How To Forgive An Affair (He Won’t Admit)

Dear Duana,

Following my recent tip-off about Henry’s two-year infidelity with a colleague, he ceased contact with Anne, joined me in therapy, and apologized for endangering our marriage. 

But he won’t admit he had an affair, or tell me anything about it!  He insists Anne was “just a good friend” he never mentioned because he didn’t want me upset. 

Well, I’m beyond upset.  Why is the truth so hard for him to tell?  And (how) can I forgive him—for my sanity and our unity and our family? 



Dear Katherine,

People don’t jeopardize their life’s foundation for “just a good friend”.   As your gut knows, Henry had an affair—and now he’s lying to you about lying to you.

That’s a problem; in addition to Henry’s present and future fidelity, you need his validation of the past.  Ideally, you need to hear every detail you ask for, when you ask for it, so you can heal and trust again.  If Henry would do that, science says your odds of reconciliation and forgiveness would soar, your likelihood of divorce would plummet, and you might even achieve intimacy you’d never known before.  Telling saves relationships

But that’s the opposite of what most people believe.  Even 41% of therapists (!) erroneously think True Confessions ruin reconciliation.  If that’s Henry’s fear, at least he’s trying to do the right thing now—albeit in the wrong way. 

And maaaaaybe Henry stopped short of sexual intercourse with Anne.  As an earlier Q&A showed, men tend to construe anything but Tab A in Slot B as not an affair—whereas most women find their partner’s emotional infidelity even more alarming than physical cheating. 

Yet forgiveness is the norm after infidelity —even among 2/3 of sex addicts’ betrayed spouses!  Whether Henry confesses or not, you can eventually get there, too.    


1. Feel What You Feel

Henry’s affair is new News.  Upon Impact, it’s near-compulsory to feel confusion mixed with every sad and ugly emotion ever invented.  (Ugly behavior is another thing; go there too often, and your marriage will implode no matter how right you are.) 

Months later, most couples find meaning and forgiveness.  But now, if you force it, all you’ll get is denial with a prettier label.  For the present, feel what you feel, behave respectfully, and forgive Henry…later. 


 2. Avoid Doormatitis

Forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same thing.  The former is an absolute necessity for your well-being.  But since Henry has not told you everything, keep listening to your gut, which is likely to be right a surprising amount of the time. *Staying together* is safe only if the betrayal stops, and stays stopped. 

To err is human; to forgive is divine.  But to be a doormat is optional. 


 3. Forgive When Ready

The Stanford Forgiveness Project found that forgiving *causes* better health, reduces stress and anger, and heightens optimism.  It’s a gift we give ourselves, regardless of whether the other person deserves or even knows about our forgiveness. 

 And…Forgiveness Can Be Learned:


a)      Buy –don’t borrow— Shirley Glass’ book Not “just friends”.  How often have I said people really must buy a book?  Only once before   .  And you truly need this, as does anyone wishing to prevent or survive infidelity.


b)      See things through Henry’s eyes.  There is no forgiveness without empathy.  And empathy entails seeing things from the other person’s viewpoint so you can replace your anger with insight

For instance, Henry is probably not only trying to prevent a divorce by refusing to discuss the past; he also likely intended for Anne to be “just a friend”. The most common form of long-term infidelity today starts when men and women who meet at work begin as (appropriately) friendly co-workers—and then without planning it out, eventually start relating (inappropriately) intimate details of their lives.  Once this occurs, a cascade of emotional, and often sexual, bonding begins between the former friends—with corresponding deceit towards the spouse.  All without an ounce of mean-spirited intent.   

This doesn’t excuse, condone, negate, or make you forget what Henry did.  Nothing short of traumatic head injury can (should?) do that.  And it does not mean you agree with Henry’s behavior, or even with his interpretation of it.    

But envisioning Henry’s viewpoint paves the road to forgiveness.  And nothing else will. 


c)     Put it in words.  Tell someone—Henry (without attacking him), a friend of your marriage, and/or a journal:   

*Say you’re in pain, and specify what you’re in pain about.   “I felt my heart and trust fall apart when I got that tip-off email.  I was in total shock, and it’s still hard for me to think back on it without pain and anger.”    

*Express how Henry might see his actions (see above). 

* Denote your boundaries—what you expect and what you won’t abide— to help you map out your distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.  “I won’t tolerate any more secret friendships.  I expect that you and I will actively avoid sharing anything with an opposite-sex friend that we could not easily say in front of one another.  And I expect my questions about your friends to be answered honestly and willingly to protect our marriage.” 

*Specify what you’re forgiving Henry for.   “I forgive you for refusing to acknowledge your secret relationship as an affair.  I forgive you for not giving me details I asked for.  I forgive you for having had an emotional affair with Anne.  And I forgive you if it was a physical affair.”    


d)     Be patient and persistent.  Forgiveness is not achieved in a flash of insight, but gradually.  The greater the betrayal, the truer that is.   And sometimes hurt and anger will rear their snakey heads, Medusa-like, just when you thought this was Done. 

Yet with patient persistence, you’ll begin to see that you and Henry are vulnerable to each other once more, which is Forgiveness and Reconciliation in one.  You’ll resume living and loving again. 


So yes, Katherine, you *can* forgive your husband for his affair…not today, perhaps, and not easily, and not quickly—but surely.  I admire your wisdom in working towards it.  And I wish you restored in every way forgiveness heals. 





Related Love Science articles:


The author wishes to acknowledge the following scientists and sources:

Shirley Glass, for authoring THE book on affair prevention and recovery—Not “Just Friends” : Protect Your Relationship from Infidelity and Heal the Trauma of Betrayal—and doing much of the research showing what works and what doesn’t.  Unless otherwise indicated, Dr. Glass was the source for all research in this article.    

Everett Worthington, for authoring THE research-based book on forgiveness (of all kinds of offenses): Five Steps to Forgiveness: The Art and Science of Forgiving .  The man knows what he writes about, personally and professionally:  After he was already renowned for forgiveness research, Dr. Worthington’s mother was
murdered—and he managed to forgive the murderers. 

— Peggy Vaughan, for surveys showing that marriages are *more* likely to last if the involved partner discloses all the details of the affair, discussing it completely with the betrayed spouse (Glass found the same thing in her formal studies.).  Vaughan’s results showed that if an errant spouse would answer every question the betrayed spouse asked, 86% stayed together and 72% rebuilt their trust—compared to 59% and 31% if information was not forthcoming.  You can see her survey here.

Jennifer P. Schneider and others, for research and international surveys showing that forgiveness of sex addicts is the norm, and that almost all couples dealing with sex addiction ultimately agree that revealing details the betrayed spouse wants to know is the best course of action.

Kristina Gordon and Donald Baucom, for studies showing that forgiveness of infidelity travels through three reliable stages of Impact, Meaning, and Moving On—and that false forgiveness that is given too soon results in less intimacy, ultimately, than waiting until one is truly ready to forgive. 

Carl Thoresen and Frederic Luskin and others in the Stanford Forgiveness Project, an experiment that randomly assigned half the participants to a 9-hour forgiveness workshop, resulting in improved health and happiness in a wealth of regards for those who went through the process of forgiving. 


If this article intrigued, surprised or enlightened you, please write a comment and/or click “Share Article” below to link it with your favorite social media website.

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and Love Science Media, 2010

Do you have a question for Duana?  Contact her at



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Reader Comments (18)

But isn't a cheater likely to cheat again? What is the point in forgiving a cheater? How could you ever trust that person again? And what is a relationship without trust? Move on and find someone who treats you like you deserve to be treated!

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZ

I have gone through the same thing but had a hell of a time getting past it. I was so angry and even wanted to hurt him the way he hurt me. I learned from a wise woman that it takes a year to adapt to something bad that has been done. It has been a little over a year and I am over it. It easy to test yourself, just replay in your mind what was done to you and how you felt at the time it was done and when you feel peace and not angry anymore, you have forgiven! We are not together anymore but I don't hate him like I did at one time and we get along for the sakes of our child. It will def get better. = )

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

It is hard enough to forgive an admitted affair, so I can see how it would be even more difficult to forgive one that wasn't admitted to. One thing that is often overlooked is the impact an affair has on children. Having to forgive your cheating parent is beyond difficult and affects your future relationships. Been there, done that!

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda

While some may be skeptical, I can say from my personal experience that forgiving people is empowering and amazingly helpful.

My field is Asperger's Syndrome, and there are a LOT of adults with AS who carry a lot of anger at the people who bullied them in school, the teachers who punished them for behaviors they could not control, and parents who wanted them to be people they simply never could be. I can guarantee that growing up with AS is a great way to truly have people you trust and/or dearly love do things that seem unforgivable to you.

I found the path to forgiveness through REBT (a kind of cognitive-behavioral therapy). That's how I came to understand that it is illogical and self-destructive to carry around rage or hate based on people acting out of ignorance, out of ineptitude, and/or out of their own "neuroses." People do stupid things, people lack the ability to make good decisions, and people have their own mental issues that often neither I nor they can control.

Besides, the alternative to forgiveness is to spend one's life with a bad digestion, tension headaches, late nights spent awake plotting revenge or raging at the unfairness of it all, and generally going around distracted, unable to enjoy either work or play fully, and significantly less healthy than one could be!

For my own health, I learned forgiveness. Does that mean I let the same people run roughshod over me? Of course not. It means I left the unhealthy rage behind and replaced it with feelings like a healthy frustration with others' behavior, with regret (not guilt!) over having been unable to educate them or help them to do better, and with a determination to use what I had learned to help other people.

Is infidelity different? Well, it does involve someone you probably live with and need to forge some form of partnership with (if there are children involved, you still need to partner up for their upbringing to be sane). If you don't forgive, then those hateful and rage-filled emotions will hurt you deeply every day every time you have contact or a reminder of your formerly cheating spouse. Just looking at little Junior from the right angle can remind you of how much he resembles your spouse, and then you can start worrying about Junior being a no-good cheater as well!

In fact, it is possible for a spouse to really can make him/herself so miserable, hostile, and shrewish that the spouse will start thinking s/he was smart to cheat! S/he may even forget that the wounded spouse was nicer before the cheating and just remember how nice that other person was in comparison with the wronged spouse's meanness.

There are some issues that require serious thought: if someone is a serial cheater, you do have to make a decision about whether you can continue to live with him or her, but rage won't help you make a better decision.

If the LW's husband doesn't understand that "almost but not quite cheating" is really cheating, or if (like a lot of men) he doesn't understand that an emotional affair IS an affair, then yes, it's harder and more complicated and that sucks.

You can decide to forgive without forgetting, and you can continue to modify your own behavior in light of the cheating (for example, in the case of a serial cheater, you might insist on safer sex practices). But never forgiving someone because "he doesn't deserve it" is a great way to punish yourself daily, even hourly, for someone else's bad behavior.

It's going to hurt the letter writer whether she forgives or not. It will hurt much more if she doesn't. I say, she should do what is least painful -- forgive him -- and then she will be able to base her actions around what is healthy and works for her, her child(ren) and her husband.

Or she could just rage forever and make the whole family miserable while developing a drinking problem and a deep hatred of humanity. That's a popular option too. But from what she wrote, she seems a lot smarter than that!

For those who feel the evil husband doesn't deserve forgiveness, remember how Carrie Fisher put it: "Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

June 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMocha's Mom

Dear Z, When I first announced my intention to answer Katherine’s letter, some Facebook followers said any article on forgiveness and affairs would be rather short. As in, non-existent.

And the Law Of Psychology states that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior in a similar situation.

Which means the answer to your question about whether a cheater will just cheat again is: Yes. Right?

Like you, I would have thought so. But it turns out that the answer depends on the kind of cheater we're talking about.

In the Yes, They’ll Likely Do It Again category:

The best predictor of male cheating—although many men never succumb-- is simple opportunity. In the presence of the Aggressively Willing, male Genes just don’t wanna say no to a shot at immortality. Most men will *never* know what that feels like—and many will only be pursued once in a lifetime. But rich, powerful, athletic, and/or famous men are often literally surrounded by such temptation nearly every waking hour. And for some of them, it eventually goes to their heads (and other parts).
And that’s how Tiger became a Cheetah, and Letterman endured more than a few not-so-funny moments.

Second, a relative few cheaters are willful philanderers (most often men) and/or narcissists (equivalent numbers of men and women) who require no prompting to nurse their sense of entitlement, often expressed as “What I’m doing isn’t hurting anyone else, and I deserve this.”

Still others are folks with such an insecure attachment style, they feel they must have a ‘back-up’ in case their current mate ditches--making it more likely that their current mate *will* ditch.

Yet others are people who cheat very early in the marriage, demonstrating low commitment even during the honeymoon.

Once these types have been caught cheating, you can usually trust them—to cheat again.
In which case, you’re right: Unless you’re okay with your mate’s infidelity, if possible, “Move on and find someone who treats you like you deserve to be treated!”

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.


In the No, They Probably Won’t Do It Again category:

*Most* people who have affairs say it “just happened”, and they aren’t lying—exactly. Copious research now shows that accidental cheating is the norm today, where mere friends become affair partners, through no plan or intent to harm. As the spouse gets to know someone (typically a colleague at work, ala Henry and Anne) a bit too well emotionally, they gradually cease open communication with their mate. And emotional and usually sexual cheating ensue.
As Shirley Glass famously described it, these are the people who –without forethought or malice of any kind-- reversed the walls and windows of their lives so that the windows that used to encourage open communication between spouses have now become brick walls; and the walls that used to keep “just friends” at arm’s length become windows so large, they may as well be sliding-glass doors.
(That’s why I posted two of Glass’ quizzes at last week’s Love Science—to help readers see if their relationship is in danger of experiencing a reversal of these walls and windows—and hence, affairs.)

The trick is finding out which kind of mate one has. To figure *that* out, Glass advises betrayed spouses to ask themselves:
--Is your partner’s infidelity “part of a larger picture of cheating and lying”?
--“Is your partner understanding about your pain?”
--Does your mate willingly reduce your anxiety by accountability?

If the errant spouse is a Liar In General, a past cheater, callous towards the betrayed spouse’s pain, or unwilling to be an Open Book going forward—then forgiveness is still necessary for your own happiness. But staying is just foolhardy.

Or, as I like to quip, To err is human; to forgive is divine. But to be a doormat is optional. And it’s not an option I recommend.

Thanks, Z, for a set of great questions. Hope to see you back here again.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Dear Patti, sounds like you've found wisdom along with peace, and I congratulate you. Your self-test is brilliant. And your life’s example makes the Ultimate Point that whether or not one stays with the errant spouse –as you did not—it makes all the sense in the world to *forgive* that person…for oneself and one’s children (who need you to get along and be emotionally present, whether or not you remain with their other parent—something unforgiveness prevents).

So kudos to you for achieving what many writers privately told me they thought impossible…but which the data and your story show to actually be the rule rather than the exception.

And thank you for letting me address Z’s question about why it's worthwhile to forgive (but not remain with!) someone who will only cheat again:

The point of forgiving anyone—cheater or not—is that peace and serenity are literally impossible for ourselves if we won’t.

In his book Authentic Happiness, top positive psychology theorist and scientist Marty Seligman compellingly makes the point. Many of us think forgiveness is something we do for the *other* person, and that since the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness, we oughtn’t give it. In Seligman’s words, ““Here are some of the usual reasons for holding on to unforgiveness: Forgiving is unjust….Forgiving may be loving toward the perpetrator, but it shows a want of love toward the victim….Forgiving blocks revenge, and revenge is right and natural.”

But feeling chronic bitterness, obsession, pain, avoidance, and vengeance (the hallmarks of unforgiveness) is plain-out Bad For *YOU* and your kids and anyone else who must deal with you.
A raft of studies compellingly shows that the process of forgiving makes the forgiver happier, healthier, and better-off in almost every way (exception: I don’t think it’s been examined economically.). These studies aren’t merely correlational, but experimental, meaning there is Cause. Forgiveness Causes Good Stuff. For You.

So the reason to forgive even the worst, least-apologetic, heinous individual is that forgiveness is the only way out of the tyranny of others’ actions, the one road back towards happiness, and the sure path from victim to victor.

Ironically, then, forgiveness is the ultimate selfish act. But it’s one selfish act that truly makes your entire world a better place.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

I feel like the odd gal out. I have never been able to stay mad about anything for more than about 3 minutes.
I can honestly say I would be more upset if my spouse took a lover on holiday then if he just satisfied an itch. I don't get the big deal about affairs? Is it the betrayal or the affair we are talking about forgiving? It seems that more people are upset about being betrayed but if the spouse said, " Hey honey I need more than you can give me I want a hooker or relationship on the side" how many people would say okay? I have never really understood why people expect one person to provide or meet all their needs.

Why does an affair have to endanger a marriage? It seems that some women have no problem with their man cheating as long as they continue to provide for them. I have found it strange that over the years I know of more women who have affairs than men?

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

Hi, Brenda, good to hear your voice added to Love Science. Researching this article taught me a number of surprising things, two of which your experience reflects.

First, like most people, I had always thought a person really should not admit to an affair—or that if they did confess, then for their future marital stability, they ought to keep the details to themselves. I believed, as Henry probably still does, that being a good, faithful spouse going *forward* was enough.
But I was wrong, and you’re right. Being a good mate going forward is not enough. Cleaning up the past by willingly revealing the details the betrayed spouse asks for is needed if trust is really going to be repaired. And as research shows, the betrayer needs to be genuinely sorry--*and express that regret to their mate*.

Second, it’s awful that you knew of your parents’ breach of fidelity. That does wreak havoc with parent-child relationships, and science indicates that this is one case where cheaters really *should* keep it to themselves.
If at all possible, minor children, especially, should be protected from knowing about parental affairs, for these reasons:
--When kids know about a parent's affair(s), that knowledge drives a wedge between them that may or may not be removed with time.
--When the betrayed parent tells kids about the affair, now the kids have *two* formerly trusted people to forgive: the cheater, and the parent who told them. It’s a huge psychological burden, and additionally, the kids cannot do anything about it but be caught in the middle.
Upshot? Kids who feel caught between warring parents (for any offense or reason) do worse in school, have more behavior problems, function more poorly psychologically, and in every way a parent wishes to avoid—just plain do worse than kids who are rightfully enjoying a parent-war-free childhood.
--When kids know about a parent’s affair(s), it has the perverse consequence of often—though not always—shifting the risk upwards that the kids will later have affairs themselves, and it messes with their sense that a mate can be trusted. Marriages are never the same after an affair as before, and the gut-wrench of an affair and its aftermath is something few of us would wish on our kids.

Thank you again for writing, Brenda. I wish you peace from the past.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Dear Mocha’s Mom, welcome back, and thank you for your insightful contribution about why forgiveness is something we really do for ourselves (as I've said before, you can be a guest columnist here anytime...).

I also appreciate your insights about the distinction between Forgiveness and Reconciliation. A major deterrent to forgiveness of *anything* --being badly parented, being lied to by a friend, being used by colleagues, and yes, being cheated on by a spouse—is thinking we have to go right on having the same exact relationship as before. No. We have to forgive, for our own well-being. But we do *not* have to Stay.

That said, it turns out that every permutation of the Forgiveness-Reconciliation scenario can and does happen. Many couples stay together without forgiving (see under “Inadvisable” and “Hell” in dictionary). And many leave but forgive from a distance—which is the sane choice if the offender goes right on offending and you understandably desire peace in your heart *along with* safety from further betrayal. And best-case, of course, many stay together *and* forgive.
In fact, the best-case actually *is* the most common outcome in every study I found. Which was perhaps the most surprising, and oddly heartening, part of writing this article.

In other news: The book I most want to marry (or at least run away with) right now is “Committed” by Liz Gilbert. Although she’s a novelist, and the book is a personal exploration of her own hesitation to legally wed, it’s got a lot of research in it (she does a great job of explaining Shirley Glass and John Gottman, hence my falling in love with Liz. In light of that, we will overlook her incorrect interpretation of the Do-Men-Or-Women-Benefit-More-From-Marriage question.).

You may be wondering what my point is. Fair enough: Asperger’s is bound to give rise to a need to forgive the many blundering insensitives of the world. But *all* long-term relationships give even us Neurotypicals abundant opportunities to forgive, and to need to be forgiven, too. As Gilbert writes, “In the end, it seems to me that forgiveness may be the only realistic antidote we are offered in love, to combat the inescapable disappointments of intimacy.”

Or we could just stick with Carrie Fisher, lol.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Dear Cynthia, thank you for contributing your voice here at Love Science. You are the odd girl out, indeed, to be able to forgive so quickly. (Whether you’re odd-girl-out to know more unfaithful women than men, I can’t say—that could just depend on whom you know, and whether they will really Tell All.)

It’s enviable, really. Most of us are pretty good at remaining angry about stuff our parents did decades ago, nevermind forgiving in a matter of moments.

But you’re All Woman when it comes to being more upset about an ongoing emotional affair than a fling. Not that women think our mate’s casual sex is neat, mind you—we’re just more threatened (in experiments and self-reports around the globe) by affairs that include emotions.

It’s Evolutionary, My Dear Cynthia, dealing as it does with ancient survival needs our maternal ancestors battled. Where men love, they invest all their resources—and in the ancient past, a man who left to invest all his resources in another spouse was a man who left behind a mate and children who mightn't survive.

(Meantime, men—-who could hunt down a wildebeest just fine, thank you, but who could also be bred out of future genetic existence by a philandering wife—-continue to be far more enraged by sexual cheating in a spouse.)
And you can read more about it at this Love Science Q&A:

As far as expecting one person to meet all one’s needs—you’re right, it’s impossible. I, for instance, need to play Bananagrams, take daily hikes, eat lots of dark chocolate, read several books at once, and spend hours on the phone with girlfriends. To expect my man to join me in all this would be plain-out ludicrous. And he, for his part, does not hold it against me that I don’t spend each Sunday volunteering at the zoo with him, nor that I won’t dig holes in the dirt with him, nor that I have no understanding of or appreciation for good wine, nor that I can spend large amounts of time relaxing, and he…can’t.

But whereas one’s need to play outstanding tennis can be matched (haha, a pun) elsewhere without ill consequence, meeting sexual and intimacy needs outside the marriage is a huge threat. And it is *not* like other betrayals.

Most people, most of the time, are just not very good at sharing when it comes to sharing their mate’s body and emotions. Why?

For one thing, in the rosy glow of affairs (especially the on-going, lovey-dovey type), people seldom use condoms. Or any protection. Few of us, male or female, relish the option to unwittingly contract a sexual disease or pay for/raise the child-of-Spousie’s-lover.

For another, the ideal in unions around the world continues to be Fidelity. Even in polygamous societies, women try to be the wife who is married for love; women get hurt if their mate loves another; and men are sometimes murderous if their wife has sex with anyone else.

Yes, the Fidelity Ideal is often breached—about 50% of marriages sustain at least one emotional and/or sexual affair, globally, according to several reviews of research. But it’s an ideal that runs so deep that it is in the marriage contract in nearly every culture and religion. “Forsaking all others” is, for instance, part of many Christian wedding ceremonies; “sharing all my hobbies” is nowhere found in vows.

Finally, your musing about open affairs, ala “You don’t meet all my needs, so what if I just hire a hooker?” is a question that couples have always wrestled with. Mismatches in sexual desire are among the most common problems found in marriages, ala the science. And people have found a variety of ways to try to solve those problems by turning to another person. Today, variations on open affairs range from just-sex to love affairs, and include polyamory, swinging, and open marriage.
(Another option discussed with startling rarity is Just Masturbating More! There's sex with someone besides your mate--without the risks.)

But the research is consistent on what happens next: A few of these marriages last—but most either recommit to monogamy, or else end in divorce.

Like I said, for evolutionary and cultural reasons—most of us just aren’t very good at sharing.

June 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Great Page! got lots of good advice here!

June 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRelationship advice

My experience is that I forgive a lot easier than the trust returns. Acknowledgement of any misdoing makes you feel like your partner respects you and can be honest about their mistakes. You can forgive someone and not let them back in your life or just be friends. If they can't be honest about a problem like seeking intimacy outside a relationship then there is no reason for me to continue that relationship; I can forgive, we could be friends, but I do not want them as a lover. If they are honest, forthright, and state they want to make the relationship work then I see potential for growth in the relationship and potential for trust to be regained.

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Morrow

Dear Mark,
You have a handle on the Forgiveness Thang that is unusual and which I frankly envy, since you seem to have learned core forgiveness concepts naturally that many people take a very long while to discover. Or perhaps I am assuming too much, and it took you just as long as many people.
Either way, I include myself among those many people.
It wasn't until I researched what is known, scientifically, about forgiveness that it finally hit me that:

a. Forgiving often happens sooner than trusting, and sometimes trust is never re-established—nor deserved-- even though forgiveness happens.
In fact, the Law Of Psychology shows that a whole lot of the time, depending on the factors I wrote down for Z (above), the offender is going to re-offend if in the same situation. They can be trusted…to Do It Again.
For those people who truly aren’t going to Do It Again (whatever It is they did), it’s going to take a long, long time before any reasonable person fully trusts that/them. That’s the way it is—there’s no quick path back to trust once it’s shattered.

b. Sometimes, the reason people don’t forgive is because they don’t want to subject themselves to further abuse (of whatever kind, not only cheating). And they feel that forgiving = saying Yes to further contact.

But it could be so helpful for those folks to know that they can have *both* peace and safety. As you’ve found, forgiveness is *not* the same thing as letting someone back into your life. You forgive for your own health at every level; you also shut the door on some folks to protect your own health at every level. Both are appropriate.

And whereas the science supports your statement that “If they are honest, forthright, and state they want to make the relationship work then I see potential for growth in the relationship and potential for trust to be regained”, you’re also correct that if dishonesty, hesitation to be an open book about the future (and hopefully about the past as well), or an inability to work through ambivalence about which lover to choose remains at issue—it’s time for the Heave Ho at some level that makes sense for *you* (not for the offender—for you).

c. In addition to the type of forgiveness we usually think of—where we let the offender know they are forgiven—there is Silent Forgiveness. This happens when we forgive others but don’t tell them so. It is a perfectly legit option if you require or desire any kind of safety (emotional, physical, economic, etc.) from the offender.

Since forgiveness is for the forgiver, whether or not to tell the other party is purely up to the forgiver’s judgment, and is not a requirement of forgiving.

d. Forgiveness should never be accompanied by forgetting, nor by making light of the offense.
As Glass wrote, “Forgiveness is about as far away from ‘not a big deal’ as you can get.”
As the adage puts it, “Wise people forgive, but only a fool forgets.”

And as I like to say, “Yes, turn the other cheek, but you’ve only got four.”
Memory protects us from Doormatitis. Never forget.

Thanks for a great contribution, Mark. Looking forward to more of your Wisdom!

June 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

Thanks Duana,

I learned very young the difference between the baggage that is carried when you hold a grudge, and the freedom that is part of forgiveness. I see forgiveness as part of the coping skills for survival. Part of the human condition is mistakes they happen even when people go to great pains to avoid them. To me forgiveness is part of understanding that we are all human.

However, like most things when you are really good at one thing there is usually a trade-off somewhere else. One is that it has been awkward posting in this forum, as I grew up with the values that the topic of emotions and intimacy are only shared with loved ones and close friends you trust or more private settings. The other was that I was raised with the value that expressing anger was "unprofessional," so I was in my Senior year of High School before I STARTED feeling justified in feeling and expressing anger, and even that has been kept in check with self-imposed rules of "fighting fair." Anger is much more effective when you can channel it to fit the "crime." I can really only remember one incident where anger controlled my behavior impulsively.

I have an excellent memory and it is very helpful in drawing lines. I dislike the saying, but it holds a certain wisdom: "scr*w me once shame on you, scr*w me twice shame on me." Some folks might be special enough for the "three strikes and you are out." I do draw lines before anyone can get that fourth cheek though - LOL!

Thank you for posting this discussion and the links to related studies; very interesting information, Duana.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Morrow

Mark, So glad you overcame any hesitation about posting here. Anytime you want, of course, you can post anonymously--just put a pseudonym where the comments form requests your name, and don't fill out the other info.

I loved your whole post--particularly this line: "To me forgiveness is part of understanding that we are all human."

And your post especially got me thinking about how to deal with anger and the role of “fighting fair”. Although you were taught that showing anger is unprofessional, actually what it is, is harmful. Having an angry outburst has now been shown in many studies to only cause more anger--and to fail to resolve problems in relationships.

In fact, it's even true that "catharting" by hitting a pillow or punching bag only creates even more anger and aggression. Even when scientists tell people that punching a bag will make them feel better, the anger increases rather than going away.

Unfortunately, not many of us were taught what *does* work when we are angry: 1. Waiting half an hour 'til our physiology calms down,
2. distracting ourselves in some non-violent way during that half-hour, and then
3. coming back to calmly discuss what we need after that—in a respectful manner that uses “I” language.

So fighting fair is important. Anything else may feel good in the moment, but it tears the relationship’s present and future apart.

June 21, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.

If I'm going to take the time to say something then I'm going to own it, so no need for anonymity.

In all fairness I know my comments on anger were very generalized, since it was not the primary focus of this post. However, the behaviors you have described are not anger, but rather aggression. Repressed anger is known to lead to aggression. Studies I have read demonstrate that my problem is more similar to what many women experience. They are raised thinking to have a positive image they cannot express anger at all. While women who are more assertive and express their anger when appropriate are labeled "bitches." It is a strange phenomenon of black and white thinking and forgetting about the middle ground. Healthy expressions of anger are human, and sometimes necessary. It is only the person that is horrible to everyone for no reason that actually deserves the derogatory titles (male or female).

My friends who are able to yell and get it out seem so much better able to confront and resolve those types of conflicts. Some people behave in ways that deserve a good scolding - LOL! I'm too cautious sometimes; double checking so I don't yell at someone for the wrong reason. If you meekly express that "I'm not happy you are playing head games, or I don't like it when you stalk me," then it just is not as effective as someone expressing how they really feel about the situation. Anger fits the crime so to speak. It is healthy to express anger, but not healthy to express aggression. I think aggression is an extreme and is not appropriate unless it is in self-defense to remove yourself from a violent / aggressive situation, and even then should be avoided if at all possible.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMark Morrow

Hi, Mark, Good points. There is a huge distinction between criticizing (which, no matter how mad we are, does not forward a relationship) and complaining (which, no matter how happy we are, has to happen at times. The happiest couples, in fact, are those in which there is the most complaining when problems and trespasses occur--and the least criticism).

Nobody, self included, is advocating for keeping anger to oneself. But there are more and less effective ways of expressing it, both for the self and for the future of the relationship. I think you just gave me another article idea--thank you, and hope to see you back here as a regular contributor.


June 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterDuana C. Welch, Ph.D.
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