“The one thing I’ve never heard him say is a simple “I’m sorry.” I’ve heard that much when he has stepped on my foot accidentally. But carry on an affair for five months? To him, it barely deserves a mention. The most I’ve gotten are some excuses and a lot of shrugs. How am I supposed to forgive him, when he hasn’t even asked for forgiveness, and he doesn’t think it’s even an issue?
If your spouse cheated and he or she isn’t showing authentic remorse, you are probably feeling insult added to injury, and you might also be feeling some or all of the following:
1. Puzzled by your spouse’s “not getting it” when it seems so obvious to you.
2. Saddened and angered by your spouse’s inability to be remorseful or ask for forgiveness.
3. Lost trying to figure out how you can move forward when your spouse is still hurting you by being so dense.
You might be thinking that the ideas carried in an authentic I’m sorry could have an enormous meaning and impact in your marriage. In this blog, I am going to show you what underlying feelings may be prompting your need to hear those words, and then give you an exercise to help you examine how you view the idea of forgiveness, what it means to you, and help you understand how necessary it is for you.
Apologies, Forgiveness-and What It Means For You
If you are waiting for your spouse to apologize to you for having an affair, there’s a lot more going on below the surface than just hearing those two small words.
You may need to hear those words verbalized for a range of personal reasons:
. Acknowledgment of the pain your spouse has caused in going outside of the marriage for whatever reason.
. Validation of the hurt and disappointment you feel.
. Recognition and admission of his or her culpability in contributing to your current state, including the negative thoughts and emotions that have left you reeling.
. Recognition on the part of your cheating spouse that he or she has done a grave wrong to your marriage pact.
. Acceptance by your cheating spouse for single-handedly ripping apart the foundation of your marriage.
So without those words being spoken, you as the victim of the affair may feel stuck in limbo, waiting to move on, yet thinking you are unable to because you have placed a heavy emphasis on hearing remorse, responsibility, and requests for forgiveness.
What You Can Control As It Relates To Forgiveness
Although I have seen some couples try to “move on” without the cheater expressing what I consider true remorse, I don’t know of any long-term success. My understanding of love includes each individual being vulnerable to the other and trusting each other with that vulnerability.
I can’t imagine moving ahead in a relationship where there is subtle or even obvious encouragement for that big question mark of mistrust caused by inaction or hurtful actions on the part of the cheater.
The cheater absolutely should apologize and beg your forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. The only thing you can control is how you interpret the apology or lack of apology and how you let your interpretation affect your ability to forgive.
It is difficult enough to repair the damage of infidelity, even when the guilty person is authentically remorseful and apologetic, and you may still be haunted with images and memories of the affair, as I have been writing about. These disturbing affair after-effects can be problematic even when the guilty spouse is doing his or her best to repair your marriage.
I am not going to tell you whether you should or should not forgive your spouse. That is your decision. But I ask you to examine what forgiveness means to you and to repairing the damage to your marriage.
Forgiveness is a loaded word: there are many ideas that surround just what it entails to forgive someone. I challenge you to the following:
Step 1: Define forgiveness
What does the idea of forgiveness mean to you? Your ideas may be based on your religious background. You may feel torn between what you think you should do, and then how you really feel-even if you were to hear an authentic apology.
Step 2: Visualize your reaction to a truly remorseful spouse
If your cheating partner were to come to you this very minute and apologize, what would that mean for you? How would your life change? What would those words release you to do, think, or feel?
Step 3: Visualize your spouse without remorse or an apology
Should your spouse never express regret or consideration of the impact his or her behavior has had on your life, what would that mean for your life? What is the road you think you would travel-without that? How would it change how you wish to live your life?
In my program How to Forgive and Work Through the Past I delve more deeply into the idea of forgiveness, as well as the differences between forgiveness and acceptance. If you are feeling stuck, you may feel like you are pushing against a wall because of your thinking and your internal definitions in relation to forgiveness.
But forgiveness may not be necessary at all: You may not have to forgive your partner for the affair, and I explain exactly what I mean by that in my program. Regardless if you ever hear your spouse apologize and ask for forgiveness, you still need to come to terms with the affair.
I work with couples in marital crisis to challenge their perceptions, their definitions-the very roadblocks that are preventing them from moving forward. My programs include information to help you understand what is going on internally, looking closely at your own perceptions, and then challenging you to look at some problematic areas in a different light. Sometimes, redefining your own ideas is the only way to move forward so that you can rebuild your marriage.
My best wishes for you as you define forgiveness and understand what it means to you personally.
Frank Gunzburg, PhD
P.S. For more step-by-step information on working through the stumbling blocks to surviving your spouse’s affair, please see my program How to Forgive and Work Through the Past. Inside you will find essential exercises that challenge you to push beyond the pain you are experiencing. I designed this program as a means to guide you-using a workable, realistic plan-as you heal and renew yourself while also healing and renewing your marriage.
P.P.S. Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts on forgiveness? Simply scroll down and click the comment link at the bottom of this page.