“Our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world
depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Forgiveness is a huge part of repairing a marriage post-affair. More often than not, the focus is on the non-affair partner forgiving the partner who cheated; but what about the need for the affair partner to forgive him/herself? Without self-forgiveness, how would a person genuinely be able to receive the forgiveness of another?
In her book, When Good People Have Affairs: Inside the Hearts & Minds of People in Two Relationships, Mira Kirshenbaum describes 17 reasons people have extramarital affairs; setting out to intentionally hurt their partners is not one of them. Affair partners are usually in denial about being discovered. What we hear in practice is:
- I didn’t think you’d find out.
- I never meant to hurt you.
- I was only thinking about myself.
- I thought what you didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt you.
When the person who has cheated is found out, they are confronted by their partner’s shock, anger, fear and sadness. Witnessing the pain they have caused their spouse is devastating and at times may feel unbearable; the affair partner must then face their own feelings of guilt and self-loathing. A process of self-forgiveness must occur alongside the process of being forgiven by their spouse if the marriage is to survive.
Here are seven steps in the journey of forgiveness for the person who has cheated:
1) Take ownership and accept full responsibility.
Whatever the state of the marriage before the affair, you must fully own the fact that you went outside the marital boundaries. There are many other ways feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in a relationship can be addressed without cheating. The decision to have an affair resides solely with you.
2) “Listen” to your partner’s expression of hurt and pain.
Hearing and empathizing with the deep feelings of grief that your partner feels as a result of an affair is key to forgiveness. Though it is extremely difficult to look into the eyes and heart of someone you have wounded, it is vital to healing. There can be no more denial about the consequences of your actions.
3) Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
There can’t be too many apologies. Heartfelt apologies beget heartfelt forgiveness. Though saying “I’m sorry” will not fix what’s been broken, it is a beginning and a necessary part of the process. Words must be followed with action.
4) Discuss how you can rebuild trust.
Ask your partner what you can “do” to rebuild trust. Total transparency with electronics, checking in, spending more time together, answering questions about the affair, talking about needs in the marriage are some examples of building deeper connection and re-establishing trust.
5) Allow yourself, your partner and the relationship time to heal.
Know that this process takes time and patience. Often people ask how long will this take; we respond by saying the first year is very hard, but it may take years. There will always be a scar, but over time it can soften.
6) Work in therapy to gain insight into why you allowed this to happen.
Therapy is an integral part of the healing process post-affair. It’s important to allow a professional, individually and with your partner, to help you see what led to the affair and why you made that choice. A good therapist will uncover your blind spots.
7) Genuinely recommit to the relationship.
Recommitting to the relationship might take the form of a “recommitment ceremony.” But more important, reassure your partner daily that you love her and that this will never happen again. Move the relationship to a new and deeper place of connection where communication, “head, heart and hormones,” thrives.
Recovering from an affair is extremely difficult, but it can be done. With a dose of patience, humility and resilience you can create a better relationship than you had before.
Image Copyright Katarzyna Białasiewicz