Should You Forgive Someone for Cheating?

Published on: 11 Feb 2016
A couple walking with the man on his phone

When someone cheats on you, your mind and emotions scream at you to hate, punish and never forgive. It’s hard to let go of those feelings.

Nonetheless, forgiving someone for cheating will actually benefit the faithful person more than the cheater. The anger we feel after infidelity is like a poison that lives in us. Forgiveness is the antidote and the only way to move on.

You should try to forgive someone for cheating, but only once you understand what forgiveness means and how you can achieve it.

What Forgiveness Means (And What It Doesn’t)

Forgiving a cheater does not mean promising him or her you will forget about the infidelity. It doesn’t involve condoning or excusing the cheating, or staying in the relationship if you don’t want to.

It’s all about how you feel, both towards the partner and internally.

Russel Friedman, Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute, uses this definition: “to cease to feel resentment against [an offender]”

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Friedman noted the importance of the offender being in brackets.

Forgiveness is not for the offender, Friedman told Talkspace online therapy. It is for the person who holds resentment.

Forgiveness is part of the journey of moving on with your life after someone hurts you in such a humiliating way. It’s about looking out for your mental health, not letting the cheater off the hook.

3 Reasons Why Trying to Forgive Will Help You

Because forgiveness is more about you than the cheater, forgiveness has many benefits. Each one will help you move toward a happier life.

Forgiving is a Step Toward Trusting Again

To rebuild a relationship after infidelity or have success with future relationships, people need to trust each other. Cheating shatters trust and the ability to trust, and forgiveness is one step you need to rebuild it.

People who can’t forgive cheating carry resentment, Friedman said. This resentment can prevent people from being honest and trusting.

The last result you want is a partner’s cheating to negatively affect your character. Forgiving them will reduce the risk of the cheater’s dishonesty rubbing off on you. Then you have a higher chance of being trusting and honest in any relationship.

Not Forgiving Is Mentally Exhausting

Your mind has valuable — and limited — real estate. There are better things to think about than how angry you are at someone who cheated on you.

Letting go of resentment allows space to think and feel more positive things. It can be difficult to reach the point where you can stop it from consuming your mind, but the results are worth it.

Author Stacey Becker learned hard lessons about forgiveness when her fiance dumped her weeks before their wedding and married a different woman soon after. Fortunately, she was able to build a new, happier life, allowing her to finally forgive.

“If I dwelled on my anger, confusion, frustration and even humiliation, I’d never be able to move on,” Becker said. “It’s really hard to feel any of those things when I see how my future has unfolded.”

Becker prefers to fill her mind with thoughts of her current husband and their daughter. There’s no room for resentment.

Building a better life makes it easier to forgive someone. Not all of us can turn things around like Becker did, but trying won’t hurt.

Forgiveness is Healthy

Feelings of anger and bitterness affect your physical and mental health. Forgiving releases this and improves your health in the following ways, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Higher self-esteem

The Factors of Forgiveness: What Was the Cheating Like and Why Did it Happen?

Understanding the offense and what led to it helps people know what they need to do to forgive and estimate how long the journey to forgiveness will be.

Author and infidelity expert Danine Manette suggested considering the following questions (Talkspace added a few):

  • Did the cheater take complete ownership of the behavior or did he or she make excuses and place blame?
  • Have they cut all contact with their affair partner?
  • Have they made their life an open book or are they still hiding things?
  • Have they been forthright in answering all affair-related questions or are they refusing to provide information necessary to the healing process?
  • Was this the first incident of infidelity or is there a history of past affairs?
  • Are they being available and supportive to the victim of infidelity?
  • Are they interested in healing the relationship and providing emotional support to the victim?
  • Did you contract a disease because of your partner’s infidelity?
  • Was a child born from the affair?
  • Did the affairs happen in your bed or a similar place?

Forgiving someone will help you no matter what. Depending on the answers to these questions, however, you should be realistic and prepared to take a long time.

Relationship Coach Chris Armstrong advised people to consider the “scope” and frequency of the cheating as well:

  • Was it only texts, pictures, email or more such as a kiss or sex?
  • How many times did the infidelity occur and for how long?
  • How long did the person hide it?

Why Did Your Partner Cheat?

There are two categories of reasons for why people cheat, Armstrong told Talkspace:

  1. Partner-Focused Circumstance: when someone cheats because their partner is emotionally unavailable, sexually inadequate or unavailable in a general sense
  2. Personal-Focused Circumstance: when someone cheats because they have general commitment issues, attachment issues or other personal things they can’t get past

The first reason does not excuse the cheating, but it does make it easier to forgive. Unfortunately, this means more work for you if you’re planning on staying in the relationship.

Should You Stay?

Kevin Klein, who has spoken about relationships on radio and television, recommended thinking about how strong the foundation of the relationship is before you end it. If it seems too weak to withstand the infidelity, it might be best to cut your losses.

The cheater also needs to be aware of the possibility he or she might never be forgiven, Klein said.

If you want to be one of the people who can forgive and let go of feelings that will make you suffer, keep reading for the next step.

Now For the Hardest Part: Actually Forgiving Your Partner (And How to Do It)

Even when you know you should forgive and why you should do it, taking that step can seem almost impossible. Be patient and know there is nothing wrong with seeking help.

Therapy: A Crucial Stop on the Path to Forgiveness

Many couples begin couples counseling after an affair or start individual counseling if they end the relationship. It has benefits outside of dealing with the aftermath of infidelity, and it’s a crucial step in the journey toward forgiveness.

Cheating often happens after a breakdown in trust and meaningful communication, therapist Allen Wagner told Talkspace. Therapy can rebuild these essential elements of your relationship or give you the skills to have them in future relationships.

A therapist won’t magically solve the problem, though. Couples work with the therapist to take steps such as not bringing up the affair after you have forgiven someone.

There are also clinically-proven approaches for the aftermath of infidelity such as limiting the discussion of the affair, according to psychologist Nicole Prause.

“This gives both members a way to still express their emotions but in a way that is less likely to bleed into activities that otherwise might improve the relationship over time,” Prause said.

A counselor can help couples practice these methods, among other techniques.

Forgiveness is Freedom

“I think they felt free,” Wagner said, describing how his clients felt after they forgave their partners for cheating.

And that’s exactly what forgiveness is: freedom from feelings that will drag you down. Follow these tips or see a therapist if you’re ready to begin the journey towards freedom.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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