How to Forgive a Cheater
A lot of people believe that after one spouse cheats, the marriage is over. But surviving infidelity is possible with the right tools. Part of that process is learning how to forgive a cheater.
This post will cover just about every question you could possibly come up with about how to forgive a cheater. If you want to forgive your spouse for cheating, but don’t know how, you’re in the right place.
What actually is forgiveness?
It’s important to define forgiveness before we actually go on. It may seem obvious. But this is often the part where people get tripped up.
If you don’t really know what forgiveness is, how can you forgive anyone? #amirite?!
Let’s take a closer look.
What forgiveness ISN’T
Forgiveness does not include:
- pretending the harmful act didn’t happen
- acting like you aren’t hurt by what took place
- your pain immediately fading away
- that what the other person did doesn’t matter
And that’s just to name a few. But the point here is that, it’s okay to acknowledge your pain. It’s okay to be upset, even angry, that what your spouse did hurt you.
You can forgive someone, and still feel hurt by what they did. If this is confusing, read on.
Forgive, but don’t forget
A lot of people think that forgiveness means just “getting over” what someone has done to hurt you. “Forgive and forget,” as they say.
But “forgive and forget” is actually really bad advice. There’s a reason why you remember the things people have done to hurt you. It protects you from being harmed the same way again.
What forgiveness IS
- letting go of the pain someone caused you
- choosing to trust again
- laying the story to rest; move on, don’t bring it up anymore.
I could go on. But the point with forgiveness is that you are coming at the situation with whoever wronged you, with an OPENNESS to a new beginning.
It means you’re willing to clean the slate, and allow the person a second chance. Like I said above, it doesn’t mean you forget the whole thing ever happened. It just means you pack the pain up in a box, seal it, lock it, and put it in the back of your mind.
Forgiveness is an act of love that allows HOPE to grow in your relationship.
How do I forgive a cheater?
Even though forgiveness might seem hard, it actually comes after following a few simple steps. Yes, time will be a factor too. But if you follow these steps, you’ll learn how to forgive a cheater, and repair your relationship.
1) Confront the problem head on
In this case, the problem is cheating. If your spouse has cheated on you, your initial response will probably be shock. And you’ll have no idea what to do next.
The best thing to do is to address the cheating head on with your spouse. Get really clear about what happened – was it just an emotional affair, a sexual affair, or both?
Although the answers will be painful to hear, it is important to understand the scope of the problem so that you can create an appropriate solution.
2) Understand why it happened
Why do people cheat? People cheat because they are dissatisfied with one or more aspects of their relationship. This means understanding “what’s missing” for your partner – discovering which of their needs wasn’t being met.
If you can discover what was missing for your spouse through communication, together, you can come up with a way to fill in those needs, and avoid the problem again.
As mentioned above, the “why” = a need that’s unmet. Once you understand the “why”, you’ll also see what actions (or inactions) drove your partner away from you in the first place.
Infidelity is extremely painful for the betrayed spouse. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the cheater is hurting too. They were driven away because they were neglected in some way, for a long period of time.
For proper healing, both partners need to express empathy for the pain the other feels.
4) Take corrective action
When healing from infidelity, both partners need to take corrective action. The spouse that cheated should immediately terminate the outside relationship, if they hope to save the relationship. After that, apologies should ensue.
As the cheated-on partner, once you’ve discovered what drove your spouse away in the first place, you must act on that information by making the necessary adjustments in your behavior.
For instance, if your spouse says they were driven away because they couldn’t talk to you at all without feeling attacked, there’s a clue as to what you need to change.
5) Extend trust
This is probably the hardest part of this process, but also the most necessary. When you get burned by someone, naturally, you’re hesitant to trust them again. To some extent, this is a good thing. It protects you from future harm.
But once you’ve unraveled the mysteries of what happened, why it happened, and taken corrective action, you have to start rebuilding trust. As unfortunate as infidelity is, once it happens you can’t take it back. If your spouse has shown a desire to restore the relationship, and taken the necessary steps shown above), it’s time to let down your emotional wall and start to rebuild trust.
6) Create positive experiences
Replacing bad, old memories with good, new ones sets a new tone for the relationship. The problem is that our brains actually place more significance on bad memories as a defense mechanism. You remember bad memories more clearly so that you can protect yourself from similar situations again.
But if you ruminate too long on the painful memories, rebuilding your relationship will be impossible. The good news is that bad memories can be replaced with good ones. It just takes some effort.
Reconnecting with your spouse is key. Spending quality time together, reminiscing of your past, a working on your friendship will help you turn your relationship around.
Why do cheaters cheat?
Why do people cheat? There’s really only ONE reason why anyone cheats in a relationship, and it’s because one of their fundamental needs is going UNMET.
Something they require for emotional fulfillment and vitality is not present.
This might make some people mad. “You mean you’re actually telling me that my spouse cheated on me because of something I DIDN’T do?!?!”
Yes, pretty much. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but people who are completely emotionally fulfilled in relationships don’t cheat.
Because they don’t have a reason to cheat.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Let’s say your husband is constantly nagging you for sex. But you repeatedly turn him down for a myriad of reasons: you’re too tired, you’re not feeling attractive, you’re not in the mood, he’s done something to irritate you, etc.
Let’s assume that he’s communicated with you that sex is how he feels connected to you. It’s how he feels loved, desired, and significant to you.
But over time, he starts to ask you less and less. And he’s also growing more and more emotionally distant from you because the sex just isn’t happening.
You start to worry that something’s going on, and eventually you confront him. Come to find out, that he has found someone else, and is having a fully-fledged affair.
Why did this happen? Is it simply because you weren’t having sex? No. It goes much deeper than that.
He cheated because he didn’t feel emotionally safe or valued in the relationship. And I think we can all agree that those are serious needs in a marriage. When you marry someone, you agree to look after their physical and emotional needs. If that doesn’t happen, it breaks their trust.
If someone is starved of food, they become desperate, and will do anything to find nourishment. The same is true of emotional needs. If someone is starved long enough of an emotional need, they become desperate and begin to look for it elsewhere.
Why would anyone want to forgive a cheater?
Some people wonder why anyone would forgive a cheater. They betrayed your trust, and they showed disrespect. Why would anyone want to stay in that relationship?
People who share that opinion are assuming 2 things:
- that it is impossible to rebuild trust
- that they had no part in causing the problem.
Those people that survive infidelity know something special though. That even though trust was broken, and mistakes have been made, it is possible to heal from them.
The other thing they do is accept responsibility for their part in the problem. People don’t cheat for no reason. Most often, it is because the cheater was feeling neglected in some way by the other partner.
That can be rectified by understanding the root of the problem, and accepting responsibility for it.
Should I forgive my partner for cheating?
Whether or not to forgive a cheater is up to each individual. It may also depend on your unique circumstances.
If, like mentioned above, you’re able to understand the root cause of the cheating, take responsibility, and make the necessary changes, the relationship can be salvaged.
On the other hand, if your partner is a serial cheater, they are continually dishonest, or break your trust in other ways, it may be appropriate to end the relationship.
How long does it take to forgive a cheater?
They say time heals all wounds. And that is true to some extent. But how long??? When you’re in emotional turmoil, it’s easy to want to speed through it to get to the good stuff again.
But the “time heals all wounds” cliché is pretty misleading. Time isn’t the only factor.
Healing requires repeated, conscious efforts to understand, trust, forgive, and love. Time can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy in this case. You can let the infidelity ruin you, or you can do the work to really understand the problem, fix things, and move on happily through your life.