I have reprinted this Rick Reynold’s thoughts and articles before. He is so smart. If more people followed this guy’s ideas, there would be less pain out there over this. He emphasizes understanding, compassion, and letting go of the need to “get even” with your spouse, and letting go of focusing on the past (eg, the affair details, the OW/OM) if you are going to move forward. And for the wayward spouse, the ability to accept responsibility for your actions, showing patience, and to really listen even if you feel defensive. All good suggestions.
Forgiving Infidelity: Practical Suggestions to Move Toward Forgiveness
At Affair Recovery we believe there are two components to forgiveness as it pertains to forgiving infidelity. First is the internal aspect of forgiveness, which has little or nothing to do with the other person. It is a personal choice to release the other person from retribution or harm as a result of their offence; it’s coming to the point where you can wish them well. It’s not based on their repentance or merit, since it’s an internal matter. It is a gift you give yourself, which sets you free and allows you to live at peace with your memories. The internal aspect of forgiveness in marriage where infidelity is involved is important in that failing to achieve this type of forgiveness leaves you forever the victim.
The second aspect of forgiving infidelity is about reconciliation. This component of forgiveness is primarily based on safety. Does the unfaithful spouse see what they’ve done, do they take responsibility for their actions and are they grieved over what their actions have cost others? Anything short of that response potentially makes them unsafe for reconciliation. This aspect of forgiveness determines whether the relationship will continue. If they are willing to make amends for their failure, then reconciliation might be a good choice.
Practical Suggestions For Forgiving Infidelity For The Hurt Spouse: (These are from Stephanie)
- Separate forgiveness from the process of reconciliation. Make reconciliation optional and forgiveness not optional. People often do this backwards, choosing to reconcile rather than forgive. This leaves them trapped in the pain of the betrayal, never able to move forward to a new life. If your mate isn’t safe don’t reconcile. In the first year of recovery don’t pressure yourself to decide about reconciliation. It may take over a year before you know whether it’s safe to reconcile. Reconciliation depends on your mate’s ongoing recovery and your ability to heal from the trauma of the betrayal.
- Make a conscious choice to forgive. For freedom’s sake don’t hang on to bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness is always in your best interest and in the interest of those you love. Only time will tell whether reconciliation has a place in your relationship.
- Choose to focus on what’s helpful. Once you know what’s happened there may be diminishing benefit in continuing to focus on the past. Have the sense to ask yourself if how you’re spending your time (conversation, thought life) is helping to move you forward in your recovery. If it’s something that’s keeping you stuck, let it go. You want to choose life, not death.
- Maintain an attitude of compassion. If you can look at your mate through a lens of compassion and concern you may find it easier to let go of the offence. Forgiving infidelity is not a sign of weakness and it doesn’t minimize the magnitude of the betrayal, rather it allows you to move forward, free from the hurtful actions of another. Forgiveness in marriage, even without infidelity, requires compassion.
- Don’t hang on to entitlements. As Charles Dickens says, “In every life, no matter how full or empty one’s purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfils. Thus, happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people’s store of it.” Your mate may have destroyed your happiness, but life is hard and often unjust. Try to keep realistic expectations.
- Take care of yourself. A lack of sleep, isolation, or severe depression only makes forgiving infidelity more difficult. It’s not fair since you aren’t the one who cheated, but you’re the only one who can take the necessary steps to heal from the wounds created by others. Be willing to get help.
- Be aware of your own humanity. As CS Lewis says, “All saints must keep one nostril keenly attuned to their own inner cesspool.” Be willing to consider what you’ve been forgiven. Maintaining an awareness of what others have had to forgo for your sake will help you find patience for others. A self-righteous attitude will cut you off from the very thing you seek.
Practical Suggestions For Forgiving Infidelity For The Unfaithful Spouse: (These are from Rick)
- Don’t be defensive. Defensiveness makes it about you. Take responsibility for what you’ve done and listen to how they feel.
- Develop empathy. Seek to understand how your actions impacted your mate and clearly communicate your understanding of their reality. Let them know that you are attempting to move beyond yourself and see things from their perspective.
- Let your mate know you appreciate the fact they’ve chosen to stay with you and explore the possibility of reconciliation. It’s not what you deserve. Looking back at my betrayal I can clearly see I deserved for Stephanie to leave me. I certainly left her during my addiction and my affair. I genuinely appreciate that she chose each day to try to work through my hurtful actions. It was far more than I deserved.
- Stop hurtful behaviors. Forgoing activities which cause your mate anxiety communicates your willingness to partner with them in recovery. Stressing your rights regardless of their pain reveals your self-centeredness.
- Take responsibility for your recovery. If your mate feels they are your motivation for recovery it will be difficult for them to believe you’re committed to making sure this never happens again.
- Allow your mate the opportunity to forgive by letting them know what you’ve done. Most likely your mate will find it easier to forgive your actions than they will your deceit. It is the deceit that makes reconciliation difficult.
- Don’t minimize your behavior. To do so will make a mockery of your mate’s efforts to forgive.
- Forgive your mate for their failures. As Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. Forgiveness in marriage is something you can do too.
- Be patient. It will take 18 to 24 months for the two of you to move beyond the crisis created by your choices. The least you can do is be patient as they try to work through what you’ve done.
Practical Suggestions For Forgiving Infidelity As A Couple:
- Set a time limit as to how much time is dedicated to discussing what happened. Begin to build positive experiences for the marriage. Learn how to enjoy your time together.
- Take breaks from recovery. I love the approach taken by one of our mentor couples. She told her husband that she needed him to take her out for a good time. She was sick and tired of always working on their recovery. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking everything is okay in the morning,” she told him. But at least they were able to take a vacation from recovery and find a good time together.
- Spend time remembering what was good about your relationship. Both parties need to be reminded of what was good about the two of them. Pain has a strange way of burying the good. It’s hard to make a wise decision about the future if you only consider the negative and never look at the good.
Enough with the suggestions. I told Stephanie I was worried about trying to write a newsletter of this sort. I realize that everyone’s situation is different and what works for one may be an abomination for another. Making suggestions is far too simplistic, but she insisted they are sometimes helpful. Please take the best and leave the rest.
If you’re the unfaithful spouse and you’d like to discover how your actions have impacted your mate then please consider taking Hope for Healing or, if your mate is willing, take EMS Online. Both courses will provide insight into how your choices have affected them. If you’ve been betrayed I hope you’ll consider taking the Harboring Hope Course. There is no better resource for helping you wrap your mind around what has happened and move forward.
My take: I think I have done well with all his suggestions for the unfaithful spouse — my biggest things to overcome have been patience and defensiveness. But I’m working on them. I am still a work in progress.
One thing that comes out here is something I’ve said before. You cannot RECONCILE until you FORGIVE. And so many BS’s don’t want to. They can’t. Their emotions and egos won’t let them!! Healing requires forgiveness. Forgiveness requires COMPASSION!!! These are all essential components. Without even one of them present, you might as well separate now.
I think my wife has done well with the suggests for the Betrayed Spouse. However, I see a lot of blogs here where the BS, at least in their words, ignores most of these good suggestions. They are still focused on the symptom (the affair) and not the marriage (what went wrong? how do we fix it? Remembering what’s good about it). Some are still seeking justice (as if life was fair??) and refuse to really extend forgiveness.
Anyway, this is the second article from Mr. Reynolds that I’ve blogged on. His writing to me sounds very correct, on point, and plain. Doable. He needs to be widely read.
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