Forgiving your spouse’s betrayal is so important and meaningful that it can’t possibly happen quickly or easily! But it is possible to learn how to forgive and recover from infidelity in marriage. Choosing to be physically or emotionally unfaithful was a process for your spouse; learning how to forgive him will be a process for you. Rebuilding your marriage will be a process for both of you.
These suggestions for forgiving a spouse’s infidelity are inspired by a wife – Anna – who commented on my article about trusting a spouse after infidelity. Her husband was unfaithful after 17 years of marriage; she shared how hurt, confused, and crushed by her husband’s affair. On How to Trust Your Husband After an Affair, Anna says she trusted her husband more than anyone in the world. She found out about his infidelity by accident, from text messages between him and the woman he was cheating with. Her spouse doesn’t want a divorce, doesn’t want to leave their home, and minimizes his infidelity.
“He has promised how much he loves only me and swears constantly he does not want a divorce,” Anna says. “He has said many times that he will never let me go and will follow me (to a new town, state, anywhere)….we went to a marriage and family therapist. We made no headway and I still don’t know how to forgive infidelity in marriage. I don’t know if I should stay married or leave and move on with my life.”
Below are my thoughts on how to forgive infidelity in marriage. Remember that what works for me may not work for you! These are the things would help me find forgiveness and healing. You are the expert on yourself and your marriage; what will help you forgive and recover from your spouse’s infidelity? You may need to try a few different things on before you know for sure.
7 Steps to Forgiving, Recovering, and Rebuilding Your Marriage
“Forgiveness means letting go and knowing that – regardless of how challenging, frightening, or difficult an experience may seem – everything is just as it needs to be in order for you to grow and learn,” writes Iyanla Vanzant in Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything. “When you focus on how things ‘should be’, you deny the presence and power of love.”
If you want to recover your marriage and rebuild your relationship with your spouse, forgiving infidelity will be a daily choice. Some days the choice to forgive will be easier than other days.
1. Believe the infidelity – even thought it isn’t how your marriage should be
“My world came crashing down,” says Gail on Is Your Marriage Over? 6 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore. “My husband has been with her since January and yet he sent me letters telling how much he loved me, sent me poetry and flowers. I am hurting so badly, I just can’t believe he would do this to me. He made love to me all week and yet he tells another woman he loves her. He keeps telling me he still loves me but not enough to stay. But he doesn’t want to me divorce him right away. I really don’t want the divorce, but I know it must be done. Any advice?”
The first step is to accept and surrender to the reality of your marriage. You may feel tempted to sit in disbelief and denial, but that won’t help you forgive or recover from infidelity. The sooner you surrender to the fact that your husband was unfaithful, the closer you are to starting the forgiveness process. You might explore what was something missing in your marriage and why your spouse sought it elsewhere.
Your pain and suffering will be prolonged if you keep wishing the infidelity didn’t happen. Acceptance is key to learning how to forgive infidelity in marriage, because with acceptance comes freedom and release.
Do you think you could never forgive your spouse for the infidelity? Do you think he ruined your life and destroyed your family? Read Byron Katie’s Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life.
2. Grieve the loss of your marriage and spouse as you knew them
Unfaithfulness in marriage is the worst betrayal a wife can experience. Healing the pain of that betrayal is a process – it’s a grieving process similar to losing a loved one to death. You’ll go through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. At the beginning – when you first find out your husband has been unfaithful – you’re shocked, confused, and disbelieving. You’ll get angry, and perhaps bargain with God or your husband. Then you’ll get depressed…and then you’ll accept that your marriage as you knew it is over.
“Before you can live a part of you has to die. You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally recognize that truth then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.” ― Shannon L. Alder.
4. Don’t allow your spouse to dismiss or shrug off the infidelity
A spouse who feels guilty or ashamed may want to shrug off his unfaithfulness because he knows the pain you’re in and the extent of his betrayal. It’s easier to run away from the pain and try to forget the infidelity, betrayal, devastation. However, suppression and statements such as, “It happened. It’s over. Can we just forget about it?” may seem easy but aren’t healthy ways to recover from infidelity in a marriage. Stand firm if your spouse wants you to just forget about the infidelity and move on. Part of learning how to forgive infidelity in marriage is learning how to assert yourself in your marriage.
For a more hopeful and inspirational perspective, read My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. It may change how you cope with unfaithfulness in marriage!
Healing the pain of unfaithfulness doesn’t move from one stage to another, in a linear fashion. Rather, you’ll find yourself moving from one stage to another (from depression back to denial, for instance) for many months.
5. Talk about infidelity – and forgiveness – with your spouse
It will be uncomfortable to ask your spouse why he was unfaithful and what he was seeking outside of marriage. Talking about infidelity may be painful and exhausting or both you and him, but truth-telling is part of the recovery process. The truth shall set you free…but first, it’ll break your heart.
Talking about infidelity is easier if your spouse is still alive. If you’re one of the thousands of wives who find out about their husband’s infidelity after his death, read How to Forgive Your Husband for Cheating While He Was Alive. If if your husband is still alive, the marriage you had is over. You and your spouse are entering a new, different relationship. Whether you stay married or not – and whether your spouse is alive or dead – it is imperative that you come to a place of forgiveness and recovery. Your own heart, spirit, and soul needs to forgive in order for you to move on.
6. Find the right guidance and support for your marriage
Conversations about infidelity are painful, emotional, and confusing. It might be helpful to find a marriage counselor, therapist, pastor or even a mentor to keep your discussions on track. You and your spouse may be tempted to veer off into areas that are unrelated or unhelpful. This is the time to focus on the recovery of your marriage, not blame or shame after infidelity.
You don’t necessarily need to attend weeks or months of marriage counseling to learn how to forgive your spouse for the infidelity. Maybe you just need a single session, to learn how to talk about marriage infidelity and forgiveness. Maybe you yourself want to attend a few additional sessions on your own. Learn what you need to forgive and how you want your marriage – and life! – to move forward.
After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful showed me that an incredibly high number of couples in America – about 70% – have been affected by infidelity in marriage. After the Affair is the only book to offer proven strategies for surviving unfaithfulness and rebuilding the relationship. Written by Janis Abrahms Spring, PhD, a nationally known therapist and acknowledged expert on infidelity, After the Affair provides proven, practical advice to help spouses change their behavior toward each other, cultivate trust and forgiveness, and rebuild their marriage.
7. Learn when to stop talking about the infidelity
There will come a time when it’s pointless and even harmful to keep talking to your spouse (or other people) about infidelity. You can’t keep going around the same mountain repeatedly, or you risk causing further damage to your marriage.
“We started marriage counseling because I just could not forgive my husband’s unfaithfulness,” says Michelle on Should You Leave Your Husband?. “But it was almost pointless because he would cry to the counselor about how he was a changed man and so remorseful. Because of this the counselor saw no reason to keep seeing us and said I needed to learn how to forgive his infidelity. I still cry daily about the affair and it’s been a year! I feel so stuck in my pain. My husband seems ‘over it’, as if it never happened. When I bring it up he sighs and rolls his eyes. I would divorce him but we have a 3 year old and a newborn. I left my career to be a stay at home mom. I have no family to go to for help with rebuilding a life. I feel stuck…I can’t forgive him because I don’t understand the reason he was unfaithful…I have NEVER denied him nor am I closed minded about sex. So why cheat on me?!?!? I am stuck in my pain. I hate my life. But I don’t want my kids to grow up without a dad like I did. Ugg I’m so sad. How do I forgive an unfaithful spouse when I’m so stuck?”
Before you can forgive your spouse for infidelity, you have to believe he won’t betray you again. Do you trust your husband? Read How to Know If He’ll Cheat Again. If your instincts are telling you that your spouse will be unfaithful again, then you need to decide if you should make changes in your life and marriage.
Help Forgiving and Recovering From Infidelity
You may find it helpful to read books about rebuilding your marriage. Learning how to heal the pain of an unfaithful husband is different for every woman because it depends on so many different factors. But, one of the best things you can do is learn how to see your marriage – and your unfaithful husband – in a different way. Get an objective perspective. You’ll gain new insights into yourself and your marriage, which will help you cope with your husband’s unfaithfulness and heal the pain.
In Healing Your Marriage When Trust Is Broken: Finding Forgiveness and Restoration, author Cindy Beall shares how her life changed forever a few days after an ordinary Valentine’s Day. She listened with disbelief to her husband, Chris, a respected pastor, confess to pornography addiction, numerous affairs, and the startling news that a woman was pregnant with his child.
This book will help you learn how to forgive your spouse’s infidelity. With raw honesty and intimate knowledge of pain and of God’s power to resurrect something new out of the debris of betrayal, Cindy reveals how to:
- Seek guidance, counseling, and prayer support when deceptions surface
- Help the family heal from the grief and humiliation
- Rebuild trust after porn, sex, and other addictions undermine a relationship
- Protect a marriage from lies and unfaithfulness
- Rely on God to pursue forgiveness and move forward in new promises
Cindy’s compassion, grasp of God’s Word, and the Bealls’ remarkable story will help you find forgiveness and peace in infidelity. You’ll learn how to trust God with your broken hearts and follow His leading, hope, and redemption.
Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below.