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

Forgiving Infidelity: The 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 of course 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 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 a 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  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.

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. If you forgive and give your mate what they want, what will keep them from doing it again? Will they have suffered enough or even long enough to discourage them from doing it again? 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. 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 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 of 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. We forgive for God's sake, and for our own benefit and ultimate recovery. 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. 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.

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, and you demanding your spouse to forgive you will only intensify their feelings of hurt, pain 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. For the betrayer, what this normally reveals is that they fear people far more than they fear God. If you have been able to receive God's forgiveness and to live for Him, then whether or not your mate forgives you will not affect your peace. If you've received the forgiveness you need from God, then you'll be free to assist your mate in finding healing rather than pressuring them to forgive you for your own benefit.

Forgiveness is one thing when someone has hurt our feelings or let us down. It feels like a completely different prospect when one has experienced a spouse’s betrayal. For those who subscribe to the Christian worldview, God doesn’t really make it optional. 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.

I realize that there is much more to be said on this crucial subject than can fit in this brief article, so if you have questions, please feel free to submit them to my Q & A. If you desire the freedom that forgiveness provides, but can’t wrap your mind or your heart around the concept, join EMS Online today. It will help you walk through the process as a couple and show you what it looks like to forgive and be forgiven.

 

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Comments

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.

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.

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