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

The Fight to Forgive

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Whenever I write about forgiveness, I’m always amazed at the outpouring of heartfelt comments. I grieve over the pain expressed by those who’ve been injured, and I pray that their mates will come to understand and appreciate the price they’ve paid on their behalf.

After a betrayal, forgiveness is necessary for your own healing. It’s not an easy process, though, and it comes with its own set of challenges. The key challenge when forgiving infidelity is the ongoing consequences of the betrayal.

Accepting the Ongoing Consequences of Betrayal

When a rock is thrown into the still waters of a pond, shock waves travel outward from the point of impact in ever-expanding circles. Infidelity’s impact on a relationship is much the same. Unlike how forgiving hurtful words or inconsiderate actions are typically one-time, there-and-done events, forgiving infidelity isn’t as simple. It’s something that has to happen over time because of the ongoing consequences of the betrayal.

Like that rock thrown into still waters, the impact of betrayal expands in ever-widening circles. Even when you transform your marriage into what you’ve always wanted, it’s possible for the consequences of the betrayal to continue interrupting your life. That’s why a critical aspect of forgiving infidelity has to include an agreement to accept the ongoing consequences of the wayward mate's betrayal. Some of these include:

  • Intrusive thoughts.
  • Unexpected triggers.
  • Random painful reminders.
  • Lingering mental images.

Long after the infidelity, just the mention of the affair partner’s name might still be triggering for the betrayed mate. Anniversary dates might also serve as painful reminders of the betrayal, and the betrayed mate might even have trouble ridding themselves of vivid mental images. Calls or texts from the affair partner might also be triggering during the recovery journey.

Knowing the Cost of Forgiving Ongoing Consequences

It’s one thing to understand the ongoing consequences of betrayal, but it’s another thing to accept that they will likely happen and forgive them if they do. For many, this can be extremely challenging, but it’s crucial to surviving infidelity. Consider this story that a betrayed spouse shared with us, which has been edited for clarity:

“Not one single day has gone by where I don’t think about what he did. Making love is almost impossible without visions and horrible thoughts overwhelming (me). The marriage bed … has been defiled. When you choose to reconcile instead of leave, (there’s) pain. I have chosen to stay and forgive over and over each day, and power through for my children and family. But the isolation is so intense because you see they don’t know; I protected their dad and their hero. (There’s an) intense cost and pain to stay and choose reconciliation; it’s a gut-wrenching challenge.”

For her, each day presents reminders and, therefore, additional consequences of the betrayal to grieve and release. Each day, as these consequences invade her life, she has to keep choosing forgiveness. She could get angry, shake her fists and shout: “This is unfair. I did nothing to deserve this. I don’t accept this! This shouldn’t be happening to me.” But she doesn’t. She recognizes it for what it is, just another consequence, and chooses to grieve it in an attempt to move beyond it. While the pain can seem paralyzing, there is a way out of the agony. There is hope on the other side of this crisis, although it might be difficult to see right now.

Realizing Ongoing Consequences Eventually Subside

For her and many like her, forgiveness requires coming to a place of acceptance, where one can say, “It is what it is.” This is what we mean when we define forgiveness as “giving up all hope of a better past.” She learned that her own healing and recovery hinges on her ability to accept the ongoing consequences of betrayal as they come and, each time, choose to forgive them. The good news is that like the waves created by the rock cast into the pond, the consequences of betrayal eventually subside — but it takes time and intentionality.

Eventually, if we choose to forgive and work through the consequences of betrayal, we come out on the other side of our own trauma. I can honestly say, I don’t know anyone who has truly grieved the betrayal who hasn’t eventually come to a place of peace. I stress the “truly grieved” person. Additionally, having safe people to talk with is essential as you strive to move forward.

At the same time, a positive outcome for the relationship largely depends on the wayward mate taking responsibility for their actions. They must also display an understanding of the pain they’ve caused. This includes being remorseful for the harm done. Although it will be difficult when they’re first coming out of the fog, they’ll eventually need to take responsibility for their own healing and steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Taking Steps to Improve Your Situation After Betrayal

To move forward, couples have to make a commitment to make things better — not worse. There must be an agreement to work through the issues and to create a safe environment for healing to occur. Both parties need to create goodwill by being respectful and considerate, allowing for positive moments together.

It’s of the utmost importance that couples create a culture of teamwork, working together to face the trauma created by the betrayal. I can say, from my experience, that it’s incredibly challenging to create this type of culture on your own. That’s one of the reasons why we designed our free First Steps Bootcamp. This step-by-step process can help you go from, “What do I do now?” to, “What will the future look like?” On day one, you’ll learn the basics of infidelity recovery. As you continue, you’ll gain information on transforming your trauma and, ultimately, learning to accept and forgive the ongoing consequences of betrayal.

Forgiving infidelity takes time and perseverance, but it is possible to forgive and build a new life — either as a couple or as an individual — that you’ll cherish. And you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re the betrayed mate, I encourage you to enroll in our Harboring Hope course. It’s a safe place where you and other betrayed mates of the same sex will work a curriculum specifically designed for your shared situation. Harboring Hope has helped thousands of participants rebuild their confidence, find their way through the darkness and embark on a new, brighter life. If you’re the wayward mate, I encourage you to enroll in our Hope for Healing course. It’s a safe place where you and other wayward mates can escape the isolation, shame and even apathy you might be trapped under. Hope for Healing has helped thousands of participants find freedom and understanding alongside others who've been in their shoes. What are you waiting for? Become a part of our healing community today.

Registration for Harboring Hope Opens Soon! Space is limited.

You don't have to do this alone! Join other betrayed mates on the path to healing with our life-changing Harboring Hope online course. Designed exclusively for betrayed spouses, Harboring Hope will guide you through the pitfalls and hardships following infidelity. But don’t just take our word for it. Read what others have to say about this healing course in these Harboring Hope testimonials.

“My first call with Harboring Hope was incredibly emotional and hard to get through, but I was desperate and the women on the call were just like me: broken and looking for hope. I took comfort in this. I felt safe. The workbook and videos each week were full of wisdom, understanding and gentle guidance through the emotional roller coaster that is recovery. I am forever grateful for this organization, and for the men and women who have been through this before me, who shared their own stories to help others heal.” — A., New Jersey. Harboring Hope participant, January 2021.

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Mastering Ongoing Forgiveness

How does one master forgiveness when betrayer is choosing to live with affair partner? Can the steps be done when they are not remorseful or not trying to work on our marriage?

Forgiveness

The betrayed can choose forgiveness regardless of whether the unfaithful spouse is remorseful or whether you stay married. Forgiveness is choosing to give up your right to hurt the person who hurt you, and choosing lay down the anger, resentment, and other pain you carry so that you can live in peace. It can be done, and it's an ongoing process - some days I feel like I've forgiven and other days I know I haven't yet. I have learned forgiveness doesn't mean extending trust that he hasn't earned. Forgiveness doesn't mean I have to stay in a relationship that is not safe. I'm working toward forgiveness as a gift I'm giving myself, not him necessarily.

For me, I think we could work

For me, I think we could work on this together and come out positively on the other side but the ripples, or rather waves, are still forceful and high because he works with the affair partner and spends every working day with her. How can I feel safe when they are still close and maintain a relationship? Has he really chosen me over her? We both know they work together but he won't discuss anything about it, anything about how this 'professional life' works, how it's different from before (except the sex that is). I just need to believe him that it's over he says. How do you heal from this?

Consequences

No job in the world is worth what he is putting you through now. It doesn’t matter if your fears are valid, they should be respected and he should take steps to change jobs. It is his responsibility to make you feel safe, if he won’t then you will have to set consequences and enforce them.

The affects of betrayal last a life time, not a season

I get the ripples in a pond analogy but a better example is a scar on your body. If you have surgery or a wound, you will always and forever have a visible scar from it. It could be 6" long or only a few centimeters. It doesn't matter. It's still a visible scar. At first the wound hurts alot and takes alot of effort to care for and help it heal. Over time and with a lot of care the wound heals and turns into a scar. At first the scar is angry and red but over time it hurts less and less but it still hurts. Eventually the scar may not hurt to touch but you can still see it. It has left a mark and your body is forever changed. Every time you look at the scar you remember why it's there. The memory may no longer be super painful to think about but it is there and will always be there. The pain and sting of the wound will lessen over time and turn in to a scar that you can touch but it may always be sensitive to the touch and that's ok. The scar can also be a memory of the healing process and what it took to overcome the pain it caused. It can remind you of how much stronger you are from what you went through to gain healing. But the scar is there forever. Not a season.

Forgiving the Affair Partner is Different

I am embracing forgiveness of my spouse. I'm 99% there. I've come a long way because he has apologized (a lot!), continues to reassure me about our future together, has ended the affair, understands the impact his actions had on me, is empathetic, understanding, patient, loving and spends the amount of time I need to keep going over the same questions and my need for reassurance that this will never happen again. What I'm struggling with is in forgiving his affair partner. I don't know her and hopefully never will. She is human with emotional and physical needs and I understand that. But I can't wrap my brain around what type of person would make the choices she did, knowing he was married, in order to meet her own needs and without any thought or consideration of the pain it would cause others. Since I will never get an apology from her like I got from my spouse, and indeed don't even know if she is indeed sorry or has any remorse whatsoever, it's difficult for me to give her the grace and gift of forgiveness. I know I would ultimately be giving myself a gift with forgiveness and also know it takes strength of character to forgive someone but I can't, for the life of me, figure out how to actually DO it in a meaningful way.

Forgiving the affair partner is different

It is totally different, you understand your partner and hopefully the two of you understand why this happened. I don't think it's necessary to forgive her, she doesn't deserve your forgiveness. You don't understand her motives. She put her needs first, ultimately whether she is sorry or not has no bearing over your relationship. Your husbands shown remorse and owned his actions. As difficult as it may be to not know her motives or who it is would it really benefit you to know? Would it help your relationship move forwards? Forgiving someone you don't know is hard. But accepting that this is part of your story and choosing to focus on the two of you moving forwards is a courageous act and in my opinion a better use of your energy and time. I'm in your position and I'm choosing to forgive him and deal with the daily consequences of his actions, it really helps that I see his remorse. I think it's impossible to contemplate forgiving her, I don't want to, I know who she is. I don't know her personally, I don't know her motives, but I don't want to talk to her or understand her because to be truthful nothing she says would make a difference to me. I choose him and us, I'm not bothered by her I'm not even angry towards her anymore she means nothing to me. I'm not sure whether my outlook is healthy but I guess we get through this journey however we can, I just know that I don't want to be consumed by bitterness, anger or hate and I'm so sick of being sad, something positive has to come out of so much heart ache and pain and I deserve to be happy. Good luck on your journey, sending you love xxx

Obsidian,

Obsidian,
I hope I can help a little. My husband cheated two years ago. He had also been as you husband has. It was not with someone I knew but I did have her phone number. I wanted to hear her side of the story or just talk to her and ask her how she could do that. But she never answered, and I’m glad she didn’t. In hind sight, I’m glad we didn’t talk. But I will tell you what I did do...I sent her a text. Told her about our son and what this does to a family. Told her that I hope she can make better choices in the future and think of the families that get torn apart. I thanked her actually for making our marriage stronger. Although, you and I both know, it is a long road. But I do believe our marriage is stronger. I just let her know how I felt and my side of the situation. She never did respond. But it gave me closure a bit. I was able to let go of her. I understand you may not have the affair partner’s contact information, but maybe you can write a letter to her, that you won’t send, just to give yourself some closure. I’m not sure if that will help you to forgive her but it may help a little. Best of luck

Forgiving the affair partner

I read your story, I know your pain and can empathize whole heartedly with you. First, congratulations on being able to forgive your spouse, that is an essential first step to reconciliation and takes an incredible amount of intestinal fortitude “strength!”
And yes forgiveness of the affair partner is something we all struggle with, but if you are ever going to be able to completely move on, making her a non-issue you will have to find the strength to forgive her, and then forget her.
If your relationship is where you’ve always wanted it to be, then forgive her, forget that part of your past and focus on what God has provided you with in the here and now, “keep your thoughts and efforts in the present.”
Good luck and God bless

Forgiving the Affair Partner

Oh girl do I feel you on this one!!! I am in the same boat! Although my husband and I are in a pretty good place now after so much hurt, I still can't for the life of me figure out how to forgive the partner! I never wanted to know who she was or what she looked like or any of her Facebook info or anything because I wanted to just pretend like she wasn't really there. However, a few months after he came clean, I found out that she is actually my husband's sister's husband's relative and that's how they met was at a family party that we all were at! UGH! Now family get togethers trigger me to the core even though his family knows that they can't invite both of our families to the same events, there's always that chance that scares me! I'm trying because, like you, I feel like it's important for my own sanity to work towards forgiveness, but it is so hard and I wish I had a great answer for you. I pray for help every day and will pray for you too cause right now, that's all I got! I guess I just have faith that one day it'll happen if I keep trying and that the peace I seek will come. It's just one of those time things that sucks! :P I HATE hearing that as an answer but the more time that passes and the more I put my faith in God, the more I see that that's the truth and that we just gotta stay strong! Much love and prayers to you! We got this!!!

It is Different

The posts and information on this site about forgiveness are so helpful. Forgiving the ap is beyond difficult, however. I often wonder if it is even possible. I think it depends on the situation and maybe just takes time.

My spouse did not choose me out of an obligation, to continue in their security, or to maintain normalcy. They chose me, and did not choose the ap, because of true love.

I won't lie and say that the complete loss of trust with my spouse was not heart-, soul-, and mind-shattering. It was beyond comprehension. It seems trite to say anything here about it, because I cannot express the soul tearing that I felt in any words.

I am close now, though, to a place where I trust my spouse again. To be honest - it is an absolute relief. The constant hypervigilance, sleeplessness, pains, wondering if they are lying, not trusting myself or my own instincts, and my mis-trust of other people who are inherently good, was exhausting.

We say we never imagine anything like this can happen to us. When it does happen, it is terrifying and makes us question absolutely everything.

I came to realize (after a trickling discovery of cards, drawings, notes, posters, and more that the ap made for and gave to my spouse) that the ap was trying to get my spouse to leave me for a long time, after their initial pursuit. This includes the time after discovery of the affair, and into our recovery. I am and I have been struggling with not being able to free myself from the grip of not comprehending how another person does this to two other human beings when they know they are married.

Believe me I know it takes two, and by no means do I absolve my spouse of any of their actions. What hurts in addition is that I did know the ap personally. I had welcomed them with an open heart to our community. We thought they were our friend.

After the ap learned I had discovered the affair, they CONTINUED their intentional pursuit of my spouse. I have never said anything bad about the ap to anyone, and few people actually know about the affair. The ap did say negative things about me to my spouse. They would try to twist things to their advantage. They tried to make my spouse think I did not believe in them, when nothing could be further from the truth. The ap seemed to take advantage of my spouse when they were most vulnerable from work stress.

Again, I do know and understand that it took two. My spouse accepts responsibility for their part, and freely acknowledges the poor choices that they made regarding the ap. My spouse is, and has been, in a shocked state of heart and mind. They cannot believe how they could ever do such a thing in their life. I do trust my spouse's remorse and believe in my heart that they are genuine. They are having an extremely difficult time forgiving themself for what they did, and what it did to us.

We fully admit and understand that we were in a vulnerable state at the time the affair started, but we have always had a strong connection, friendship, and marriage. We have come to understand, through our healing, the various risks that stress, or a major turning point in your life or your work, can exert on a relationship. We used to understand how important communication is, but now we have a whole new appreciation and respect for it. Not ever having been through an affair or its aftermath or recovery, we did not know what to do. We have talked so much and we have gone through many stages of healing on our own and together. We are continuing our life together, and making our dreams a reality, as we always had before.

Know that we will never be happy that this happened to us, but it did. That seems to be part of accepting the "it for what it is" and giving up hope of having any kind of a different past.

Please try to understand that some of this is still very difficult to release. I cared deeply for the ap as a friend, prior to and even for some time after finding out about the affair. I know I am the number one obstacle here in not being able to just let it all go. I know I need to set free the full realization that this other person did not care to know who I really am. They were not my friend - they were not a friend to my spouse. The ap would frequently tell my spouse that they'd give them the world, if only things were different. But the not-so-funny thing is that the ap did have "the world" with us as friends and in their corner before the affair.

So how do I let the memories of a friendship that I honestly thought was real at the time, along with the painful memories and images after discovery, go? Like you Obsidian, I don't understand how I can forgive in any meaningful way.

When it was made clear that there was no future between the ap and my spouse, the ap said that my spouse and I had "won". What does that even mean? There are no winners when this happens. It is not a game.

All I can fathom is that the ap wanted my spouse to choose them. I know forgiveness is the gift we ultimately give ourselves, I just don't know how to do it in a meaningful way here. I will not contact the ap. Most days I honestly wish them well. Then there have been days when I just wanted to scream at the ap to leave my family alone.

I did extend care and empathy to the ap after initial discovery. This is when the ap told me they were sorry, and that they had never intended anything to happen. But over the following year+, the ap WAS intentional in their actions of still trying to get my spouse. They accused me of not supporting my spouse, said I was gloating (?!), and more, when again nothing could be further from the truth.

Many things became clearer to me about the kind of person the ap is/was during, and at the end of, the year+ after discovery. I didn't know of or see the evidence of the ap's continuous intentions until toward the end of that year - so I am still stuck. I wish all of you here love and patience as you work to try and forgive.

D-Day?

It's coming on 4 years and the betrayed spouse has not yet figured out the "why" behind his actions. I'm having a hard time moving past this 100% due to this factor. How can I move on not knowing what his trigger was? There were no red flags, he treated me great. So now when he's loving and caring i tend to have reservations. Stuck in a twilight zone. I have done several self help course's. But this is the one thing I can't control nor be ok with. HELP

What type of affair was it?

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