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. Forgiving can be a tough decision to make. Accepting the idea that someone you care about has betrayed you and forgiving them can feel impossible.
Nonetheless, as hard as it will be, forgiving a cheater will benefit you more than your partner. The anger you feel after infidelity is like poison. Forgiveness is the antidote and a way for you to move on. However, it’s a personal choice whether to do so.
Can you forgive a cheater? In short, yes, but learning how to forgive someone for cheating means understanding what forgiveness actually means — only then can you achieve it. Read on to discover more about cheating and forgiveness.
Forgiveness, Not Forgetting
Forgiving a cheater does not mean promising them you’ll forget about the infidelity. It doesn’t involve condoning or excusing the cheating or staying with the cheating spouse or cheating partner if you don’t want to.
Aside from resolving trust issues in a relationship, knowing how to get over infidelity is all about how you feel towards your cheating partner internally. Forgiveness isn’t totally about the offender. It’s just as much, if not more, for the person who holds resentment. Forgiveness is part of the journey of moving on with your life after someone hurts you. It’s about looking out for your mental health, not letting the cheater off the hook.
“While we don’t forget about what happened to us, we do need to find some peace with it. Some things we can do to forgive include — reserving some space and time to reflect on the event so it doesn’t feel unstructured; teaching our partners what we need to get through down times; focusing on the present moment, what’s coming up for us now, rather than focusing on the past or future.”– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
Can a relationship go back to normal after cheating?
With hard work, dedication, and a mutual commitment to moving forward and letting go, yes, it is possible for a relationship to go back to normal — perhaps a new normal — after cheating.
The Factors of Forgiveness
Understanding the offense and what led to it might help you navigate the forgiveness process. Author and infidelity expert Danine Manette suggests considering the following questions (Talkspace added a few):
- Did the cheater take complete ownership of the behavior, or did they 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 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. However, depending on the answers to these questions, you should be realistic and prepared for it to take a long time. Forgiving someone who cheats isn’t a clear-cut, easy thing.
Several things come into play as you assess your ability (and willingness) to forgive. Above all, remember that genuine forgiveness does not have to equate to staying in a relationship. It simply means allowing yourself the grace, peace, and permission to move on from the betrayal.
What was the cheating like?
Relationship Coach Chris Armstrong recommends you consider the “scope” and frequency of the cheating. This can play a role in healing your relationship.
- Was it only texts, pictures, emails, or more, such as kissing or sex?
- How many times did infidelity occur, and for how long?
- Is your partner a serial cheater?
- How long did the person hide it?
- Was there emotional cheating?
Why did it happen?
Armstrong reminds us that people generally cheat for 1 of 2 reasons. They include:
- Partner-focused circumstance: When someone cheats because their partner is emotionally unavailable, sexually inadequate, or unavailable in a general sense.
- Personal-focused circumstance: When someone cheats because they have general commitment issues, attachment issues, or other personal things they can’t get past.
Neither category is an excuse for cheating, but the first might make forgiving somewhat easier. Unfortunately, this means more work for you, if you plan to stay in the relationship.
How are they handling it?
Are they taking responsibility for their actions? Are they apologizing sincerely for the relationship problems they caused? Or are they trying to minimize the situation, making excuses and shifting blame?
How well a person handles themselves after being caught cheating speaks volumes about who they are, so pay attention here when considering if you should offer genuine forgiveness.
6 Reasons Why Trying to Forgive Might Help You
Because forgiveness is more about you than the cheater, it really does have many benefits. Each one will help you move toward a happier life.
1. Forgiving is a step toward trusting again
We need to trust each other to rebuild a relationship after infidelity or succeed in future relationships. Cheating can shatter our ability to trust; forgiveness is one step you need to rebuild.
People who can’t forgive cheating carry resentment that might prevent them from being honest and trusting. The last thing you want is a partner’s cheating to affect you negatively. Forgiving them will reduce the risk of you harboring unhealthy resentment.
2. 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 challenging to reach the point where you can stop it from consuming your mind, but the results are worth it.
3. Forgiveness is healthy
Feelings of anger and bitterness affect your physical and mental health. Forgiving releases this and improves your health in several ways, including:
- Reduced anxiety
- Less stress
- Less hostility
- Improved blood pressure
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Improvement to the immune system
- Heart health improvements
- Increased self-esteem
“Forgiveness takes unnecessary weight off our shoulders. It takes excessive shame and guilt off our partners. Forgiveness allows us to develop strategic solutions. It gets us out of our gut reactions. It allows us to develop understanding or the ability to see someone through their lens.”– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
Working through the process of forgiving someone for cheating can help you grow as an individual and become stronger emotionally. It’s often difficult to confront our feelings about a situation, but doing so can lead us toward self-discovery and personal growth. Facing the pain head-on allows you to learn more about yourself and how you handle difficult situations with grace under pressure.
5. Increased compassion
Going through this process can give you increased compassion for others who’ve experienced similar betrayals.
6. Improved future relationships
Forgiving someone who has cheated on you can improve other relationships. It helps break down barriers after you feel betrayed. By letting go of negative feelings associated with the incident, you’ll be able to reconnect to others without fear or judgment.
How to Forgive Your Partner After Cheating
Taking that step can seem almost impossible, even when you know you should forgive and why you should do it. Be patient and know there’s nothing wrong with seeking help.
Talk about what happened
Talking openly about what happened can help you move forward healthily, as long as it’s done respectfully and without blame or judgment. Ask questions if needed but try not to get stuck on the details of what happened — this won’t help either of you move past the issue.
“We can write our partners a letter without the expectation of a response. We can reserve time and space to actively reflect on the incident and include periodic forgiveness. Directives that ask for a certain love language need to be met, allowing our partners to do something to help. Acknowledging the root emotion (insecurity, fear, hopelessness) is always better than the gut reaction (anger). Practice mindfulness so we can stay in the present moment.”– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
Knowing how to set boundaries in a relationship after cheating can help ensure it doesn’t happen again. Make sure boundaries are realistic and achievable for both parties involved, though. Boundaries that are too restrictive or controlling can be detrimental, rather than helpful, to the relationship.
Get professional help
Therapy is often a crucial stop on the path to forgiveness. Many people find couples counseling after an affair is instrumental in the ability to heal. Sometimes, individual counseling is needed if you end the relationship.
The benefits of couples therapy go beyond just 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. Different couples therapy techniques can rebuild these essential elements of your relationship or give you the skills to have them in future relationships. It won’t magically solve the problem, though.
Forgiving a cheater is never easy, but it can be done with the right help. Through online therapy with Talkspace, you can learn how to cope with the pain and find healing from this experience. Don’t let your hurt prevent you from finding peace — take control of your life today and start on the path towards forgiveness.
- Manette D. Ultimate betrayal: Recognizing, uncovering and dealing with infidelity. Ultimate Betrayal: Recognizing, Uncovering and Dealing with Infidelity. http://www.ultimatebetrayal.com/. Accessed December 22, 2022.