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How to Forgive Your Spouse When They Cheat On You
Stopping the Rehearsals
When your spouse cheats on you, forgiveness may be the last thing on your mind. You may be rehearsing and replaying the betrayal and lies she told you. You assume that somehow continuing to replay what happened will change things. There is a part of you that assumes that by holding onto the offense, it magically gives you some control. The assumption is that by holding the offense over your spouse, that you can control them. You may also believe that the rehearsing also gives you some control over your emotions and reactions to what happened.
After a while, you may consider the forgiveness option. When you make that decision, you will have to stop the rehearsing and replaying of the cheating. If you are not ready to stop the replaying, then you are not ready to forgive. If you are unclear on what or who you are forgiving, you are not ready either. Many couples have sabotaged their relationship by trying to forgive too early or by ‘fuzzy forgiveness’.
There are also some situations where forgiveness is not an option. It may be best to find a way to move on and leave the whole mess behind. You can let go of any grudge and choose not to continue connection with those who cheated. Assuming that every situation and person is forgiveable or worth going through the forgiveness process can lead you astray. You can forgive them, but that does not mean that you have to be in relationship with them or have anything to do with them.
The big obstacle in being unclear on forgiveness is the misunderstanding of forgiveness. You can forgive a person, but you can not forgive the offense. Trying to forgive the offense or the act of the cheating may give you a temporary relief, but it sets the stage for worse problems. When you try forgiving the offense, it is often viewed by the cheater as a condoning of what happened or that somehow you have gone soft on cheating.
If you want to resume the relationship with your spouse, forgive them. Forgive their person. When you forgive the person, you can once more be ‘in relationship’ with them. Forgiving allows the wall which has separated the two of you to lower. The lowering of the wall opens the relationship up again. Forgiving them also involved being unconditional in your forgiveness. You accept them for who they are, warts and all.
Separating Person and Performance
You may find the separating of the person and their performance (of behavior) is a difficult distinction. You may have spent your life equating ‘who’ a person is with ‘what’ they have done, be it good or bad. That mindset of connecting the two is a hard habit to break. Although it is hard, making the distinction is important for the relationship and for your own mental health. You will need to be clear with yourself and your spouse that you are forgiving them, and accepting them, yet you are not accepting the cheating, the lying and all that they did. You will need to make is clear that such behavior is not acceptable. Although you are welcoming them back into relationship, you are not welcoming back the behavior.
People often make bad choices and do bad things. When we continue connecting what they do with who they are, they develop a warped sense of who they are. They assume that they are bad because they did bad things. They may even build their whole lives and identities based on what they did. This works for a while if you do good things, but the first time that you make a mistake or do something bad, the connecting of person and performance demands that you are now a ‘mistake’ or a ‘bad person’. If every time a professional athlete missed a shot at the basket, or swung a strike determined who they were, they would loose all self-confidence. They would view themselves as failures and non-achievers. They would become losers. Professional athletes know that those misses do not change who they are. A bad season does not make them a bad person. You can learn some great lessons from them. When you miss, you get out there and try again. When your spouse fails, forgive them (their person) and try again at your relationship.
The offense is not forgive-able. The offense will need to be dealt with. That may mean some serious heart to heart talks concerning what happened, how it happened and what the two of you learned from it. Discussing the cheating will also need to include the role that you and they played in the whole matter. You will need to listen to them without expecting them to only listen to you. The cheating was their solution to a problem. It was not a good solution. You need to find out what the cheating was a solution for. That is the root problem that needs addressing. Once you know that, steps can be taken to prevent it from occurring again.
What makes it so hard to forgive?
Books on Forgiveness
I have found this book the best at helping people understand the separation of person and performance.