You thought that it would never happen to you but, suddenly, you find yourself searching the Internet: “How to know if your partner is cheating on you?” or “How to forgive unfaithfulness?”. Maybe one of those searches has brought you here and that’s a good sign: you recognize that you need help to face this situation. In that case, take a moment to think about you and ask yourself this question: “Should I forgive infidelity?”
What does it mean to forgive?
When it comes to betrayal, feelings of anger, resentment, disappointment and even helplessness appear. It is a situation that, in addition to causing distrust and pain, it requires a process of forgiveness to regain emotional stability. Whether or not the relationship continues, even in the absence of a second chance, it is necessary to work on these emotions, since overcoming this rage is the first step towards achieving well-being.
We could define forgiveness as the process that allows the change of voluntary destructive behaviours towards the person who has done the damage in the first place, to other behaviours, in this case, adaptive. The appearance of these constructive behaviours is important because forgiveness is often understood only as of the end of negative behaviours.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting, the process of forgiveness implies being able to remember the moment of deceit without opening the wound. To reach that point is not only enough saying some words of forgiveness; the emotional work after infidelity is vast and the passage of time is a necessary factor. Quick forgiveness does not heal the wound and does not allow long-term relief. Here you can read more about how to forgive infidelity.
Who wins in forgiveness?
It is logical to think that by forgiving infidelity the winning party is the one that has been forgiven. However, it is the person who forgives who can benefit from the situation that is apparently against them.
There are numerous physical, emotional and psychological benefits for the person who forgives. Among them you can find:
- Improvement in relationships with others: being able to calm the anger and the initial rage of deceit and forgive, will make less difficult establishing trust in future relationships (or in the one). Overcoming anger is a fundamental step in building healthy relationships and restoring positive thoughts and feelings.
- It has positive effects on the heart: as seen in the studies of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (29, 2012), forgiving can favour the decrease of heart rate and blood pressure, both health prevention factors. In addition, ending the anger generated by the lie significantly reduces the level of stress.
- Boosts physical and mental health: forgiving infidelity can help the person improve the quality of sleep, reduce symptoms of anxiety or depression and learn strategies to manage those feelings that the betrayal has produced.
Does forgiving infidelity mean moving forward?
Perhaps one of the most common mistakes is to think that to forgive means to turn the page and continue with the relationship. Far from second chances, the act of forgiving is much more complex and we can not assume that reconciliation is a sure outcome of this process.
From a psychological point of view, reconciliation is a potential event but never essential to forgive. Tabak (2012) argues that forgiveness is an internal process where it is not necessary to renew the relationship with the offender.
This process is a step prior to reconciliation, so you may forgive and at the same time decide to cut off the link with the person who has deceived you. The fact of giving another opportunity will depend on multiple factors as we will see later.
What are the stages of forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a process that involves making some reflections and giving yourself time because the negative feelings that appear when you discover the betrayal are transformed and undergo a series of stages. Gordon and Baucom (1998,2003) propose these stages by which you go through after being aware that your partner has been unfaithful.
#1. Impact stage
Where you become aware of the problem in the couple that has caused the infidelity. Negative feelings appear, as well as the expression of anger and pain for what has happened.
#2. Significance stage
In this stage, once the initial impact has been assimilated, the factors that may have influenced the betrayal are analysed.
#3. Recovery stage
It is at this moment when forgiveness is explored, and when the experience and what this has generated is analysed. After this reflection, the decision of resuming or terminating the relationship should be made, and in the event of reconciliation, to establish the foundations of the “new” link.
What variables influence forgiveness?
But, how to overcome infidelity? Not all situations of deception generate the same feelings in a person since there are numerous factors that influence in how a lie affects us, in the ease with which we assume it and in the process of forgiveness. In this sense we can speak, according to the classification of McCullough (1998), of variables of the offence, variables of the offender and variables of the victim.
On the one hand, there are the variables of the offence, among which the severity of the offence itself stands out. Here we must distinguish the objective and subjective severity since the objective fact of the offence and the subjective perception of damage aren’t always the same. It is also important to make an assessment of the sincerity, since feeling that the apology is sincere increases the likelihood of forgiveness.
Among the variables of the offender, the most important one is the apology, it is a fundamental step for a possible reconciliation. It is as important that there is a verbal apology as a behavioural apology, an appropriate behaviour that accompanies the apology makes forgiveness more probable. That is why the conciliatory gestures, which reduce the initial feelings of anger, acquire significant weight in the decision.
Finally, there are the victim variables, where aspects such as age, gender or the presence of children are taken into account, but mainly the victim’s relationship with the offender, where the commitment, the degree of closeness in the couple and satisfaction with the relationship are the main focus.
What do I need in order to forgive infidelity?
The first step is to be aware that to forgive is to do yourself a favour, not the person who has cheated. Not only you leave negative emotions behind, but psychological benefits are obtained as we have seen above.
This path, which ends with greater emotional well-being, is not easy and it is normal that some of its stages lead to situations that require challenges and generate difficulties when managing feelings.
That is why, on many occasions, psychological help is fundamental to confront betrayal and what it involves. A therapist can become essential support since their guidelines help to see that the pain, just as it appeared, will eventually disappear.
Continuing the relationship after an infidelity
In the event that forgiveness results in reconciliation and the couple decides to continue together after infidelity, it is important that when establishing the bond the foundations are set so that there is respect, communication, and sincerity to achieve a healthy relationship.
If you decide to continue with your partner, it is necessary to analyse the issues that can be improved in the relationship. Infidelity may have been due to a lack of communication, intimacy or trust. In this sense, couples therapy provides very positive results and helps repair the relation to enhance common growth in the case that, when balancing things after infidelity, you choose to give it a try.
If you find yourself in a position to forgive infidelity, the support of an online therapist may be the key to your recovery process.
If you want to improve your level of well-being, in TherapyChat we can help you. We are international leaders in online psychology and we have the right therapist for you.