How to Forgive After an Affair

Three Parts:Processing the AffairRebuilding TrustBuilding a New Relationship

If your partner had an affair, it signals that all was not well with your relationship.[1] In order to forgive the affair and move forward, it’s necessary to assess the underlying problems that may have contributed to the affair. Then, work on rebuilding trust and forging a stronger foundation for your future together.

Part 1
Processing the Affair

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    Talk about it. The shock of discovering an affair brings with it a range of emotions, from anger and jealousy to shame and embarrassment. When emotions are rampant, it's difficult to think clearly. Look for outside help—someone to talk to who can help you to begin to heal.
    • Feelings that are overwhelming begin to diminish if you’re able to speak about them to someone who cares and who knows how to listen.
    • A therapist can offer an objective perspective and a calming environment for talking out your problems. A therapist has education and experience to help them guide you through the first days that follow the discovery of an affair.
    • Speak to family or friends, too. Choose listeners who will remain calm and listen and not feed the flames of emotion you’re already struggling to handle.
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    Understand the factors that contributed to the affair. While it’s generally accepted that affairs are symptomatic of problems in a relationship, there may be multiple reasons why your partner had an affair.
    • One of the major reasons for infidelity is opportunity. Sometimes an affair isn’t planned. People sometimes “stumble” into affairs, rather than plan them.
    • Many people engage in affairs because they want to see if they’re desirable outside of the relationship.
    • Affairs could also be a symptom of another problem, like alcohol abuse or sex addiction.[2]
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    Resist blaming yourself. It might be tempting, because laying the blame on yourself makes the problem easier to control; theoretically, you could change your behavior and you prevent another affair. However, the problem, at the very least, is the responsibility of both partners. Blaming yourself might offer temporary hope, but it won't resolve the problem.
    • Don’t absolve your partner of accountability for the affair by thinking that you should love your partner unconditionally, or put their happiness before your own.
    • Resist diminishing the affair as a “little mistake.”[3]Don't chide yourself for overreacting. It’s true that the affair was probably a symptom of problems in your relationship. And it might be true that you contributed to the problems that led to the affair. But it’s also true that your partner had other options—other ways to express dissatisfaction or disappointments. Your partner chose to have an affair. You didn’t make that choice for your partner.[4]
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    Decide if there's hope for your relationship. Most couples want to stay together after an affair. About 70 percent of couples try to rebuild their relationships. [5]
    • Assess your relationship. The likelihood of being able to forgive and move forward increases if you both feel the relationship is worth saving.[6]
    • Identify the qualities in your partner that led to the affair so that you can understand how likely it is that another affair is on the horizon.
    • Personality traits such as self-centeredness, dishonesty and a feeling of entitlement suggest that, for some people, it’s not possible to remain faithful.[7]If you’re hoping to fix a relationship that will constantly need fixing it might be time to move on.
    • Assess your partner’s willingness to be accountable for their actions. Are they sorry about the actions? Or are they sorry about getting caught? Does your partner shows signs, such as guilt, that signal they’re aware their actions were wrong?[8]
    • Think about the positives, too. What were the strengths of your relationship? What initially brought you together? It's difficult to focus on the positives after your partner has cheated, but try to be objective.

Part 2
Rebuilding Trust

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    Make changes so that you can trust again. Tell your partner that there are ramifications for the affair. Your partner will now have to be accountable for actions so that you can rebuild your trust.[9]
    • Ask your partner to stop all contact with the person with whom the affair was conducted.
    • Tell your partner they should not go places where they’re likely to run into their former lover.
    • Let your partner know that if they do bump into the former lover they should tell you immediately.[10]
    • Inform your partner that in order for you to trust them again they’ll have to make concessions that allow you access to their emails, texts, and phone records, credit card bills . . . anything that could be used to conduct an affair.[11]
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    Speak openly about the affair. Ask questions about the affair itself, (in addition to examining the underlying causes). It's better to know just what happened rather than filling in the details by using your imagination. There’s no limit to the horrors the imagination can conjure up if fueled by jealousy and anger.
    • Make it clear to your partner that it’s imperative that they answer your questions honestly.
    • If your partner isn’t being honest it will lead to more feelings of distrust. So let your partner know that no matter how hurtful it will be, you want the truth.
    • You might be asking the same questions over and over. But it’s necessary to work those questions and their painful answers out of your system.[12] Think of it as flushing rusty water from a tap. You open the tap and let the water run until the water runs clear.
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    Know that forgiveness is possible. Couples have affairs, one partner forgives the other, and they rebuild. It happens all the time. Forgiving your partner is certainly possible, but are you capable of forgiving?
    • Assess yourself honestly. Can you move past this? Do you see yourself as the type of person who can, eventually, forgive the affair if your partner is sincere about avoiding future infidelity?
    • Think about other times you’ve experienced hurt or injustice from others. Were you able to move past it? Or were you never able to let go and forgive?[13]
    • Don’t remain in the relationship for revenge—to “get even” with your partner’s indiscretion. It’s tempting for self-esteem’s sake, but it wastes time that might be spent pursuing a better relationship.
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    Forgive your partner. Acknowledge that it’s possible for you to forgive the affair. It’s not only your partner who will benefit from forgiveness. Letting go of all-encompassing anger, jealousy and obsession over the details of the affair will relieve you of an enormous burden.
    • The process of forgiving an affair is a long one. In addition to forgiving your partner, your partner will also have to forgive him/herself.
    • Forgiveness requires that eventually you give up on feelings of anger and betrayal. That might not seem possible at the beginning of the forgiveness process.
    • When things get difficult, remind yourself that forgiving will become less daunting as you begin to understand why the affair happened.[14]

Part 3
Building a New Relationship

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    Consider getting professional help. While you and your partner are trying to work things out at home, you can also work things out in a safe environment where couples can speak freely about their relationship.[15]
    • The therapist can encourage both parties to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of the relationship.
    • If patterns emerge, such as patterns of infidelity or emotional abuse, the therapist can address them.
    • If you feel you’re to blame for the affair, the therapist can help you to work through those problems.
    • You may have feelings of inadequacy, or betrayal or anger and the therapist can help you to deal with them.
    • The partner who had the affair may need to work through feeling of regret, or may even need to know why they felt it necessary to have an affair. Here,too, the therapist can help.
    • The partner who cheated may need to work on communicating dissatisfaction with the relationship so that the temptation of infidelity (or an excuse for it) can be avoided.[16]
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    Tell your partner what your needs are.[17] Be specific. The more specific you are, the more tangible will be the changes that you both make to help your relationship go forward.
    • Do you need certain times each week, an hour or so, in which you discuss problems that have cropped up between you?
    • Do you need more physical attention, more affection?
    • Do you need more romance?
    • Do you need something simple, like going to bed at the same time each night?
    • Keep in mind that you’re “resetting the clock.” This is a chance to start over, using your prior experiences to inform the way you define and maintain your relationship.
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    Ask your partner how you can make the relationship better.[18] Why did your partner think your relationship wasn’t working?
    • This will probably be difficult since your partner was the one who had the affair. You may not be feeling in an especially generous and giving mood.
    • Remind yourself that you’re addressing an underlying problem by finding out just what your partner thinks can be improved. You're working to avoid another affair.
    • As time passes, the discussions about the details of the affair will become less frequent. They should. You don’t want the affair to be what your relationship is about.
    • When you find it's no longer urgent for you to talk about the affair, set aside specific times for discussing it so that the affair won’t overwhelm the relationship. [19]
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    Restore your relationship by working together. Enjoy each other’s company by revisiting the types of things that you used to do together that you enjoyed.
    • Put fun and friendship back into your relationship by revisiting activities that once made you feel close.[20] Add new activities so that your relationship will feel authentic and not contrived.
    • Movies, long drives, nature walks, dinner out, visiting friends . . . what were the things you did together that made you feel closer?
    • Make a date night once a week a regular routine.[21] Talk about the present rather than the past when you’re on your date, so that you can go forward and reinvigorate your relationship.[22]
    • Don’t let the affair define your relationship. You'll always be aware that your partner was unfaithful to you. But lack of trust can't be the basis for a healthy rebuilt relationship.
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    Communicate consistently with your partner. Most affairs are preceded by problems with communicating. Misunderstandings occur and feelings get hurt. Avoid these problems by communicating routinely.
    • Share your daily experiences. It’s not necessary to give a blow-by-blow account. But keep in touch with each other’s lives and thoughts by communicating.
    • Listen to your partner. Show you care about their experiences, thoughts, feelings.[23]
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    Be patient with the rebuilding process. It takes time. There are stages you’ll go through, from the initial crisis, to a loss of belief in your relationship, to slowly coming to trust your partner again.
    • It could take six months to rebuild trust in the relationship. It could take two years. It's up to you to decide how much time and effort to put in.
    • Think about the time spent as an investment in a relationship that will, hopefully, last many many years. [24]


  • Keep a journal of your efforts to recover from the affair. Read the journal back every week to see your progress.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Commitment Issues | Cheating Spouses