Forgiveness After the Affair – is it a “Free Pass”?

forgiveA reader and frequent commenter here, in response to a blog of mine, got me thinking about the concept of “forgiveness” in the aftermath of an affair.   She wrote,

“Forgiveness has been the hardest part of all of this because I was so confused by what it meant. And I have yet to fully forgive (my husband) because I still feel like it means I’m saying what he did was ok; that I accept it.”

Yesterday, I blogged about the Wayward Spouse forgiving themselves.  Today, what about the Betrayed Spouse “forgiving” the cheater?

It seems to be a big bugaboo for many Betrayeds.  That somehow if you forgive the cheater, then they get a “free pass” from the terrible thing they did.  Or somehow they “got away” with something.  I know this reaction and understand it.  I think it would be good to talk about what forgiveness in this context is and what it not is. And why some are so reluctant to give to to the Wayward Spouse.

What forgiveness is not

Forgiveness is not acknowledgment that cheating is “OK”.  Only a true sociopathic Wayward thinks that the affair was ok.  We may have our reasons why we did it — some of which may point back to our Betrayed Spouse — but few really think that what they did was “OK.”  We know it was wrong.  And therefore we know that forgiveness from a Betrayed is not a free pass for what we did.

Forgiveness is not excusing infidelity. We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive because a wrong was committed.

Forgiveness is not giving permission to continue hurtful behaviors; nor is it condoning the behavior in the past or in the future.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation. We have to make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving or whether to maintain our distance.

Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending the infidelity didn’t happen. It did happen, and we need to retain the lesson learned without holding onto the pain.   Like any major shock or trauma in your life, the shock, pain and betrayal of an infidelity is never forgotten, even if forgiveness is extended to the cheater.  So long as your marriage is able to recover, you will still remember, but you will look at it as something that thankfully, is in the past. And, it too will give you a unique perspective.   Betrayed Spouses often report that they no longer took their spouse, and their marriage, for granted. And, they saw first hand that their spouse was willing to join hands, work things out, and rehabilitate the marriage – even if it wasn’t always easy and was at times excruciatingly hard.

What forgiving a Wayward Spouse really is

Forgiveness, in this case, is something different.  It is merely the cessation of anger, hostility and resentment over the hurt inflicted.   It is not actually something you are giving to the Wayward Spouse as much as you are giving it to yourself.   It is a release of your inner anger and a necessary first step to correcting whatever was wrong.

Forgiveness means that you’re committed to moving on.  It means that you realize that no marriage, and no person, is perfect.  It means that you are satisfied that your partner is going to rehabilitate themselves, is committed to you, and will leave no stone unturned until you have what you need to effectively do this. And, these things sometimes take a considerable amount of time and trying different things until you are able to get to this place.

You cannot move forward until you replace anger and resentment with understanding and compassion. By forgiving, you are letting go of an inner grudge. Holding inner grudges is stressful!

Not forgiving is actually rooted in several possibilities

Fear.  Refusal to forgive is often rooted in fear. Your fear of another, similar betrayal. Like anger, this refusal is actually a secondary emotion or reaction.  This is why some are so unwilling to give it.

Lack of understanding.  The betrayed spouse doesn’t understand that forgiveness is more for them than their partner (as you can’t really move forward if you are holding onto pain and negativity).

The Betrayed is not getting what they need to recover.   The betrayed has not received or asked for what they need in order to offer this forgiveness in a healthy and genuine way.

This is not to say that some things are unforgivable. There are!  I would never forgive someone for killing one of my children, for example.  Or for abusing a child or an old person, or an animal.  But we’re not talking about that.

Forgiving someone does not imply that we still want them in our lives.  It’s a gift to ourselves.  It’s our way of saying, I refused to be angered by your horrible actions again.  It’s therefore an opportunity to correct things.  Nothing more.

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2 thoughts on “Forgiveness After the Affair – is it a “Free Pass”?

  1. Very inspirational. I know I have to, it is only so very hard, to just let go. Sometimes it feels as if without the pain I’ll lose touch with reality. But I know, I KNOW that I need to forgive if I want to give this marriage a chance. It is so difficult, the pain is so strong, every talk, every person, any movie, reminds me of something I’ve seen in the past couple of months.
    I believe that I didn’t get yet what I need to recover, but should you stay in that belief, I’m not so sure anymore. I also do believe in second chances…

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