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

Practical Suggestions for Forgiveness

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Practical suggestions for forgiveness

Recently, Stephanie was perusing the Recovery Library and said to me, "Betrayed spouses need some practical suggestions on forgiveness." My first thought was that forgiveness isn't practical, it's rather extravagant, but she was willing to offer some do's and don'ts for those who have been betrayed. I've rounded out the discussion by offering suggestions for those who were unfaithful.

For the sake of our discussion, allow me to clarify who this is intended for and to define the terms.

Beyond Discovery

To begin, let me stress that these suggestions are for couples who have moved beyond discovery and are trying to determine how to live with what has happened. It is not for those still trying to find the truth. Once you have the whole story, you know what you're choosing to forgive.

Keep in mind this pinnacle truth:
forgiveness does not mandate reconciliation.

At Affair Recovery we believe there are two components to forgiving infidelity.


First is the internal aspect of forgiveness, which has little or nothing to do with the other person. It is a personal choice to release the other person from retribution or harm as a result of their offense; it's coming to the point where you can wish them well. It's not based on their apologies, repentance or merit, since it's an internal matter. It is a gift you give yourself that sets you free and allows you to live at peace with your memories. The internal aspect of forgiveness where infidelity is concerned is important; failing to achieve this type of forgiveness leaves you forever the victim.


The second aspect of forgiving infidelity is about reconciliation. This component of forgiveness is primarily based on safety and will not be possible in every scenario. Does the unfaithful spouse see what they've done? Do they take responsibility for their actions? Are they grieved over what their actions have cost others? Anything short of that response potentially makes them unsafe for reconciliation. This aspect of forgiveness determines whether the relationship will continue. If they are willing to make amends for their failure, then reconciliation might be a good choice.

Practical Suggestions from Stephanie for Forgiving Infidelity
(for the Betrayed Spouse):

  1. Separate forgiveness from the process of reconciliation. Make reconciliation optional and forgiveness not optional. People often do this backwards, choosing to reconcile rather than forgive. This leaves them trapped in the pain of the betrayal, never able to move forward to a new life. If your mate isn't safe, don't reconcile. In the first year of recovery don't pressure yourself to decide about reconciliation. It may take over a year before you know whether it's safe to reconcile. Reconciliation depends on your mate's ongoing recovery and your ability to heal from the trauma of the betrayal.
  2. Make a conscious choice to forgive. For freedom's sake, don't hang on to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is always in your best interest and in the interest of those you love. Only time will tell whether reconciliation has a place in your relationship. Forgiveness is never based upon feeling, rather it is based upon truth and the necessity of being freed from the pain of another's choices.
  3. Choose to focus on what's helpful. Once you know what's happened, there may be diminishing benefit in continuing to focus on the past. Have the sense to ask yourself if how you're spending your time (conversation, thought life, etc.) is helping to move you forward in your recovery. If it's something that's keeping you stuck, let it go. You want to choose life, not death.
  4. Maintain an attitude of compassion. If you can look at your mate through a lens of compassion and concern you may find it easier to let go of the offense. Forgiving infidelity is not a sign of weakness and it doesn't minimize the magnitude of the betrayal, rather it allows you to move forward, free from the hurtful actions of another. Forgiveness in marriage, even without infidelity, requires compassion.
  5. Don't hang on to entitlements. As Charles Dickens says, "In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfils. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people's store of it." Your mate may have destroyed your happiness, but life is hard and often unjust. Try to keep realistic expectations.
  6. Take care of yourself. A lack of sleep, isolation, or severe depression only makes forgiving infidelity more difficult. It's not fair since you aren't the one who cheated, but you're the only one who can take the necessary steps to heal from the wounds created by others. Be willing to get help.
  7. Be aware of your own humanity. As C.S. Lewis says, "The true Christian's nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool." Be willing to consider what you've been forgiven. Maintaining an awareness of what others have had to forgo for your sake will help you find patience for others. A self-righteous attitude will cut you off from the very thing you seek.

Practical Suggestions from Rick for Forgiving Infidelity
(for the Unfaithful Spouse):

  1. Don't be defensive. Defensiveness makes it about you. Take responsibility for what you've done and listen to how your spouse feels.
  2. Develop empathy. Seek to understand how your actions impacted your mate and clearly communicate your understanding of their reality. Let them know that you are attempting to move beyond yourself and see things from their perspective.
  3. Let your mate know you appreciate the fact that they've chosen to stay with you and explore the possibility of reconciliation. It's not what you deserve. Looking back at my betrayal I can clearly see I deserved for Stephanie to leave me. I certainly left her during my addiction and my affair. I genuinely appreciate that she chose each day to try to work through my hurtful actions. It was far more than I deserved.
  4. Stop hurtful behaviors. Forgoing activities which cause your mate anxiety communicates your willingness to partner with them in recovery. Stressing your rights regardless of their pain reveals your self-centeredness and callousness to their pain.
  5. Take responsibility for your recovery. If your mate feels they are your motivation for recovery it will be difficult for them to believe that you're committed to making sure this never happens again. Your mate was not enough to prevent the behavior the first time, so they have no reason to believe they will be motivation enough for you to maintain recovery in the future. You must take responsibility for yourself.
  6. Allow your mate the opportunity to forgive by letting them know what you've done. Most likely your mate will find it easier to forgive your actions than they will your deceit. It is the deceit that makes reconciliation difficult.
  7. Don't minimize your behavior. To do so will make a mockery of your mate's efforts to forgive.
  8. Forgive your mate for their failures. As Jesus says, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone". Forgiveness in marriage is something you can do too.
  9. Be patient. It will take 18 to 24 months for the two of you to move beyond the crisis created by your choices. The least you can do is be patient as they try to work through what you've done.

Practical Suggestions for Forgiving Infidelity as a Couple:

  1. Once you are able to move past the initial shock and are past the discovery phase, begin to build positive experiences for the marriage. Learn how to enjoy your time together.
  2. Take breaks from recovery. I love the approach taken by one of our mentor couples. She told her husband that she needed him to take her out for a good time. She was sick and tired of always working on their recovery. "Don't make the mistake of thinking everything is okay in the morning," she told him. But at least they were able to take a vacation from recovery and find a good time together.
  3. Spend time remembering what was good about your relationship. Both parties need to be reminded of what was good about the two of them. Pain has a strange way of burying the good. It's hard to make a wise decision about the future if you only consider the negative and never look at the good.

I hope these suggestions equip you both for what you're facing right now. I told Stephanie I was worried about trying to write a newsletter of this sort. I realize that everyone's situation is different and what works for one may be an abomination for another. Making suggestions is far too simplistic, but she insisted they are sometimes helpful. Please take the best and leave the rest.

If you're the unfaithful spouse and you'd like to discover how your actions have impacted your mate then please consider taking Hope for Healing or, if your mate is willing, take EMS Online. Both courses will provide insight into how your choices have affected them. If you've been betrayed I hope you'll consider taking Harboring Hope. There is no better resource for helping you wrap your mind around what has happened and move forward.

Harboring Hope registration opens monthly. Subscribe to be notified.
Harboring Hope is our online course for betrayed spouses to heal after infidelity. It often sells out within a few short hours. Don't miss it!

Subscribe Now!

Hope for Healing registration opens monthly.Subscribe to be notified.
This online course for unfaithful spouses fills up quickly, so don't wait! Discover how a supportive non-judgmental environment paired with expert content can provide life-changing hope, clarity, and healing.

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49 years

I have found that developing a schedule for 15 minute talks every day or every other day works well. The second thing I recommend is picking two AR videos to watch together early in the evening. Again, we started watching these videos every day and then 3 or 4 a week. Following viewing the video, we would discuss the instruction for a few minutes.
Bring the betrayed spouse, I would pick out the videos to watch. Sometimes during watching the video, my wife would stop when a point was made to discuss.
Just some things that have helped us. 15 months since d-day!

Realistic expectations

My expectations were fit my husband to be faithful as he vowed to at our wedding. I hate that now I have to be realistic in that he’s a cheater. That’s realistic.

What type of affair was it?

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