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

Forgiving Infidelity: What Forgiveness Is NOT

Defining forgiveness is difficult at best, especially when forgiving infidelity. Instead of looking at it from the perspective of what it is, I thought it might be useful to define what it is NOT.

  • Forgiveness, or forgiving infidelity, is NOT based on the other person’s repentance:

While reconciliation may be based on another’s repentance, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself which sets you free from the hurtful actions of others. It has little to do with the other person because it’s an internal matter. It is an act that releases that person’s hold on you for the wrongs committed against you. To choose not to forgive leaves you forever a victim. Forgiveness takes the power back and creates momentum for your own recovery.

  • Forgiveness does NOT mean reconciliation:

It is possible to forgive someone and release the resentment and bitterness you have toward them without reconciling. While forgiveness in marriage after infidelity is not based on the other person’s repentance, reconciliation is most definitely based on their repentance and their ability to be safe. If the person who wounded you does not take personal responsibility for what they’ve done, is not willing to make restitution, and won’t take steps to assure it doesn’t happen again, then reconciliation may not even be wise.

  • Forgiveness in marriage after betrayal is NOT forgetting:

It would be “Divine” if we were capable of forgetting, but I’m not sure it would be safe. As humans we forgive, but the reminders of what happened remain. To pretend the offense never occurred would minimize the gift of forgiveness. The intrusion of past offenses into our present day reality does not mean we haven’t forgiven. Rather, as humans we tend to forgive and remember. With forgiveness after infidelity there is no longer a need to punish or to extract payment from that person for their offenses against others or us. Forgiveness allows us to leave the wounds of our past and move forward, but we do so with lessons learned from our past.

  • Forgiveness after an affair is NOT condoning or making light of their behavior:

If it were possible to just excuse what the other person had done, there would be no need for forgiveness. To forgive someone his or her wrongs against you in no way minimizes the magnitude of the offense. The very fact that forgiving infidelity is necessary accentuates the reality that an injury occurred. If the party that injured us fails to see the seriousness of the offense then we feel trivialized and unimportant.

  • Forgiveness is NOT ignoring what happened.

Far too often people want to skip over the injuries perpetrated against them to avoid looking at the damage. Pretending an offense never occurred places seeds of bitterness in fertile soil. Not until we’ve explored the cost can we forgive the debt that is incurred.

  • Forgiveness is NOT a one-time event, especially when it comes to forgiving infidelity:

Frequently people will think something’s wrong because they continue to struggle with the betrayal committed by their mate. While we may choose to forgive, the consequences of those actions can continue to rock our lives. Each time an additional consequence occurs it also has to be released. Each time you understand more of what happened you still have to deal with the pain of that consequence regardless of whether you forgave them for their actions. Each time an intrusive thought robs your peace it becomes another consequence to deal with and release. The shock waves created by infidelity can continue to roll through time for a number of years, though the amount and intensity will lesson as you heal. Each additional consequence has to be released or resentment and bitterness could take hold. Continuing forgiveness is key to healing after an affair.

  • Forgiveness does NOT mean permission to go and do the same thing over and over:

If someone were to view forgiveness as permission to repeat the same hurtful actions then that individual isn’t safe for a relationship. They would be someone who takes no responsibility for their actions. Additionally, if a person’s motivation for not repeating an offense is based on your lack of forgiveness, you are put in the place of having to take personal responsibility for their behavior and safety in the relationship for the remainder of the relationship. It's impossible for forgiveness to occur if the extramarital relationship hasn’t ended completely. If you were a merchant and a customer ran up a debt that you chose to write off, it would be impossible to write that debt off if the customer continued to rack up debt despite your efforts. It would be impossible to determine what it would take to write it off.

I hope exploring what forgiveness is not, has helped to clarify questions you might have about both what forgiving infidelity is and how to forgive. Betrayal is something others do to you, but bitterness is something you do to yourself. For the sake of healing, I hope that a better understanding of forgiveness allows you the opportunity for personal freedom. It’s important to remember however, that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation and that it is a process that takes time. While I have a personal bias toward reconciliation I recognize it’s dependent on the actions and attitudes of both parties.

If you're interested in exploring whether reconciliation is even possible, consider attending EMS Weekend. It will help you better understand what it will take to reconcile and move forward, regardless of the state of your marriage.

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Thanks for these thoughts on forgiveness. Very helpful.

What Forgiveness is Not

Thank you a million for writing on this topic. It helped further my understanding of the process and I see how it can be used in areas other than infidelity, as well. Thanks again for sharing your helpful insight.

Forgiveness

Four years post affair, my husband just left for work after our morning routine of coffee and conversation. A sincere hug and kiss, a promise to be home as soon as possible, an "I love you" that comes from deep within him and off he goes.

I sit alone on my couch and start to weep. I am not sure why, so I start to pray, asking God what is wrong with me. I have forgiven this man, I love him deeply so why do I continue to feel this sorrow from time to time? Is it just the time of year? Lord help me become better at this. Help me become better at forgiving. Lord, just help me to be a better person, Amen.

---and just as I start to get myself up --- my iPad "DINGS". I look at my message and it's you, it's like you are talking directly to me. Thank you for your words. I really can't tell you how much they have helped me over the years. Merry Christmas!

Hugs

I also feel the same. What brings it on. I go days and at times even weeks and then boom...it hits..again. The sorrow. This article has helped me as well. Perhaps it is the time of year, when family, love and celebration seems so much in the forefront yet deep down there is a scar.
Feel free to write me anytime!
Sue

Forgiveness

Your sadness and weeping is not a sign of a lack of forgiveness. It is a part of the very important process of grieving. You clearly demonstrate to him an attitude of forgiveness but that does not meant that the hurt has left or the great sadness of missing the life you lost and knew before. The loss is tremendous and it sounds like you are also doing a great job of dealing with it. Congratulations!

What forgivness is NOT

Rick,

Great article.! I say Amen to it all

Forgiveness

Thank You! This website has been a blessing to me. i thank God everyday for the blessings and resources such as yours, to help me in the most difficult time of my life.
Happy holidays to you and your staff.

What Forgiveness is Not

Wonderful, thought provoking! I have been told that I am an unforgiving person because I haven't been able to entirely put the affairs behind me and return to the person I was before. I do not want revenge, I want to feel safe in my relationship. My questions help me decide if I am safe, if I should trust. I was glad to know forgiveness doesn't mean you don't remember, it doesn't mean reconciliation is automatic. I am free to not feel bitter and yet I also am free to explore the affairs to determine the safety of my marriage.

Forgiveness for specific offenses?

Thank you for this post. Needed it. I struggle with anger and hurt over specific incidents. Is it wrong to desire apologies and for your spouse to seek forgiveness for these specific hurts within the affair? I know the first point says forgiveness is not dependent on HIM seeking it but I am haunted by specific incidents that I wonder if he really understands how deeply I was (and am) hurt. Fear that if he doesn't fully get it and if I don't see him truly remorseful then he is more likely to repeat the offenses. And I will have a hard time getting closure from these specific wounds. Probably silly, I know. Thanks for your insight if you can.

Hi Lanie,

Hi Lanie, Just a reminder that Rick's Q&A is a great place to get these questions answered. I'm sure others struggle with similar questions, so please do ask it! You can find his Q&A in your left-hand menu. Email support@hope-now.com if you're having any trouble or would like to post the question anonymously. God bless, Sunny

Oh yes! The Q&A! Thanks,

Oh yes! The Q&A! Thanks, Sunny, for your response. For some reason I thought now that I was finished with EMSO that I no longer had access to that - I should have double checked! I will certainly submit. Such a valuable resource. Won't be my first submission and most likely won't be my last. :) Thanks again!

Forgiveness is not

Thank you - I agree with what an earlier 'replier' stated -- I have loved and used your emails and they always come in perfect timing. Forgiveness is a process and thank you for this reminder - and it does it 'easier' and the hurts become less and less -- I am 3 years post the revelation of his affair. We are strong - redeemed and restored....through God and professional help and mentors - GOD wins!

Perfect timing

I cannot thank you enough for this message. I needed it today as my healing process after my husbands affair . I so often wish I could forget the pain that follows, and often need reminding that the remainents of the affair will sneak up on me and rock my world again and that I am ok even when that happens... Thank you.. Your daily emails and thoughts have been a God send..

What Forgiveness is Not

It has been two years since I found your website. I believe I have forgiven, but then the wounds open and it feels like the affair just happened. He doesn't understand the tears or why I still hurt. Christmas is the worse. I just feel like weeping all the time and my heart aches in my chest. I wish there was a magic pill to dry up all the tears. My emotions lately have made me question if I really had forgiven him. This article on "what forgiveness is not" has made me feel better. He doesn't want to talk about it and I understand. He is a good man who made a terrible choice that has affected all of us. I know he has to live with those memories and I am sorry for that. However, pretending everything is normal is not working for me.

I know exactly how you feel.

I know exactly how you feel. My husband does the same thing, as long as we dont talk about it anymore he is ok. Its been a year and a half but Anytime I need to talk or mention our hard times, he ignores me or it becomes an argument. He doesnt understand why I become deeply depressed in July (our anniversary and dday) the holidays make me a nervous wreck because some people in his family are very close to the ow. He cant stand the thought of others knowing what he did because he doesnt want to look bad. Im left to deal alone and it kills me inside. Good luck to you!

forgiveness

Thank you for this article. Three years since infidelity came to light in my marriage and I am still wrestling my emotions. Most counsel I have received has been about forgiveness being the answer. I have struggled with this because I have forgiven, but forgiveness doesn't take away the sorrow and pain. Thank you for clarifying that forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues.

What Forgiveness is NOT

Wise and insightful! Thank you for your ministry!

Forgiveness

Thank you for this article. I am 6 months into recovery from my wife having an affair with my best friend. I too want to forgive but am constantly haunted by thoughts and images that knock me back. She does have remorse and shows me a great deal but thinking of forgiving her makes me feel that will all stop. This article has helped me understand better but still not quite ready. How long does this go on for. I'm afraid of pushing her away even after all the efforts she has been making.

That leaving time of day

One of you posted above me that having your husband leave for work sometimes sets the sadness off, even while you have forgiven so much, and he has repented so much. I am the same way. I had to recognize that I have a terrible trigger associated with the separation anxiety I feel when he simply leaves for work, or sometimes even "leaves" by going to sleep.

It might "seem" silly, but when I think about it, I have to ask, "Why should it be?" After all, it really is perfectly logical, since he was "gone" from me when he was with her. I am trying to give us both some grace in this, but I have found that if he doesn't spend a good 3-5 minutes, giving me his undivided attention, with a deep embrace of at least 1 minute's duration, I sometimes am so sad I just really get depressed.

We are a year post initial revelation, but it has been a rough year, with many new revelations and even a break-up mid year, so I guess I need to give myself some grace in this, too -- that I just don't feel that secure or happy even yet, even with his repentance and my forgiveness. His affair was over a long period of time, so it was a huge long betrayal that the knowledge of haunts me with.

It isn't like I am imagining him doing anything, or even not loving me. In fact, I mostly feel safe and loved. But, I do feel that he isn't somehow "loving me enough" IF he doesn't give me at least a few minutes of undivided attention, with affection. It isn't everything. It doesn't keep sadness from sweeping over me, but it always helps.

Our counselor calls these transition times. I am starting to think of them as "trigger" times, and I plan to attempt again to communicate how distressing this is for me (the time of day/when he "leaves" my side) and see if we cannot come to a place of him wanting to help me to overcome this hurdle of pain. I don't look for this to "fix itself" anytime soon, either; there is a definite need for grace.

Also, I don't wish to blame him for making me feel this way (even though, in essence he did) -- but rather wish to share my pain that he can help me overcome. That is the greatest miracle of true reconciliation -- when the hurter becomes the healer. And it is amazing to me that nothing else helps like his embrace (when I am not too angry to receive it). I take herbal remedies for my depression, but when he gives me an adequate supply of his attention remedy -- it works a LOT better than any amount of capsules of "Tranquility" or "Mood Enhancer". I hope we can bridge this also, as we have already come so far. Just wanted to say to those of you like me, you are not alone, and I thank you for sharing your experiences about forgiveness and healing. How comforting it is to know that others are in our shoes! Or have been through what we are going through ourselves. God bless.

Great material

Reading through many of these I recognize so much more of what I share with so many others. I too get in "moods" from separation. My job has become harder for me as a police officer. Many times I scare myself and lack good judgement because of my anxieties. Before I could make decisions, be quick on my feet, confident & proud of who I am. Now, I need to hear from my wife so much more, just saying hello or checking in to see how I'm doing. When that doesn't happen, and I'm at work, I got to a bad place.

Therapy has helped tremendously but still sometimes I WANT to remember the hurt? I understand that's not a good place to go and am working more on that. But I find myself needing that attention more from her; coming home at the end of the day and sitting with me, asking me how my day was, giving me a hug & kiss. I feel like such a wimp now.

Reading these and getting responses back has been great. I'm constantly searching for more articles and forums just to help me. She's not so much the same in that regard; but working on things her own way. Thank you! I look forward to reading more.

Forgiveness

My husband had several affairs over 12 years and each time with counseling and his repentance (now I wonder) I was able to forgive and we moved on. Three years ago he left me for another woman and they are now married. Her husband had left her for another woman and she told me she felt guilty about the affair with my husband, but couldn't live without him and he wouldn't do to her what he did to me! I have worked very had on forgiving them as I know it only hurts me to hang on to bitterness. I know God expects me to forgive so my prayers will not be hindered. Some days are easier and some days I have to confess my bitterness and unforgiveness over and over. I guess they are happy and doing well, they bought a business together last year. They are very involved in their church and he is now a deacon. I have a new home and know I have many blessings in my life, but I do wonder when the pain, hurt and disappointment will go away. I pray about this every day and stay in the Word, always looking for guidance. Sometimes I think there's something wrong with me, when will I get over this awful betrayal?

Forgiveness

It's been almost 2 years since I discovered his affair with my sister-in-law. I have forgiven them both but reconciling my marriage is difficult. My husband is truly repentant and his actions show me everyday. Christmas is specially hard for me because we usually get together with our extended family and I miss that. This year the family wants us to all get together, but I tell them I am not emotionally ready to have my husband and sister-in-law in the same room. My parents tell me I need to forgive, I tell them I have just need more time. Their response is that if I have truly forgiving I should not have a problem with the family celebrating Christmas together . Any thoughts?

Thank you. much needed

Its so heart breaking to hear so many of us are going through this. I've forgiven but am haunted constantly. Always forgiving, all day long. Its been 2 years since I found out the first one but we've been together the last year. I get frustrated thinking I should be better by now. Helps to have these emails especially this time of year. Thank you

Forgiveness

I am so glad there are others out there who share my thoughts. My dday was 2.5 years ago and my husband and I have reconciled and I have forgiven him. He thinks forgiveness means forgetting. I still have triggers and when they occur I want him to ease my mind and talk them over but he feels we should be completely done talking about anything related to the affair. You can see his exasperation with me at those times. It does not happen often but I still need him to reassure me, love me and own it. Is this wrong to feel this way? I thought I had forgiven the AP also and saw her for the first time in 2.5 years. When I saw her I asked her for an apology - which she refused. I know realistically that she will never apologize but was I wrong for asking her to give me what I felt I needed at the time? Thank you Rick for addressing this issue, it has helped ease my mind.

I could really use more

I could really use more insight on one of your comments in this article. It follows:
"It's impossible for forgiveness to occur if the extramarital relationship hasn’t ended completely. If you were a merchant and a customer ran up a debt that you chose to write off, it would be impossible to write that debt off if the customer continued to rack up debt despite your efforts. It would be impossible to determine what it would take to write it off."
I struggle with forgiveness, although I do believe I have forgiven, but the offense continues, and I feel it will for as long as the relationship with the AP continues, which it does.
Does forgiveness really depend on the affair ending? Because as in our case, it hasn't, and it most likely won't.
And for me, it is much more difficult to forgive the AP, which I know I have not, much more than it is to forgive my wife, now ex-wife.
Still struggling after 2 years.

Beautiful

Beautiful. This is very honest.

Question about forgiveness if the relationship is still going on

Hi RIck-
I am in the process of a divorce after discovering my husband cheating about a year ago. It happened in our house during a party when I caught him in a lover's gaze with a work colleague. I had no clue, but looking back over the prior 8 months or so there were signs. We were married 13 years. Here is my dilemma/question:

I read somewhere (I know a professional wrote it, thought it was here) that it is impossible to forgive while the affair is still going on. He moved out several months ago and the affair became a real relationship. Recently he asked to reconcile, but after finding out he wanted to stay "friends" with this person I backed out. I am having trouble forgiving. Specifically, the professional said that if the affair is still going on, I am like a merchant that gave somebody credit in their store and decided to write it off. But then the person comes back and keeps charging up more debt. It becomes impossible to know how much debt to write off.

What do you think of this? I have always wanted to get back together with my husband but due to may anger and fear have made him anxious and further withdrawn. I am wondering if I will ever get over his infidelity. I think I definitely could if he cleared a space for us to heal and did not have contact with her, but that is not what he wants.

I do hear what you say about forgiving for ones self. Is it possible to forgive when one wants to get back with the person but they are still ambivalent? I would love some advice.

I love your articles and thank you very much for writing them.

Cynthia

A bit of a different look on

A bit of a different look on forgiveness. Thank you very helpful.

forgiveness

It has been almost 6 years since I found out about a 5 year relationship my husband had. We have worked to move past that hurt. I am continue to work on forgive my self and Pat. Reconciliation and forgiveness is an ongoing process. I want to breathe deep and be able to relax one day. I want to get myself back.

YES!!

Thanks, I needed to read this. It is now 6+ months since Dday but I'm in a trickle-truth time. Each month or so a previously unknown detail comes to the fore. He and I have talked about forgiveness and he has asked me if I could ever forgive him. I have said, yes. He came back with but if you do not forget you can not forgive. Now that I have read this article I understand better. I've just started Boot Camp - alone. I did email him the article. I hope he will read it.

Thanks again!!

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