Emotional Fitness

Harness the power of emotion to deepen your love with your partner, become more successful at work, and more

Infidelity & Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an invitation to a second chance at love

It can be hard to forgive, especially if your partner has broken the most solemn of their marriage vows. Surprisingly, infidelity is not necessarily fatal to a relationship. With the appropriate communication, therapy and a willingness to let go, many couples get past it. As strange as it may seem, in some cases, the healing process can actually make a relationship stronger.

Couples who survive this tragedy do so when the offending person takes responsibility for his or her actions and becomes open to dealing with their partner's pain and anger. Most people can't imagine living with someone who has betrayed them in this way, but the truth is that with time and lots of hard work, the heartache can be healed. In order to make this happen, the one who has been betrayed must accept that their partner made a huge mistake and allow them to repent.

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After ending the affair, the unfaithful one needs to realize that, for some time, their partner will pelt them with questions and concerns that they must truthfully answer in a kind and sensitive manner. It is part of the healing process and will also help the transgressor forgive himself or herself. Through this process I have seen many couples actually grow, and though the affair cannot be forgotten, it can be forgiven.

Affairs happen because most couples enter relationships unaware of how to deal with their feelings both inside and outside of their commitment. Some people place far too little value on the depth of love and mistakenly think, "what they don't know won't hurt them." The real truth is that an affair will take energy away from your primary relationship and your partner will feel that on some level.

Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook; it is about letting ourselves off the hook.  Through forgiveness our hearts no longer have to endure the torture that comes from holding on to the violation. Forgiveness, if it has been properly earned, can be a healthy response to infidelity. It can also be seen as a reward to the injured party for having lived through a transgression of their trust.

However, forgiveness is not mandatory or necessary. In cases where the transgressor will not apologize or take responsibility for their actions, it is imperative that the one who has been betrayed must move on - even if that means breaking up the family and starting over. The logic here is that if the unfaithful partner cannot bring himself or herself to owning their guilt and get help to understand why they chose the hurtful action, they will repeat it.

Rebuilding the trust and intimacy that has been stolen by infidelity is never going to be easy, but it is doable. It begins with the willingness to hang in there and try. If this has happened to your relationship you need to think before you react to your appropriately hurt feelings. Find a therapist who is experienced in this area and do some research on your own, a great book for those who are working through the pain of an infidelity is "After the Affair" by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D.

Remind yourself that it's OK if you don't know what to do or how to feel. There is a road back, and though it is far less traveled, it is an invitation to a second chance at love and life.

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Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, columnist, and radio host. His latest book is The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.

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