It’s hard to describe exactly what being cheated on feels like, but I think it can be summed up with this: It sucks. It’s hard to trust again after your partner steps out on you, but if you still love them, then you might ask how to forgive a cheater — or whether that’s even possible. While there’s no rulebook for how to forgive someone for cheating, it all comes down to whether you’re willing to accept what happened and move past it together.
It may seem easy to say the words, “I forgive you,” but it actually takes a lot more than that. First, you have to accept the fact that your partner was unfaithful, and then you should probably talk to them about what went wrong in the relationship because sometimes, cheating is a reflection of a bigger problem that’s already in place.
If your partner has apologized profusely, and you’ve worked through the real problem in your relationship, then there might be hope for you two. But before you decide whether actual forgiveness (as in, the kind where you don’t hold your partner accountable for the rest of their lives) is a possibility, here are a few questions to consider.
Can You Forgive A Partner Who Cheated?
Isn’t this the question of the century! Although the answer differs from one person to the next, it’s true that you’ll have to practice acceptance as the first step. Texas-based marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson says you have to accept what happened in order to achieve true forgiveness. “Acceptance and forgiveness are not things that happen overnight, and both parties should be patient,” Richardson tells Elite Daily. “Forgiveness and grief are similar as there are stages, and you may move from denial to depression as new information or hurts arise.”
Comparing forgiveness and grief is an interesting concept, especially when you think about the phases involved in both. Usually, when you grieve, you’re mourning something, hopefully in order to move on. But once the grieving process is over, you don’t get whatever you lost back. With forgiveness, you’re also consciously mourning something (in this case, being cheated on and losing what your relationship once was). However, should you feel comfortable with it, at least you have the possibility of mending your relationship and getting it back. You should really think about whether or not you want to put in the work to be a happy couple again. And if the answer is yes… then it’s time to get brutally honest with your lover.
How Do You Forgive A Partner Who Cheated?
You can forgive someone’s infidelity by talking through it with them and learning why they decided to be unfaithful. Although learning the tiny details about your partner's affair isn’t pleasant, it is necessary in order to have a clearer picture of what happened. “It starts small, with transparency,” Richardson says. “If your partner is sincere about making amends, they will need to be uncomfortably transparent with you.” She also says it may be necessary for them to show you texts or social media messages where they corresponded with the other person.
Knowing the nitty-gritty details might hurt, but if you want to forgive and move on, consider the benefits that having all the information offers. For example, knowing when your partner's affair started might help you pinpoint what the state of your relationship was like at the time. Also, knowing what kind of infidelity your partner engaged in, whether it may be physical or emotional, might also help you measure the extent of your hurt. "There are different kinds of cheating," Richardson says. "Emotional, sexual, a combination of the two. What kind is most hurtful to you? Do you feel like you could or would want to trust your partner again?" You can’t know whether forgiveness is possible until you answer these questions.
According to dating coach Monica Parikh of School of Love NYC, you should also consider how you found out about the infidelity as a factor in whether or not you can move past it. This could speak to your partner's honesty and whether they're apologetic because they mean it... or because they got caught. “Did they come and tell you, or were you snooping around and found something?” Parikh asks Elite Daily, because she says the distinction matters.
What Reasons Might A Partner Have For Cheating?
It’s extremely important to remember that your partner’s infidelity was not your fault at all. You didn’t do anything wrong, nor did you do anything to deserve what happened. You are not to blame. That said, it is worth taking some time to consider that, if your partner was unfaithful, it may be because your relationship wasn’t as solid as you might've thought it was. Parikh calls this “an opportunity to examine where in the relationship things may not have been going well.”
“It could be emotional disconnection, it could be varying sexual desires, it could be not enough time or energy spent fostering a relationship,” Parikh says, “and so you really have to delve into what was going on underneath the infidelity, and are you, as a couple, willing to do the work to heal that. Once you’ve done that work, you actually may have a much stronger partnership.”
Can You Still Build A Life With Someone Who Cheated?
It’s easy to think about your relationship as just that — a relationship. But it’s equally (if not more!) important to look at your partner as a person, and evaluate whether or not they are someone you can forgive. “I think fundamentally, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a good person?’” Parikh says. “Are they trustworthy? Do they have friends that support the relationship? Are you always going to be peeking over your shoulder, or do you think this is a blip in time over a long period of time in a relationship?”
According to Parikh, if your partner is someone with whom you can really envision building a life, and you honestly see their infidelity as just a bump in the road of a long life together, then maybe working on the relationship is worth it, as long as you're both committed to it. “I think you have to take a very mature attitude about relationships,” she says. “I think you have to understand that, in every relationship, it takes two people to make it and to break it. So, if you have someone there beside you willing to do the work, and you’re willing to do the work, part of that work is looking at yourself.”
However, if your partner has cheated on you multiple times and they don’t seem that remorseful, then it might be best to move on. LA-based relationship therapist Dr. Gary Brown previously told Elite Daily it’s in no one’s best interest to stay with a serial cheater. “If they're a serial cheater, you're much better off without them,” Dr. Brown said. “They may be suffering from sexual addiction and until that is dealt with in an effective way, the odds of them continuing to cheat are very great.”
How Long Does It Take To Forgive A Partner Who Cheated?
True forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It may take months, or even years, for you and your partner to get back on the same page and strengthen your relationship. In fact, most people who have been cheated on say it’s hard to look past their partner’s infidelity. “You may be able to find it within yourself to forgive, but the vast majority of those who have been cheated on report that they can't forget the fact that they were cheated on,” Dr. Brown previously pointed out. “That’s because cheating is a major breach of trust and it’s going to have an impact going forward in your life.”
In order to achieve real forgiveness — the kind of forgiveness that involves totally putting this affair behind you and letting go of resentment — you need time. “If you are intent on punishing your partner, you will both suffer,” Richardson says. “If your partner is in a hurry for you to ‘get over it,’ the resentment will likely stick around. If you both see it as a test to your bond that you want to try and overcome together, your relationship could survive.”
Is It OK Not To Forgive A Partner Who Cheated?
Even if it is possible for you to forgive your partner, you might not be able to stay with them romantically, and that’s OK! That doesn’t mean that you didn’t fight for your relationship, or that you gave up on it. Forgiving is hard enough as it is, and being able to do just that is a huge accomplishment. You can forgive your partner completely and be totally emotionally healed from their infidelity, but not be able to continue your romantic relationship. The goal is forgiveness, and achieving that is crucial to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Once you take that step, you’re free to do whatever you want to do, whether it’s get back together or peacefully let go.
“Forgiveness does not necessarily mean staying together,” Richardson says. “If you are wondering if you should stay with a partner who has cheated, your gut is telling you what to do.” Listen to your gut! Only you know what is best for you, and if you think you can forgive them and stay together, more power to you. If your gut is telling you that the best thing would be to walk away, listen.
Nicole Richardson, marriage and family therapist
Monica Parikh, dating coach from the School of Love NYC
Dr. Gary Brown, LA-based relationship therapist
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
This article was originally published on