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

Practical Suggestions for Forgiveness

Sunday evening as Stephanie was perusing the Recovery Library, she said to me, "Betrayed spouses need some practical suggestions on forgiveness." My first thought was 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.

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. For those who are striving to still find the truth, I would encourage you to join the free First Steps Bootcamp. Once you have the whole story, you know what you’re choosing to forgive. Keep in mind, 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 offence; 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, which sets you free and allows you to live at peace with your memories. The internal aspect of forgiveness where infidelity is involved 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 and 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) 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 offence. 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 CS Lewis says, “All saints must keep one nostril keenly attuned to their own 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 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 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.

Enough with the suggestions. 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.

Sections: 

RL_Category: 

RL_Media Type: 

Add New Comment:

Comments

I've got it backwards

Years ago I chose to reconcile in order to hopefully find forgiveness. My wife is repentant, remorseful and as giving as ever...even more so. She has made more than enough recompense for her betrayal.
But I have not been able to find forgiveness. Despite reading everything I could find, crying, pleading and begging for that gift...I have not been able to find it. Not within and not for her. It saddens me every day and I wish I can find that blessing...for me, for her, for our family.

Cannot find forgiveness

As one who was betrayed, May I suggest that there may be emotions that are still obstacles to your forgiveness? There is much to grieve with betrayal: the marriage you thought you had, would, - the idealic marriage is no longer viable - that is a loss to grieve. I needed to let go of that tarnished image of my marriage, my husband AND the tarnished image I had of me (all the ugliness his affair brought out of me - I hated for the first time in my life. I hated him. I hated her. I hated myself for being the fool to believe him when there were all the signs of infidelity...in many ways I needed to forgive myself - more than him.

I also had a period of hating what I thought God was expecting of me... In actuality I hated what man/church and my churched upbringing were telling me to do - pretty much to get over it by forgiving and forgetting. In reality I will not forget. In reality I have to erase the debt - it takes the pain much longer to go away.

It is hard for forgiveness to be viable if you need more to happen to re-establish trust. But that has more to do with a reconciliation process.

After my H's first affair - it took me about 3 years to get beyond the pain even though I had chosen to forgive (it's easy to fall into temptation when one is young and immature). (I made the mistake of not addressing it in counseling - which led to another incident a decade later...but for the sake of our focus on forgiveness - it had taken my emotions and my thoughts to catch up with my decision to forgive. At the time there was no doubt in my mind that he was repentant).
The affair that came later was another issue/crisis in his life. And a completely different process.
In broken relationships, there is much to forgive - not just the affair, there is also, lying, pain, bruised ego, shame, resentment, the affair partner, the society we live in...the expectation that forgiveness is easy even when you want to ...

To move through reconciliation:
As painful as it is discovery needs to be complete - there must be a transparency in all emotions and empathy for them all...your own emotions.
It is good for you to admit the difficulty of forgiving...you are human. Forgiveness is difficult because it forces one to look at the truth and the pain and perhaps even the judgement in ourselves.
Praying for your healing...

thank you

If I could, I would curl up in your lap and just listen to your advice. Thank you for your viewpoint and advice. Your words gave me more cause to look within and see that the difficulties are mostly my own lack of ability to forgive.

forgiveness with out reconciliation

Thank you for your suggestions on forgiveness Rick. I have been doing most of what you advised & now, after reading about the safety issue, I realize I am still longing for my husband to be empathetic and see how much his behavior cost both of us. I understand why he is not safe, yet. Thank you, it relieves my feelings of intense confusion.

Thank you

Thank you for this article. As much as I enjoy all the other articles and their focus on the philosophy of recovery (leaving more practical aspects up to us to interpret and enact in our own lives), these types of tips are extremely helpful. I'm not an academic by nature, and it is good to see how these "real" suggestions could be used in my life. Please don't overlook the value of these types of articles.

Thank you for this article.

Thank you for this article. My husband and I are well into recovery, however I am still struggling with forgiving him. I want to, I need to, I am just not sure how to. This article contains very helpful information and gives me hope that I can soon take steps towards forgiving him.

Great article

I very much enjoyed this article I think your wife is spot on. She gave great advice for the betrayed spouse I think you should let her help with more articles she was great.

Forgiveness

Great article. Loved that it came from the wounded spouses perspective. I definitely have started seeing my spouse in a different way than ever before. Not at full forgiveness yet, but I am starting to feel a kind of sorrow for him and the decisions that he made. He has lost so much more than I have. Family, Integrity, Unconditional Love, Creditability, Trust, Friends, etc. Not forgiveness yet, but I do feel very sorry for him and his demonstrated shallowness of character. I see him differently......no longer a knight in shining armor or super hero.....just a very sad narcissistic little boy who had to push the limits to see what he could get away with . I also understand that I am not his "mother", but an equal partner. He is not from me, but partnered with me.......a mother is always a mother......but a wife doesn't always have to be a wife. I am forgiving but also recognizing that a choice to stay with him and his demented choices also speaks to my integrity and issues for allowing him to treat me that way. I will not loose myself in his twisted understanding of marriage and love if he decides to continue the unacceptable behavior. I just see him differently now and can find forgiveness in that he was not the person I thought I had married and after multiple abuses can now just let go. I know that letting go will not be possible without forgiveness. After 2 years I desperately just need to move on and let go.

How long

21 months in from DDAY numero dos and the wife still has a tremendous amount of difficulty with defensiveness. I am almost to the point of concluding that she is not capable of showing empathy. She has taken a few, minute baby steps in this area but you would think after 21 months since dday 2 and 4.5 years since dday 1 she would have made some pretty serious strides in this department. The only time she really shows any appreciation that I have chosen to give her what she needs the most when she deserves it the least at a great personal cost, is when I let her know that it may be a good idea to do so. It took me over a year to get to feeling good about the forgiveness element, but I fully believe that I am there now although I do believe that it is a continual journey just as one's spiritual life is. I mean, when does one decide to throw in the towel and move on?? I see the results on the study all the time of people he hang in there for five years typically weather the storm and things are better than they ever were. Just seems like an awfully long time with the way things have progressed so far. I am very thankful for the insight though, Rick and Stephanie.

How LONG?

I am at about 4 and a half years post discovery of my husbands affair(s) and your comments about your wife describe almost exactly my husband.
How long does one wait for their spouse to show or develop "empathy", 'remorse', or "humility" or somehow in SOMEWAY demonstrate that they "get it" -what I am going through when there are times that I simply have to stop and grieve something else that was lost. He treats my reality like 'the elephant in the room' that should be at all costs ignored, and insists that forgiveness be some type of magical automatic 'reset button'. I often feel like I am the only one working on the dysfunction that lead to HIS infidelity. I for one don't want to magically go back to what we had before. That scares that hell out of me and didn't end up very well for me the first time around! I found helpful Rick's comment that 'forgiveness was giving up the hope of ever having a better past". I have learned, on this long road, that forgiveness is freeing me from harboring much bitterness, unrealistic expectations; and I am doing my best to 'wait well' and 'let go and let God' and work on myself. And, although my life is BETTER than the angry place I was in for the first few years, my husband still prefers his denial and clueless world instead of mine, which leaves me regrettably still very lonely. I don't want to "throw in the towel and move on", but if it comes to something similar, I will be in much better shape to make better choices in my future. Good Luck - How long. Please post if you ever find a way to make your spouse 'wake up' and show you the caring that you need. Otherwise, good luck on making yourself into the best human being you can possibly be.

Forgiveness

This has to be one of the best articles you guys have ever done. Certainly the most helpful and concise for me. Your articles are great, Rick, but please may Stephanie do more too.

Much Study

My hobby is the study of all religions ....

ALL of them, everyone..say we All must for forgive,regardless of the offence...We must forgive,...

But no where can I find where I must reconcile or even try...

My WW cheated and I forgave her...but I will not reconcile..nor do I feel I must try..

I am not going to enter in to an agreement that I know beyond a shadow I will NEVER be able to live with..

As famous quote stated" One must never confuse Forgiveness with Reconciliation ,for they are Not the same."

Great Article...and a great topic

Forgiveness

Thank you for the article. I have been working hard on forgiveness. Its hard with more lies, more porn and more defensiveness. I have been googling forgiveness and there seems to be so many different approaches. Some not separating forgiveness from trust and reconciliation, some basing it on forgiveness means total restoration. Finally, some with the same approach as what you have written.

I believe forgiveness, trust and reconciliation are separate things. My husband, the one who has the addiction, believes forgiveness is all inclusive. He also believes that because God had forgiven him, that he is free of any earthly consequences because only God gives consequences. It is difficult to deal with forgiveness in this type of situation. It is a constant battle for me to keep forgiveness separate even though he does not believe this.

I would love to print this article and share it with him, however the multitude of printed pages he has already gotten has not changed things yet.

Thank you for the helpful suggestions Stephanie.

angry I have to forgive

It has been 4 1/2 months. March 7th was the day. 18 years of marriage. We were going after God, serving, leading, praying. Feels like our life was a lie. Tonight I just got out of bed so angry. I thought I was doing better, but the amount of anger tells me different. One thing that I feel anger about is so much hangs on me and rather I can achive forgiveness. I have to also forgive a woman I don't even know. And if I can't my life will be hell. O don't want to be a bitter old woman. I want to feel at peace. I hate this feeling, I hate the physical pain from it all. I feel like the burden is all on me.
I just wanted to be loved!
I will say this article does help calm me some. If only the world could stand still while I walk this out. But it doesn't. This world just keeps adding people I need to forgive.

What type of affair was it?

Our free Affair Analyzer provides you with insights about your unique situation and gives you a personalized plan of action.
Take the Affair Analyzer