The Essential Guide To Forgiving A Cheating Spouse
People and relationships can and do heal from affairs. Betrayed partners can be forgiving of a cheating spouse.
While each infidelity situation is unique, there are some general principles you will find helpful in healing and moving on from such a painful and difficult crisis.
The following guidelines only make sense when ALL contact between the cheating spouse and his or her ‘illicit friend’ has completely ended. If the affair occurred at work, it would not be simple to solve. It is probably best for the cheating spouse to change jobs or find some other creative solution so that going forward, the betrayer and the illicit friend have nothing to do with each other.
For the person who has had the affair:
Being caught as a cheating spouse does not have to mean an end to your marriage and family if you handle all the damage you caused properly, as outlined below.
Be accountable. When talking about what happened, don’t give excuses claiming that you had no choice in the matter, saying things like, “She came on to me,” “You were unfaithful years ago, so I was justified,” or “We had a sexless marriage.” There are ways to fix these marriage problems – being a cheating spouse is not one of them!
Acknowledge what you did. You lied, and your credibility is in doubt with your partner. Now is the time to step up and tell the truth. If, for whatever reason, you can’t tell the truth, at least say, “I don’t want to talk about this detail.” This may upset your partner, but at least you are not lying. It is best to answer all questions as completely as possible.
Take all reasonable measures to rebuild trust (e.g., be where you say you will be and be there when you say you will). Be extra careful not to hide anything about what you are doing, however trivial it may seem to you or however much you are afraid it might hurt your partner. You don’t have to share every passing feeling but don’t lie about your activities.
Apologize and offer to make amends. This is the starting point if you want to eventually be forgiven.
You need to engage with your betrayed partner and not gaslight, deflect, or run away.
Cooperate with your partner checking up on you. Your partner needs to know that you have ended the affair. They seek proof, and they have a right to check on you to make sure they are not being lied to again. Since you lied to hide the affair, your partner now needs to ‘discover’ that you are now telling the truth. This is an essential part of rebuilding trust.
If requested by your partner, let him or her have the passwords to your email, phone, Facebook, and other accounts, and don’t resist or be resentful – you created this situation, and you need to do your utmost to ‘fix’ it. Your partner has a right to know what is happening to themselves and the rest of the family. Accessing your devices and knowing at all times where you are is perhaps the only proof they can get aside from your assurances. Unfortunately, because of past lying and deception, your assurances are not credible.
Forgiving a cheating spouse is earned. Trust is rebuilt with effort. And all this takes time.
Offer to let your partner discuss with you how he or she feels and the details about what happened. As long as the conversation stays ‘respectful,’ be truthful and hang in there.
You may hate this process, but you messed up by being a cheating spouse, and now you need to be humble, not angry, and help fix what you broke. Be patient, kind, and flexible, and give your partner as much time as he or she needs to work on this with you.
You will likely need professional help from a caring relationship specialist to fix what you broke. Don’t resist this necessity – especially if your partner requests to “go for marriage counseling.”
Make sure you eat and sleep. You will need all the energy you have to deal with the situation.
For the person who has been betrayed:
Start by making it clear to your cheating partner that you can only work on rebuilding your marriage and trust if the infidelity (any contact with the illicit ‘friend’) has completely ended and will not resume in any form in the future.
When discussing what happened, know the difference between expressing your pain, hurt, and anger from trying to get information about what happened. If you mix the two, all will become muddled, and likely you won’t be able to get through the conversation.
Don’t badmouth your partner to your family or friends. They will, of course, side with you. It will then come back to haunt you if you remain together because your friends and family will be angry with your partner or critical of you for staying together with him or her. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek support from your friends or family; just be careful about how you talk about the situation.
Checking up on your partner is okay. Since you have been lied to, you need to ‘discover’ that he or she is now telling the truth.
Ask questions. It is important that you know what happened so that if you decide to ‘forgive,’ you know what it is that you are forgiving. Also, you don’t want any new information surfacing years later… get it all out now!
Set specific times to talk about the affair. You should not expect your partner to deal with this, even though they caused this crisis, non-stop (they may feel overwhelmed and become angry, ruining any progress you have made). Keep to the times you have set aside to work on the ‘infidelity’, unless it is extremely urgent. When things come up, wait until the next scheduled time to work on new or additional issues.
It is okay to repeat yourself and ask the same question several times or in different ways. This is part of your processing what happened and checking up on the truthfulness of what your partner is saying.
It is probably best to get help from a caring relationship specialist. Just as you would get proper medical attention if you broke a bone, so too when seeking to be forgiving of a cheating spouse, you need to get skilled professional help.
Make sure you eat and sleep. You will need all the energy you have to deal with the chaos in your life.
Forgiving cheating is possible after the affair is over
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Are you willing to give your partner a second chance? If you are not, your relationship with your partner will be forever bitter and prone to resentment and conflict.
2. Will you find a way at some point, and for some reason, to forgive? If not, recovering from infidelity will be impossible. If you don’t forgive, there will be no life in your marriage or committed relationship.
3. Since “lying” is a cheater’s tool and without it, infidelity would be impossible, can you learn to trust your partner’s assertions that he or she will never cheat again? Can you believe your partner? If not, you will live with never-ending anxiety and fear.
4. If you reconcile, can you feel close to your partner as you once did or learn to be close if you have not been in the past? If not, you will forever have a crippled marriage.
5. Recovering from infidelity does not come with a warranty, and you must learn to live with some measured uncertainty. Can you do this? If not, you will never experience complete safety, happiness, and security.
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, head for a separation and divorce or get individual therapy to help clarify your feelings.
Points to consider as you are trying to decide whether you should seek reconciliation and forgive or separate and divorce:
1. Second marriages are less likely to work out than first ones. These are the hard facts.
2. Sometimes, people leave a cheating spouse, remarry, and then their second partner also cheats. For some betrayed individuals, successful reconciliation is a safer way than remarrying and starting a new family.
3. Separation and divorce are a nightmare. Regardless of the reasons for the separation, the process tears everybody apart and certainly does not spare the innocent, “you, the victim.” And if you have children, their well-being will be challenged as your family breaks apart and tries to find its footing.
After the affair is over, and your partner says he or she wants to reconcile and rebuild the relationship, there is a lot for you to think about and decide. Likely, this will be the most significant decision of your life.
Know if you choose to reconcile, it will take lots of work to survive infidelity — and you should not fool yourself regarding this. However, with effort and determination, you can succeed.
VIDEO: Recovering From Infidelity: What Do You Want Your Future To Be?
VIDEO: “How Do I Forgive A Cheating Husband Or A Cheating Wife?”
Forgiving a cheating husband/boyfriend or wife/girlfriend is no easy task, but is necessary if you are to recover fully from infidelity.
To be forgiving of a cheating spouse requires effort, determination, and often the help of a qualified relationship specialist. The trauma of cheating doesn’t “just go away” on its own.
There are many complexities and circumstances surrounding each couple’s struggle to recover from infidelity. Therefore, it is very difficult to have a generic solution for everyone. Nonetheless, there are guidelines that can form goalposts to work towards as part of your recovery process.
VIDEO: Who Will Tell The Truth About What Lying Does To Your Valued Relationships?
Many people think that lying is a reasonable part of communicating. Lying may be common, but it is not ‘reasonable’ since it leads to relationship breakdown and other tragedies.
Many families have been ripped apart because of lies. Don’t let this happen to you and your family!
Despite what I have just said, there are two exceptions when a person should lie.
Forgiving a cheating spouse doesn’t make the past affair go away!
Deciding to be forgiving of the cheating does not mean it is forgotten or that you will put up with this happening again. Forgiving a cheating spouse means you give him or her a second chance.
Surviving infidelity is complex; each step of the way will be a battle. Forgiving a cheating spouse means you find the courage to move forward despite the difficulties caused by the cheating.
If you are the betrayed partner, I know that you have been terribly hurt. You trusted your partner with all that you have, and he or she has done more than just ‘drop the ball’; he or she has dropped you, and you are shattered.
You can put in checks and safeguards to reduce the likelihood that infidelity will never happen again. However, no strategies are foolproof, and there is no guarantee. Sad, but this is the truth!
You don’t have to be defeated by relationship infidelity. With your partner’s cooperation, remorse, and amends, you can recover. However, the real question is, do you want to recover and give your marriage or committed relationship a second chance? I hope your answer is YES, especially if you have children. A YES answer to forgiving cheating is dependent on your partner not reoffending. If your partner is a serial cheater, as hard as it might be, you should leave him or her. You need to protect your dignity and sanity!
Fortunately, most individuals who cheat and are caught do not do it again after seeing how much devastation and hurt their philandering caused. Most cheaters want to make amends and reconcile — to be forgiven and start over. Hopefully, you and your partner will give reconciliation and forgiveness a chance.
Wishing you and your family the very best,
Abe Kass, MA RSW RMFT