When Your Spouse Won’t Forgive Your Infidelity

By: Katie Lersch:   I often hear from the spouse who was cheated on.  Occasionally though, I sometimes get messages from the spouse who cheated.  Perhaps my perspective is skewed because I was one of the spouse’s who was cheated on, but it’s usually pretty obvious which people are sincere and which aren’t.  Some ask for advice on how to “get” or “make” their spouse forgive their infidelity.  It is pretty obvious that their main concern is themselves.  They are more worried about forgiveness than they are worried about their spouse’s healing and well being.

But, sometimes it’s clear that the person reaching out really does care about what is best for BOTH people.  They are truly sorry and want to make things right again.  Their concern reaches outside of themselves.  I recently heard from a wife who had cheated on her husband over the course of only one night.  She was full of remorse and just sick over what her one action had done to her marriage.   She was desperate to make her husband understand how sorry she was.  She said, in part:  “I am so sorry for cheating on my husband.  I will regret that for the rest of my life.  But the real tragedy would be if I lose my marriage over this.  I might lose my husband and my children might lose their father because of my mistake.  The weird thing is, my husband doesn’t even seem angry anymore.  But he is finished.  He says that infidelity is something that he will never be able to forgive and, although he loves me as a person, he can no longer love me as his wife because of what I did.  I feel like if I could just make him believe that I will never do this again, we could get past this.  We had a very happy marriage and a wonderful family and I’ve gone and ruined it.   Is there any way that I can get him to forgive me so that we can move on?”

The wife’s sincerity was very apparent to me.  It is very upsetting when one mistake (made by someone who is truly sorry and would never repeat the same error) means that a marriage comes toppling down.  I will share with you some of the insights I gave the wife in the following article.

Sometimes, You Have To Accept That Forgiveness Might Take A Good While And It’s Better If You Don’t Push For It: Many people who were unfaithful equate their spouse’s forgiveness with that same spouse’s love and commitment to them.  I’ve had many people admit that they feel that if their spouse can’t forgive them, then this must also mean that their spouse doesn’t love them enough.  This often just isn’t the case.  Their being unable or unwilling to forgive is simply that.  You really shouldn’t try to draw your own conclusions.

And, healing and forgiveness can take time.  Much of the time, they simply want to wait and watch.  They want to see how long you will continue to offer your reassurance and apologies.  They want to see if you continue to be trustworthy and if you love them enough to hang in there even when it isn’t easy for you.  I will admit that many of us who were cheated on put our spouses through sort of a test (even though many of us don’t realize it when we are doing this.)  We want to see if our spouse will stay with us no matter how much we push them away.  We may not do this consciously, but we figure that if they stay put even when we don’t make it easy to do so, then they must truly love us, in spite of their cheating.

The thing is, you likely don’t know which of these factors are at play.   You have given your spouse quite a lot to handle and they are probably doing the very best that they can.  Pushing them to forgive you before they are able to do so only impedes their progress and places the focus on you rather than on them.  You are usually much better off backing off of that topic and continuing to offer your support and reassurance.

Know That Forgiveness For Infidelity Isn’t Required To Move Past It: Countless people tell me that they feel that if their spouse can’t forgive their infidelity, then their marriage must be doomed.  Again, this isn’t always the case.  Some spouses remain married while the betrayed spouse still remains on the fence about forgiveness.  Again, forgiveness is nice.  But it’s certainly not a requirement.  Your spouse can and often will take a “wait and see” attitude and you can still make quite a bit of progress.

It believe that it’s a real tragedy when people give up on their marriages just because one of them is struggling with forgiveness.  I think the better course of action is just to agree to take that issue off of the table for a little while.  After all, you often have other  things on which you can focus on worry about.  And sometimes, if you place your focus on supporting, understanding, and reassuring your spouse rather than on pressuring them, you will eventually get the result that you want because they can see that you have their best interest (rather than yours) at heart.

Think Twice Before You Give Up On Your Spouse When They Are Struggling With Forgiveness.  Patience And Support Are Better Options: My best advice to the wife mentioned above was just to continue to hang in there and support her husband.   Frankly, I thought that she should stop pushing for forgiveness and focus instead on healing.  As someone who has been cheated on myself, I can tell you that being pressured to forgive gets very old.  It makes you feel ever more negatively toward your spouse.  And, you can feel more angry (and less forgiving) because of the pressure.

I suggested that the next time the topic came up, she might say something like “I understand that you can’t forgive my infidelity right now.  You have every right to be reluctant when it comes to me.  I know that I have a lot of work to do to show you that you can trust me again.  And I will do whatever it takes to support you.  I’m not going to pressure you any more. Instead, I’m going to try to give you whatever you need to heal, even if that doesn’t include me.  I just want you to be happy again and I want you to know that I do love you and that you your well being are the most important things to me right now.  If there’s anything that I can do to facilitate this,  just say the word.  If you need some time, I’ll give you that too.”

Sometimes, you just have to wait.  Once your spouse sees that you are sincere and concerned with them rather than yourself, you will often see some changes, even if you don’t always see forgiveness immediately.  The idea is to move forward, to heal, and to restore the closeness without worrying about all of the definitions and the pressure.

I don’t think my husband ever said any magic words that made me forgive his infidelity.  But he did hang in there no matter what.  This eventually convinced me that it was safe to move on.   Although I never would’ve believed this two years ago, my marriage is stronger. It took a lot of work, and I had to play the game to win, but it was worth it. Because of all the work I did on myself, my self esteem is high. I no longer worry my husband will cheat again. If it helps, you can read more of that story on my blog at Http://surviving-the-affair.com

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