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Should You Forgive Infidelity?

If you are asking yourself that question, then somewhere within you there must be a desire to forgive the other person.  After all, if you knew 100% for sure without doubts that you definitely should NOT forgive, then you would not be entertaining the question, right?  You would have already said your goodbyes and would be moving on with your new life and licking your wounds.  But what if you are struggling with the question?  What then?

The first thing you need to look at above and beyond all else is the cheater’s character.  Do they have a history of cheating on their partners?  Do they have a history of cheating on you?  Are they too self-centered to deny themselves whatever pleasures come along?  Are they well-meaning but weak?  Unless someone is incredibly ugly, they are going to face temptation at some point in their life.  Saying no is all about having backbone, willpower, self-discipline, and the ability to truly care about another person’s feelings.  Does your partner have all of those traits?  If not, then forget it.  Move on.

Let’s assume for whatever reason you have decided that yes your partner has the ability to be faithful and this was a one-time indiscretion.  You now need to look at why they did what they did.  Motivation is more important than the act itself.  If you know why they cheated, then it is possible to avoid having the same triggers repeated.  Were you emotionally and physically distant for so long that you may as well have pushed them into finding love elsewhere?  We are a love hungry species.  You have heard of the old couples that die within a short time of each other.  You have also seen the studies they have done with the baby monkeys who do not thrive and grow without their mamas.  It is human nature to seek love.  That is one of our primary innate motivators.  Our spirits die when we do not feel loved.  The body will follow.  So look at what caused the infidelity.  If you can honestly say that yes you were completely loving and supportive and they cheated anyway, then you may want to consider walking away from them.  If they give you some other reason that makes absolute sense to you and you can truly see it as a forgivable reason, then so be it.  Forgive them.  If they do not have a reason that makes sense to you, then do not forgive them.

The next thing to evaluate is what is at stake.  What kind of a life have you built together and what does it mean to you?  Do you have children together?  A long marriage?  A business and material wealth?  What if you do not think you can trust them and yet you will lose everything that you do love by leaving them?  That is something that only you can answer.  Is the money, the marriage, or the children worth a lifetime of being cheated on?  You decide.  Maybe it is a marriage of convenience anyway and you really do not care where they sleep.  Then it will be easier to forgive them than if they are your one true love and your emotional health is at risk by having your heart shattered.

As you know, there are plenty of reasons to choose not to forgive and forget.  But what if you have created a long beautiful life together and your partner is a wonderful parent to your children?  What if you feel just as much to blame for the infidelity because you had pushed them away for too long?  What if they had made an honest effort to work things out with you but you just kept pushing them away?  What then?  Just because you want to forgive them does not mean that you can forgive them.  How do you forgive and forget?  The Bible may tell us to turn the other cheek, but how?  How do you do it?  There is a big difference between saying, “I forgive you” on a generic spiritual level and saying, “I forgive you” on a personal heart-to-heart level.  The key to real forgiveness must involve trust.  At some level you have to really believe in your heart of hearts that you can trust this person to never ever repeat such a painful choice again.  If you do not really believe that, then you are not really going to forgive them and the underlying resentment will eat away at whatever is left of the foundation of your relationship.

I believe that the most important barometer of how easy or hard it is to forgive is how they behave after the event.  Do they browbeat you with comments like, “Look I said I’m sorry.  Get over it already.” Or are they beating themselves up for having caused you this pain?  Are they offering to jump through hoops to prove to you that they have learned a horrible lesson and will make damn sure it never happens again?  The intensity of their apology and their willingness to allow you to feel the pain of it will have a direct impact on your ability to heal from the infidelity and on their ability to rebuild trust in your eyes.  If they demand that you simply trust them on their word and they have done nothing to show you that they are taking full responsibility for the broken trust, then leave them.  It is not your fault that they broke the trust even if you were not emotionally available to them, the breach of trust was done on their part.  You cannot force yourself to trust someone again.  Just like when our teenagers lie to us and have to earn back our trust, it is no different between adults whether the trust was broken in a marriage or a business relationship.  It is their job to recreate that.  They need to find their own way back.