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Caught Cheating? 7 Steps Toward Forgiveness

"I cheated. I’m sorry. Can you ever forgive me?"

Key points

  • Rigorous honesty is a key to forgiveness.
  • If you can display empathy for your betrayed partner, that can speed the healing process.
Shutterstock, Olena Yakobchuk
Source: Shutterstock, Olena Yakobchuk

After the discovery of infidelity, betrayed partners are deeply traumatized and react accordingly. Often, however, the straying partner, engages in one of seven behaviors that will make the situation worse. Nevertheless, there are behaviors one can engage in that will help re-earn relationship trust and repair the damaged relationship.

The behaviors are:

  1. Be honest.
  2. Listen (all the way to the end).
  3. Acknowledge your partner’s feelings as valid.
  4. Focus on your partner’s needs.
  5. Keep your commitments, no matter how small.
  6. Don’t forget about your recovery.
  7. Demonstrate an ongoing commitment to change.

Be Honest

Because you cheated, you are in the doghouse, and you will remain there until you repair relationship trust. To this end, you must make rigorous honesty a way of life—not just with your significant other but with everyone. Tell the truth. Don’t keep secrets. Additionally, you will need to be patient. You cannot rebuild relationship trust overnight.

Listen (All the Way to the End)

When you’re in the doghouse, your partner will get angry with you for seemingly no reason, and there is little you can do about it. For the most part, you need to just sit there and listen. All the way to the end. Usually, that is what your partner wants. Don’t get defensive. Don’t try to explain your actions. Just listen. That said, your partner may at times want to argue. In fact, your partner might almost insist on it, no matter how hard you try to sit quietly. The trick is learning to resolve such conflicts in ways that strengthen rather than diminish the relationship. To this end, you and your partner may want to create and implement some respectful conflict boundaries, perhaps using this format or a format your couples counselor recommends.

Acknowledge Your Partner’s Feelings as Valid

This is perhaps the single biggest step you can take toward healing your relationship. If possible, try to feel and express empathy for your partner. Empathy, if you’re wondering, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Even though emotional empathy does not come automatically to most cheaters, it can be developed with practice.

Deciphering your mate’s thoughts and feelings is not easy, however, and you won’t learn how to do it overnight. You will have to consistently put yourself in your partner’s shoes and say things like: “I sense that you’re feeling some anxiety right now. Is that correct? If it is, can you explain what you’re anxious about? I really want to understand what you’re feeling.”

Focus on Your Partner’s Needs

When you are rebuilding trust and seeking forgiveness, actions speak louder than words. You can say a thousand times that you’re sorry and you really do love your mate. But after dealing with all your lies and secrets, your partner will find it hard to believe those words. This means that your actions need to back you up. So, instead of telling your partner you care, show it.

Keep Your Commitments, No Matter How Small

In recovery, you learn to suit up and show up no matter what. If you say you’ll do something, you do it. Not just with your partner, but with everyone, all the time. You do this even when it doesn’t seem important—because when you’re trying to heal your relationship, the little things go a long way. You might even want to find (and perhaps express) some gratitude for these opportunities to demonstrate your integrity and rebuild trust.

Don’t Forget About Your Recovery

Sometimes cheaters get so focused on repairing their relationship that they forget to take care of themselves. In the first few months of the healing process, of course, that may be a reasonable response. Over time, however, the shiny new adventure of rebuilding your relationship can feel like a chore from which you never get a break. When that occurs, it is time to expand your recovery focus to include more self-care.

Demonstrate an Ongoing Commitment to Change

The process of healing from infidelity does not always go smoothly. If you’re truly committed to change, however, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls, especially if you know the warning signs to keep an eye on. Do not become overconfident about your progress. Do not blame your partner for your past or present choices and behavior. Do not lie about, minimize, or make excuses after a mistake. Most of all, do not ignore any of your partner’s boundaries, especially boundaries around infidelity and rebuilding trust.

For more information about healing after infidelity, visit the free resource website