Should you Forgive your Cheating Partner

The unthinkable happened. You discovered that your wife, husband, or partner has had an affair. They went behind your back, broke your bond, destroyed your trust and betrayed you. You may have found out by chance, by looking on devices, overhearing something, confirming suspicions, being told, it doesn’t matter. In the end, your personal tragedy of betrayal will seem like the only one that’s ever happened. You may never have experienced anything more painful that this in your life.

Being cheated on makes you question everything. It changes your past as well as your future. It leaves you so vulnerable and so alone. You are left with extremely uncomfortable, strong feelings like jealousy and hatred. Forgiveness? That seems unlikely. It doesn’t seem wise. It doesn’t seem possible.

And if you forgive, should you forget? Should you act like it never happened? Will forgiveness give the green light for it to happen again? Instead, shouldn’t you punish the cheater?

What Forgiveness Means

Forgiveness doesn’t happen immediately. It’s a process that you both undergo. The cheater MUST ask for forgiveness in order to be eligible. And you, the betrayed, must not be in a rush to accept terms that aren’t favorable. Let me explain.

The cheater is not in a position to set the tone of the relationship after he or she has been discovered. They are not in charge. The betrayed one – you – gets to decide how things go for now. That means questions get answered with no hesitation. If you ask, “where are you going?”, the answer needs to be clear and responsive to your needs. There should not be any push back as to why you are asking or what you deserve to know. If you ask “who are you texting?”, the answer needs to be one that indicates that there are no secrets and there’s no hiding anything. Passwords must be shared and phones must be accessible. There are more rules that can help a relationship but these are a good start.

When you feel that openness has been established and there’s no further resistance, you might begin to entertain the idea of forgiveness. Forgiveness, when asked for means the betrayed person is ready to start to trust again. Forgiveness means that you know the answers you need to know to the important questions. You are ready to move cautiously forward with the relationship. There is agreement from you both that you want to remain a couple and the goal is trust and fidelity going forward. You are working toward “inoculating” the relationship from future betrayals.

Forgetting the Betrayal vs Punishing the Betrayer
You cannot forget, not yet. That will take time, lots of it. If you want the relationship to work, you, the betrayed one, cannot use every opportunity to remind your partner of wrongdoings and punish them accordingly. Be judicious in your grief. You are allowed to feel everything you feel but keep it constructive if you can. There is potential in how the betrayed one handles their grief to strengthen the relationship. There is also the potential to prevent progress leading to healing. The relationship was always a two-person relationship even before the betrayal and even after the betrayal. Both of you have a responsibility to reclaim the connection. You, the betrayed, are wronged but you can still destroy the potential if you act just as destructively as your partner did, in a different way. Anger has power and can be corrosive. Direct your anger at the loss, not toward your partner’s character.

Let the process take time – don’t rush it. You will know when you can start to forgive and lighten up. Do not withhold your positive feelings from your partner. Realize that you will likely need help to keep your relationship on the path toward your goals.

Elissa Grunblatt, LCSW –R is the Owner/President of South Bay Counseling, LCSW PC, a multi-clinician outpatient counseling center located in Amityville, NY.