Forgiveness is an essential component to infidelity recovery.
Hi this is professional couple therapist Abe Kass, MA RSW RMFT CCHT.
I have worked with hundreds of individuals who have struggled because of having been betrayed by their partner.
My academic training, clinical experience, and positive feedback from my clients means you can trust the relationship advice I am giving you.
There is much confusion regarding forgiving a cheating partner.
Forgiveness needs to be earned
Some people are of the mind that forgiveness is a gift to oneself and to the offender.
Forgiveness requires that the perpetrator of the cheating take 100% responsibility for the affair, which is proven in 'word and deed'.
Only then can the cheater request forgiveness. And only then can the victim of infidelity consider if he or she wants to forgive.
Forgiveness for cheating needs to be earned — plain and simple!
To give a cheating partner a free pass by 'just forgiving' is harmful!
Forgiving someone when they don't take responsibility for the affair, they are not remorseful, or they have not requested forgiveness is not genuine 'forgiveness.'
True forgiveness is a deep dynamic that occurs between two people.
True forgiveness requires dealing with the reality of what happened.
The reality of cheating is that one partner betrayed the other partner and injured him or her in many ways.
Infidelity betrayals are many:
- Sharing private and personal information outside the legitimate relationship
- Lying and misleading one's legitimate partner
- Keeping secrets from one's legitimate partner
- Sharing emotional intimacy with an illicit person
- Sharing sexual intimacy with an illicit person
- Spending money secretly
- Being absent from the primary and legitimate relationship
All the above cheating behaviors deeply injures the victim of infidelity — the legitimate partner — the wife/girlfriend or husband/boyfriend.
When an injured person just 'forgives' someone who has not done what is necessary to earn forgiveness, this causes additional injury to the relationship.
When the cheater does not take seriously what they have done to their partner, and they are flippantly forgiven, the relationship is left vulnerable to the bad behavior being repeated in the future.
Without earned forgiveness, relationship recovery is impossible.
For example, without earned forgiveness the cheating partner can still not be trusted. After all, he or she has not proven he or she takes responsibility for cheating and regrets having hurt his or her partner as well as many other people.
Infidelity can strike a couple at any time.
Even after an individual who cheated does all the necessary recovery work, and forgiveness is granted, what the future holds is never certain or guaranteed.
Certainly, most individuals who cheated will never again engage in such bad behavior. However, this is only proven by the passage of time that spans many years.
At best, the victim of infidelity must struggle, unable to know with certainty what his or her "repentant" partner will do in the future. This uncertainty is one of the many injuries caused by a cheating partner.
Forgiveness can often predict the outcome of infidelity recovery
Those individuals who have an affair come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.
Some individuals are serial cheaters, whereas others only engage in a momentary error of judgment, leading to a single act of betrayal.
Regardless of what kind of cheater an individual may be, they can repent and thereby redeem themselves from their relationship betrayal.
When a cheater repents, he or she may or may not be forgiven.
Often "forgiveness" is the greatest predictor of whether his or her marriage or committed relationship survives.
Trust is needed to forgive
Trust is a necessary prerequisite to forgiveness.
Only when you love and are loved, do you know you can trust your partner.
Numerous types of love characterize a relationship. The highest form of love is 'Commitment–love.' It is this love that most influences infidelity recovery.
When a former cheater connects to his or her partner with Commitment–love, the marriage or committed relationship has the greatest possibility that it will survive and thrive.
Commitment–love is an understanding — an unwritten promise — that overrides and supersedes reason, logic, and convenience.
Commitment-love, when present is the strongest and most durable factor in your relationship.
Commitment–love in a relationship means that if a wife/girlfriend or husband/boyfriend has negative feelings about his or her partner, they will not be used as a reason to cheat.
Commitment–love is loving your partner with a similar commitment that a healthy parent has naturally for his or her child. This is the essence of a Commitment-love. As such, it is an ironclad bond that is never broken.
As a core relationship value, Commitment-love supersedes temporary feelings of dissatisfaction.
Some of the ways Commitment-love are expressed in a relationship:
- Your partner has a medical condition that interferes with your sex life or another significant part of your relationship, you find a creative way to carry on in spite of the problem.
- Your partner gets angry, and you don’t react in kind.
- Your partner makes a mistake and feels terrible. You say nothing to add to his or her pain even when the mistake impacts you.
- If something seems 'unfair,' you do it anyway.
- Helping your partner when he or she is incapacitated by illness.
- Participating in events organized by your partner’s family even when you don’t want to.
- Holding back from making a negative comment about something your partner has done so as not to upset him or her.
- Not objecting to decisions your partner has made even when you think they are 'wrong.'
- Forgiving your partner for a serious relationship error he or she has made when doing so is in his or her best interest.
- Your partner is hurt and threatens to terminate the relationship. Knowing it is not a good solution for your family (especially when you have children), you hang in there and do your best to fix the problems and reassure your partner that the relationship will get better.
- Your partner has cheated on you and has repented, you continue to work with him or her to heal and redeem yourselves and your relationship.
The above list is a sample of ways Commitment-love is expressed.
In the day-to-day reality of a marriage or committed relationship, the opportunities to demonstrate Commitment-love are endless.
The ultimate expression of Commitment–love is forgiveness. However, forgiveness must come from the heart and must reflect reality.
Commitment-love is a two-way street. If your partner cheated on you, he or she needs to demonstrate by working seriously on infidelity recovery and in doing so has achieved the highest level of love — Commitment-love.
If you are the victim of infidelity, Commitment-love does not mean being a pushover or a doormat. It means you are willing to work with your partner regardless of the darkness that he or she has brought into your home.
If your partner has cheated on you, and he or she has fully repented, I hope you find it in your heart to begin the relationship repair that’s needed to rebuild your marriage or committed relationship.
If you are the cheater, or you are the victim who has been cheated on, with the 'right effort' you can have a loving, respectful, and long-lasting relationship.
Confidential Forgiveness Quiz: Does your partner deserve to be forgiven?
Forgiveness is dynamic between two people. As such, not every person is entitled to be forgiven for their relationship sins.
Take this CONFIDENTIAL QUIZ (no email necessary) and get immediate results to see if your partner who cheated on you has earned the right to be forgiven.
About the author
Abe Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T., is a Registered Social Worker, Registered Couple and Family Therapist, Certified Hypnotherapist, and award-winning Educator. He has a busy clinical practice in Toronto, Canada.
After many years of clinical practice and research, Abe concluded that practical solutions requiring a focused effort of no more than a few minutes a day for very specific relationship problems were critically needed. GoSmartLife Publishing House has been created to fill this need.