Just hearing the word forgiveness triggers all sorts of emotions in us after infidelity. Maybe it's guilt because you have been told that you should forgive or think you have to forgive, and you know that you haven't or feel you never will. Or maybe it's anger because what your partner did to you was so unforgivable that forgiveness is impossible!
Is Forgiveness After infidelity the F* Word?
Perhaps you want to forgive and move on, but the pain and the anger keep you chained to the fact that your partner cheated on you. How do we forgive infidelity, one of the worst things our husband could do to us? In this post I want to share how I forgave my husband's infidelity.
There is no easy answer to forgiveness after infidelity. It takes time to understand the process of forgiveness and healing to let go of the anger and the pain of betrayal. Initially, it starts with an intention and grows from there. But why would we forgive someone who has hurt us so badly? I wonder your reasons for reading this post, or if you even want to forgive?
Here are some of the biggest reasons that motivated me to want to forgive my partner.
To never forgive my husband :-
- would forever tie me to a time in their life when they were not the type of person they wanted to be or ever intended to be.
- would give my future away to someone else's past actions by keeping those actions alive in me and reliving those actions ongoingly.
- would keep me in a state of suffering.
My husband's infidelity deeply hurt me and felt very personal at the time. Initially, I didn't believe I was capable of surviving it. Yet I did survive despite it being one of the most painful things I have ever had to endure. And over time, I learned to accept that it was never about me. Their infidelity was all about them and their brokenness. While it felt personal, it never was about me.
Unforgiveness tied me to one of the most painful times in my life.
Becoming an adulterer revealed the depth of my husband's dysfunction and brought to light everything they were hiding about themselves. Unknown to me, they had spent our life together hiding parts of themself, parts they were ashamed of. Unveiling those shameful parts was a long, painful process for us both.
But the person I live with now is very different from the person they were before. They are still growing and changing, only now, they are freer. It took a lot of time and effort for them to clean out their dirty laundry...
When the infidelity got discovered, though, I felt like I had had the best years of my life taken from me. It was done without my knowledge or permission, which felt unforgivable. However, to not forgive that debt, which they can never repay, would have meant I spend the remaining years of my life suffering over it on some level.
To end the suffering was a significant motivation to forgive them. It was for my own purely selfish reasons. Not that ending pain is selfish; I just wanted to stop hurting and believed forgiveness would stop the pain.
Forgiveness is a process.
But I soon discovered that forgiveness is a process, not a quick fix or just a single event. It was an unfolding of my core values and a journey up a very steep learning curb.
While I feel that I have forgiven my husband for his infidelity, to the best of my ability, I do have a somewhat fully functioning brain that never forgets what they did. When I find myself ruminating, as we betrayed wives do, I have to remind myself that perhaps today I feel like they are about 85% forgiven, and another day I might feel differently, like maybe 90%. If I were God, perhaps then I could be perfect and say 100% forgiven, but I am human!
So I am kind to myself and let go of the burden of trying to forgive completely, and I embrace self-compassion and healing instead. I let go of trying to be God, and embraced being my perfectly, imperfect self.
Forgiveness freed me to heal.
At the end of the day, viewing forgiveness in percentages freed me to heal. It is sort of like seeing the glass half full or empty, however you look at it. Only it kept the focus on me and my healing instead of trying to be something or someone I wasn't.
Conversely, being angry and keeping hurtful and unforgiving dialogues going in my head was me being avoidant. It was a way of not facing my pain or grieving my losses. Blaming my partner constantly for my pain kept me locked in my prison of agony, even though I held the key to leaving that prison. It was my choice to walk out of that prison and to start healing from the pain of being cheated on.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis Smedes
Helpful discussions with my husband about their motivation for me forgiving them, rather than second-guessing their intentions, revealed a progression of their changed thinking. At first, his motivation for me forgiving him was so that we could bury the infidelity and move on. That way, he never had to think about it. But as time passed, he discovered that I would never forget his lies, deception, and awful behavior. These were all things that needed to get talked about.
I am glad I learned to talk about my pain and difficulties with my husband; it helped me heal. Speaking revealed how many stories I created inside my mind which weren't authentic about my husband's infidelity or their intentions. It also helped him face the stories he had made up about me, himself and our relationship.
Compassionately facing our stories and discovering each other's true motivations freed us to heal and forgive.
Why I chose to stay and heal after my husband cheated.
I chose to stay with my husband while they healed from their dysfunctions, childhood wounds and human flaws. And their infidelity brought to the surface my childhood wounds also. As we made space for each other to heal, we learned much more about each other. Why do we do the things we do or act the way we act?
In truth, we are still learning about each other... it's an ongoing journey.
Ultimately it was compassion for the wounded child and flawed human within my husband that began my journey on the intentional path towards forgiveness—coupled with it being the most loving and caring thing I could do for myself. I wanted a future filled with love, not pain, resentment, or anger.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
― Nelson Mandela
Initially, my husband's entitled self expected me to forgive them.
What is your definition of forgiveness, and how does that apply to infidelity? Mine has changed drastically over my healing and self-care journey. If I had asked my husband immediately after his affair, his entitled self would have expected me to forgive him and we know that I tried that and thankfully failed. If it hadn't failed then he would have avoided self-reflection by having us live a "pretend normal" life. YUCK! That is so far from what healthy forgiveness is.
Fortunately, life had many lessons for us, and while we are still on that journey, our expectations of forgiveness are much kinder now. The fact is, we should never ask another person to forgive us and we should never expect it from someone. We can only apologize for what we did that hurt another because each person must come to their place of forgiveness.
The truth is that forgiveness is a gift given from the forgiver to themselves. It's an internal experience; it's our experience!
“Forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may initially feel victimized, undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding a given offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance.” - Wikipedia
Does your partner want to brush their affair under the carpet and pretend it didn't happen? Or maybe you hear things like, can't we talk about something different, or I just want to move on from this! Initially, my deeply avoidant husband wrongly wished this for us. It didn't work, and it hindered our healing.
That was then. Now my husband doesn't accept that immature thinking, and he takes full responsibility for his actions and choices. And I don't accept avoidant thinking either. We are not the same people we were. Although we aren't perfect, thankfully, we have let this horrible event mature and grow us.
If I hadn't eventually found a place of forgiveness, even on my ever changing sliding scale, for my husband, then I would never have seen this change. Instead, I would only have seen my pain and the unenlightened version of my husband, who caused me that pain.
Forgiveness is both an event and an ongoing process.
There are two parts to forgiveness after infidelity. While I am sure we all wish we had magic wands that could instantly set us free from the pain and the memory of the infidelity, it's just not that simple. Unfortunately, the two parts of forgiveness require effort; a lot of effort!
PART 1. THE EVENT
The 'Event' of forgiveness is the decision that nothing can ever make up for the pain and losses infidelity caused and deciding to let go of any thoughts of revenge from that moment forward. This 'event' doesn't come easy, and nor should it.
Infidelity is a horrible crime on an innocent victim (actually, there are usually more victims than just us, like our children, family, friends, etc.). Deciding to forgive is a considerable obstacle to tackle in our healing journey. Yet, with time, self-care, and support, we can get to the place of wanting to forgive our husbands' infidelity because it hurts us less than unforgiveness.
PART 2. - THE ONGOING PROCESS
The 'Ongoing Process' of forgiveness is usually more challenging than the decision. It is the deliberate removal of vengeful thoughts from our consciousness each time they arise.
Unfortunately, there is no way of wiping our memory of the event; therefore, our thoughts can return to it often. Our traumatized minds are on the alert to protect us. Therefore, we get reminded many times a day (or is that per minute!) through the things we see, hear, smell, etc. But as time goes on, and as we purposefully replace the painful thoughts with self-compassionate thoughts, we discover that we dwell on the affair less and live our best life more. But we will never forget the infidelity!
Grieving the losses and healing the pain also help us forgive.
Another part of the 'Ongoing Process' of forgiveness is the purposeful act of mindfully accepting whatever feelings those painful or unforgiving thoughts bring up or are masking. Through self-care, we honor our need to grieve the pain infidelity caused so we can heal. So each time my memory is triggered, I check in and ask if I have something to heal. I aim to keep as clean a slate as possible because I don't want to carry extra burdens. Therefore, I use triggers or painful thoughts to my advantage and view them as healing opportunities rather than judging them as bad or myself as unforgiving.
I view forgiveness as acceptance.
Acceptance is the final step of the grieving process, which is why I see forgiveness as acceptance; the coming to terms with what happened. It takes time and hard work to process all the pain of being cheated on. As we transverse through this grieving journey, we discover that we cannot change the past by keeping it alive in our minds. By fueling the fire of unforgiveness, we rob our present and future selves of living our best life and trap ourselves in pain.
It takes incredible courage to face our pain and heal. Forgiveness is not easy; accepting that we got cheated on is painful. As women of dignity, we choose to own our present and future lives when we find the strength to heal from wounds we never asked for or deserved.
Acceptance of 'what is' changes forgiveness from an "F" word into a practical solution for pain relief and healing.
Forgiveness is all about us breaking the pain cycle infidelity throws us into. It is us digging a hole, planting a seed, and leaving it to grow. Then repeat this process as often as it takes until we have dealt with all our losses and pain. In time we reap the benefits of forgiving our husbands' infidelity, even if, at the time, it feels like we were just crawling around in the mud!
“The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
If you want to learn more about forgiveness, grieving the losses of infidelity, and acceptance, please check out my free coaching call. As a gardener, coach, and fellow betrayed wife, it's my gift to you; planting a seed in your life and future.
Have you read the post on How to talk about the Affair without Triggering your Partner? If you are struggling to have meaningful conversations with your husband about his affair, this may be helpful for you. I also run a coaching program filled with practical and straightforward ways to heal from infidelity pain. This first course in the self-care series is full of support to help you find better thoughts about your future and teaches more about healing and reducing infidelity pain so you can live your life with dignity and joy. Your healing is important! You are important! Your future is important!
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