Written by Kate Pauley
If you’ve ever been betrayed by your partner, you may wonder if you’ll ever be able to forgive and move on. But what really is forgiveness, and how does one do it? How do you know when it is time to forgive?
For many, the narrative around forgiveness has typically sounded like, “when someone says they’re sorry, you forgive them,” but we know that forgiveness isn’t that easy. Forgiveness is not granted in a single moment, but rather through a gradual process of building empathy and compassion while reducing resentment. While your partner rebuilds their trust with you, you can slowly release some of your anger. Simultaneously, as you get to know one another again, you rebuild empathy that may have momentarily disappeared. The pre-requisite to forgiveness is that an environment of safety exists in that the behavior that you are forgiving has stopped and the process of rebuilding has started.
But even then, why forgive? People often have fears about forgiving the betrayer of their trust because they feel that by forgiving, they are condoning the behavior. So let’s talk about what forgiveness is not before we discuss what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not forgetting the past: Just because you have decided to move forward with your life does not mean that you have forgotten the lessons, meaning, or suffering attached to the infidelity. Rather,
- Forgiveness is a choice to move forward. You are choosing to release the past from the present moment. You acknowledge the event, but consciously choose to leave it in the past so that you may live unburdened by the past in the present moment.
- Forgiveness is not condoning the behavior: Sometimes, people fear that if they forgive too easily, their partners will cheat again. But, choosing to forgive does not imply that the behavior was acceptable. Rather,
- Forgiveness is relinquishing yourself from obsessiveness and bitterness. It is common for the betrayed party to obsess over the affair, which makes it hard to focus on anything else; we keep ourselves locked in a bubble of anger. Forgiving helps us to release that anger and free ourselves from the control that the affair holds over us.
- Forgiveness is not resolution: Forgiving does not necessarily mean that the problem has been resolved. It does not signal and end to working through the problems that the affair may have surfaced. Rather,
- Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge. Problems can be worked through in a productive manner, through things like marriage counseling, honest conversation, and individual counseling, without harboring the need to “get back at” your partner or “make them hurt as much as they hurt you.”
- Forgiveness is not instantaneous: Forgiveness will not happen in an instant, and it will probably not happen as quickly as the betraying partner would like. Forgiveness takes time, so grant yourself the grace to do it on your own time in a way that works for you. Forgiveness is a process, and often happens as partners heal together.
- Forgiveness is important as it helps the betrayed partner to let go of the pain. Sometimes, we hold onto the pain because we believe that if our partner sees us suffering, they will know that what they did was wrong. But really, that leaves us in a constant state of pain. Additionally, if our partners believe that they are never going to be forgiven anyway, then what is the point. So, forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves. It releases us from pain and allows us to once again experience compassion and empathy for our partners which is key to rebuilding any relationship.
You may be reading this and thinking, I am not ready to forgive, and that is absolutely fine. Forgiveness must come from the heart, and an authentic forgiving is much more beneficial than something that is forced.
Things will most likely never be “the same” after infidelity/an affair, but there is hope that things could actually be better. Through couple’s counseling, and the process of recovery, many lessons will be learned, and much meaning will be gained; new compassion and understanding will be uncovered for your partner and from them for you.
So, when you are ready to forgive, free yourself and your partner from the pain, but remember the lessons and newfound meaning that you have gained in the process.