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Do You Need to Forgive Your Spouse For Having An Affair?

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Couples who are struggling to overcome infidelity can be a challenge for practitioners to work with.  They are intensely emotional.  They may rage, cry, be angrily defensive or withdrawn. Their behavior and progress can be unpredictable. On top of it, some of them expect “instant results.”  If they don’t feel you’ve solved all their problems after the first session, they may be dissatisfied with your services.

As a result, the goal of some counselors and coaches is to have the betrayed spouse wear the crown of forgiveness because, to be brutally honest, it calms them down in the office. It creates an artificial aura of peace and acceptance.  When that happens, a couple is easier to manage.  They themselves may think their problems are solved. They feel those warm fuzzies of forgiveness and think, Wow, what a miracle worker the counselor is!

The problem is, those warm fuzzies quickly wear off

Betrayed spouses who are pressured to forgive too soon, before they have processed what has happened and come to terms with it, will soon cough up the very “forgiveness” they’ve been asked to swallow.  They’ll eventually realize that they’ve been asked to do all the work.  Learn to forgive. Then all your problems will be solved.  Oh, you’re finding it hard to forgive? Well, that means your heart isn’t open enough yet. Try to open it more.

Talking ad nauseam about forgiveness lets the counselor or coach sidestep the tricky duty of having to provide a couple with practical strategies to actually achieve it. Instead, they can just wax poetic about how important forgiveness is, as if it’s some kind of divine state of being.

Some practitioners will even pressure the betrayed spouse to forgive their spouse’s affair partner! This altruistic approach may sound good in theory, but it’s so unrealistic for so many people that it does more harm than good. It’s a rare one among us who can forgive the “other woman” or the “other man.” And frankly, it just isn’t necessary. The affair partner is irrelevant and has no place in the healing process.

I’ve seen struggling couples become almost obsessed with the idea of forgiveness.  They focus on it so much that their healing grinds to a halt.  Some betrayed spouses will even question the loving foundation of the marriage:  “If I truly loved my spouse, shouldn’t I be able to forgive them?”

The truth is, you cannot force the feeling of forgiveness on a person

It’s only a matter of time until their true feelings – Hey, I don’t actually forgive you yet! – re-surface stronger than ever, as if they’re making up for lost time.  The whole thing can backfire as the betrayed spouse begins to resist and resent forgiveness instead of moving toward it and embracing it.

When it come to forgiveness, I suggest a more practical approach.  As long as your partner is doing their best to earn your forgiveness by being honest, accountable, trustworthy, transparent and so on, you’re on the right track. You’ll get to “forgiveness” sooner or later. Later is okay, as long as you’re moving forward.

But what if your spouse isn’t doing their best to earn your forgiveness? What if they aren’t being honest, accountable, trustworthy or transparent? In that case, forgiveness should be the last thing on your mind.

Instead, you should be focused on handling their behavior, and the situation, in those ways that will motivate your spouse to earn your forgiveness. With its high success rate and practical guidance, my Marriage SOS™ online crash course Overcoming Infidelity // For Betrayed Spouses can help you do that.

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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage author-expert whose plainspoken style and proven resources have empowered millions worldwide to save their marriage.