different. I am someone who likes to be in control. Since my spouse's infidelity was not a choice I had control over, I am really struggling with the thought of letting that go. Because, if I let go then I still have no control over how they treat me in the future. I have to fully rely and trust in him that he won't be that person again.

forgiving and betrayal

My wife told me about 9 months ago that she had been having a lesbian affair with her best friend. This news was not completely shocking, because I had suspected it from the beginning. I had even confronted about the affair several times.

I appreciate that she finally told me and said that she wanted to make our marriage work. It has been a long 9 months. I can forgive and move past the sexual discretion. The part that I am having an extremely difficult time with is that she still insists that she can be a friend with her AP.

They workout together 6 day a week and spend at about 4-6 hours together daily. I don’t feel like they are still sexually active, but I feel like I am still being betrayed every day.

How do I continue to forgive? I have read so many opinions on what to do. Become a good listener, be patient, try and understand. How long do I endure this?

I ask myself, why? Sometimes my only answer is just don’t give up. I realize I can only change myself; I cannot change my wife. What do I do?

Is it because she had a lesbian affair?

If almost all the advice on this site is that the unfaithful spouse must cut off affair with the AP in order to make recovery successful, shouldn't your wife be doing exactly that? Would it have made a difference if she had had this affair with a man? This situation seems odd to me, because an affair is an affair. And I come from this is the unfaithful spouse. I had a six-week affair, and when I told my wife about it, I cut off all communication with my AP, and have never looked back. It has made for a more successful recovery. I'm not trying to plant ideas in your head, but as an outside observer, I have to wonder how an unfaithful spouse can spend 4-6 hours per day with their AP and tell you that's nothing is happening.

Forgiveness through an Accounting Process

I was one of those people who were able to forgive very quickly after discovery, so I thought! I think I was lying to myself as the pain raged on inside of me. It seemed as though, the more my pain was denied the more it seemed to intensify. This was my pain and if I gave it up through forgiveness, I thought I was giving up what little power I had over this heinous act of betrayal. Through this pain I have learned a great deal about human nature. As time passed through the day of discovery to almost two years now, I have learned to forgive through an accounting process. I actually wrote down all the ways that I was sinned against and carried this written word with me everywhere. Through time I was able to eliminate each one until they did not have quite the effect on me as they once did. The lying, the secrecy, among others still exist on my list, but I have found forgiveness. The lying and the secrecy are still on my list as a way of remembering. I will ALWAYS remember the pain that came on that day—d-day, even as I pen this note the tears still flow! I can tell you that I can spot the lie and secrecy very quickly, but instead of spying or snooping it is very quickly and easily discussed with not only my spouse but others in my life too. And I am starting to view d-day not as the worst day of my entire life anymore, but rather the day when I was liberated!

Forgiveness

This has been me. Reading the sentence about giving up hope of a better past makes a lot of sense finally. I've prayed to forgive, I've offered forgiveness but there was always the part about our past that I wanted to change or improve. I don't dwell on the affairs or the pornography, I dwelled on the times we should have had enjoyment, togetherness, a family life that were ruined by actions I couldn't control or understand. I understand Leslie who says if she lets it go she is pushed into trusting this person won't hurt her again. It is a huge risk we take. I can honestly say I am better now, not because of myself but because I have a much better relationship with my God. And no matter who might betray me again I will always have that faithful relationship.

I have Forgiven....

But, I can't forget. Do those 2 things go hand in hand? Some days are harder than others. In the beginning, I wanted him to suffer the same way I was. But the truth is, I had cheated too... and according to him, he cheated to "get me back". We are both definitely in a place of forgiveness finally. I forgive him now and in the future as I am married to this man and I'm married for life. I've given up on the past, it is what it is. All I can do at this point is make our future better. And we are working on that every day. I realized forgiveness was for me and not for him, nor his AP's. It's been much harder for me to forgive the AP's though. They were both friends of mine. Some days I feel like I have moved on and others I just want to hurt them so they can feel my pain. But I'm going to leave that up to Karma. Certainly they will suffer their own consequences, one of them being that we are no longer friends. I can't say that if I saw them on the street that I wouldn't approach them, I'm a very feisty person and these women had sex with my husband having been friends with me for years. But, as for my marriage... we have forgiven. It was because of EMSO that we learned that forgiveness was for each of us individually. So that we can live in peace.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is certainly very, very different than forgetting. I have forgiven my spouse but I no longer trust him. I actually took away his power of medical attorney over me because I do not feel he would always make the best decisions for me as he is a liar and cheat. That is not the person that I want making life and death decisions for me. He has proven to me that he has bad judgement and should not be trusted. That is not erasable. It is a fact that I would be stupid to ignore. Your course is very clear that repeat offenses are very predictable in unfaithful spouses. Again, forgive yes....forget....not smart.....and potentially deadly.

Forgiveness

Good choice, I believe siblings or attorneys make better POAs

forgiveness

But what if you are betrayed and they never ASKED for forgiveness??? Even after I told them that's what I needed...I told them I needed them to ask for forgiveness and he just texted me. I told him I needed it to be face to face....I'm still waiting

Forgiveness

Truebremirsr

True remorse and empathy are very important components to forgiveness. I do not want my partner to ask for my forgiveness. I am uncomfortable with that since I am not in a forgiveness mood yet. However, I want his empathy, kindness and gentle attention to pave the road to forgiveness. I cannot give it until I am convinced his behaviors pave the way to a new marriage with adequate fire walls.

Not asking for forgiveness is

Not asking for forgiveness is just one more thing to forgive. Forgiveness is bearing the cost of another's wrongdoing, choosing to decide they are released from the debt they owe for the wrong they have done. If they are forgiven, it is because you have chosen to release your requirement for a sense of justice. If you have any requirements, any stipulations to the terms of your forgiveness, then it isn't forgiveness.

I know how hard it is to forgive, I'm a betrayed wife here. It takes time. It's very costly. It's so hard. And the. The pain rears its ugly hard and you have to forgive the same thing again, or a new layer is exposed and you have to forgive the same thing from a different angle.

But forgiveness has to come from you, free of charge. Most people who wound you will not ask for forgiveness, let alone apologize. Yet forgive we must. Even if you aren't a Christian, as Christians are commanded to forgive, forgiveness is still a crucial part to personal healing, a way to release and heal and be free from the burden of carrying the collections notice for a debt that will never be paid, because their is no way to undo a wrongdoing. It will always have been done. There are ways to rebuild trust, reconcile, heal, etc. But there are no take backs.

Forgiveness

I have come to the conclusion after 11 months that divorce would have been easier than reconciliation and or forgiveness. At this point I would recommend that betrayed spouses cut their losses and run. Just my humble opinion.

I know how you Feel. It’s

I know how you Feel. It’s the most depressing place I’ve ever been in my life. You Feel like you’re in a hole and can’t get out! When we were at 11 months I felt exactly the same way you do, matter fact I didn’t feel better until around the 16th month. We are now 19 months since D day and I can tell you I finally feel a shift. I’ve been told it can take somewhere between three and five years to heal. I’m sure I will be closer to five but now I see that it’s a possibility. Remember this… the Poison you know it’s better than the poison you don’t! I have friends That have remarried and the grassisny always greener on the other side. I’m sure you’ve come through the worst of it I know the first year was unbearable if you can try not to give up yet.

Forgiveness

I have never been one to give up easily but this is different. Just not sure I am able to forgive. I was raised to believe that you never stay with someone who commits one of the A sins.
Adultry, abuse or addiction. However, I also know that my response to this situation says more about me than my husband.

Do not give up if he is remorseful.

Before the 15 month month, I wanted to be out of the marriage almost every day. It hurt too much and was unbearable. However, my husband tried so hard and did everything beyond and above. It made me quit the idea to get out.... While he worked hard to save this marriage, I tried hard to hang in there... Suddenly, I felt a change. I was able to love him and even love him more than before. Forgiveness is a process.... We still have down time. But we were able to pull up ourselves quickly and got back to track. It is possible to forgive and it is possible to make your marriage better than before. Do not give it up if your spouse is remorseful and repentant.

Forgiveness

Sara i am sorry you are going through this. I think divorce is easier in the short term. I use to feel the same way. I use to say .. why am i outting myself thru this? I am 18 months since D day amd the last few months i feel a shift . It doesnt have the grip on me as it once did. The pain and ambivalence is subsiding. I hope you give it more time. My husband and i have both made progress. We still have work to do but at least i dont feel so hopeless anymore. . I hope this helps you.

Forgiveness

Thank you for your words of encouragement. At this point, I will just take it one day at a time.
I know the grass is not greener on the other side. I just wonder if being alone might be the better option.

Forgiveness

How do you forgive when the betrayer will not come clean, won’t own all they have done. Offers excuses for their actions, wants to blame someone else. Continually lies about what was for 18-20 years and has to tell a lie to cover up previous one. No healing for either of us. Im just stuck. Ive been doing this making excuses for him- his childhood etc. Ive been a fool.

Forgiveness

Shirley, I am so sorry. Your situation sounds chronic. I hope you will do what you must to make yourself feel whole. Find a good counselor and support group. It is amazing how much strength you can find from others.

Forgiveness almost seems impossible towards the affair partner

I struggle with forgiving my wife’s affair partner. He was her boss and I was a partner in his ministry. He pastored a church we attended. We were friends. He was pretending to be a man of God only to turn out to be a wolf in sheeps clothes. I know it was wrong, but recently I saw him riding with his so called Christian/pro law enforcement motorcycle club. I wrote the word deceiver on a piece of paper and held it out the window of my work car. He filed a complaint against me and now I am on Admin leave pending an investigation. I pray everyday day to release him and that God remove the desire of revenge from my heart. But I can’t help but want to see true Godly justice done. I can’t believe one man can do so much damage to another. People have no idea the pain and hurt and some cases the ruins they bring into the lives of others because of their selfish actions.

Mikew.

I know your pain mike. I am also a male betrayed spouse. It’s hard. I wish you the best.

Bettayed male

I am also on this roler coaster ride, she won’t come clean or apologize, and she keeps swearing that nothing happened even with all what i have and the contradictions of her stories each time, i forgave her because i got proof that there was no physical or emotional attachment it was kids play and ego to show off in front of her friends that she can grt any man she wants, that got out of hand, but still it hurts like a b****, i cannot forget and keep replaying everything in my head been 7months since Dday, for the kids sake i set some ground rules to the healing process but each time she is away from my sight in work or out for sth i feel the rolercoaster, for the OM i want to hurt him bad, i wish i could make him suffer as much as i did, but waiting for Gods justice to take place, i bumped into him once and acted as if all is normal, that i am the superior male for ignoring him, i can hurt him in real life but it would lead to questions and a bit of a scandle so i choose not to, i already hurt him financially in a way due to my work, but still not satisfied, he knows not to cross me for he saw what i can do, but still not satisfied.
I think my healing is on the way the only missing ingredient is my wife to show me that i am all that matters to her and that she will not do it again.
You see our biggest fear is from the repeat not the old action, and my advice is to focus on your spouse and not the OM/OW then you can start achieving.
Forgiveness will not let you loose control forgetting will.

Forgiveness

God has spoken to me since my original posting. This is what has been revealed to me: Love and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. They cannot exist apart from one another. Without one, the other will fail. I choose Love because God is Love. Therefore I also choose to forgive, even those who have wounded me deeply.

Forgiveness

Does anyone ever second guess their decision to try to make it work. Now that I 11 months past d day---- am beginning to question my initial decision.

forgiveness and reconciling or not

everyday, and even more when he says things like, "I am redeemed and I can get back on my white horse" "its over, and I am here" "it is too late to end our marriage now over the affair,it has been too long" D-day April 21, 2012, when I discovered his 11 month emotional, sexual, spiritual affair.....I have no hope, no joy, and wish to leave this earth daily....I discovered his affair while recovering from a horse riding accident, and subsequent surgeries, he continued the affair for months after the accident, until he got caught....I will forever be broken, I now suffer PTSD, Fibromyalgia, panic attacks,severe Sleep Apnea, I can't work, I barely leave the house,

Forgiveness and reconciling or not

It’s been 30 years since my spouses first affair and 5 years since his second one and I ask myself daily why I’m still here, there’s a lot to consider and I’m only passing through this life, I choose Jesus and I know that great things await us. Hold on Jesus loves us and cares for us and He knows exactly where we are.

Every day!! Yes - I'm 11

Every day!! Yes - I'm 11 months out and haven't made the commitment either way, but yet I'm still here. And every day I question what in the world am I doing still here! You are not alone in your thinking!

Forgiveness

How does one get to the point where u know ending it is the right thing to do. My husband is sorry and I feel fairly certain he would not do it again if the tape could be replaced. However, I feel a gradual distancing on my part.

Yes

It will be 3 years since D-Day this July for me and if I had a better job and the means to do so, I probably would have just ended it and walked out. The daily pain of the betrayal just never subsides.

What type of affair was it?

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