If you've ever been cheated on, you know just how utterly devastating it can be. Your trust is broken, and suddenly the person you love can seem like a stranger. But while infidelity can mark the end of a relationship, for some couples — those who really want to make it work and are prepared to go through the lengthy process of healing, forgiving, and rebuilding trust — there's reason to hope. That said, it won't always be easy. In fact, the most difficult hurdle may be the first one: Forgiveness. However,
what experts recommend about forgiving infidelity may actually make that first step a bit easier by helping to clarify what forgiveness actually means in your situation, and by validating the feelings you already have.
With all the heightened emotion and confusion you might be feeling, it can be difficult to tell whether you should even try to work things out — or even know how to begin the process of doing so. Knowing that, I reached out to relationship experts to ask what the one thing they would recommend for people currently struggling with this situation is. Here's what they had to say on this difficult topic.
Don't forgive your partner without them having done the work to rebuild trust and figured out why they cheated in the first place. If you ignore it, or give cheap forgiveness just to move on and not deal with what happened, you risk it happening again. If the cheating partner says ‘I’m sorry, it won't happen again’ it's also not enough. The person who cheated has to show through actions, over the course of time, that they are faithful and trustworthy. They also have to understand the variables that lead to the cheating to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Anita Chlipala, relationship expert and licensed marriage and family therapist
Avoid self-blame as much as possible.
If the two of you agreed to have a monogamous relationship, then the very first thing I recommend to anyone when it comes to infidelity is to totally accept whatever thoughts and feelings they are having about the painful realization that your partner has cheated. Don't make excuses for them. Don't blame yourself. This was a decision they made. They chose to cheat. That's on them. Be gentle with yourself. You're likely in significant emotional pain. It may or may not be possible to recover from this in terms of whether or not your relationship can survive this. Some do. Some don't. Give yourself enough time to process what all of this means to you before you make any decisions. Don't let anyone — including yourself — force you into feeling guilty about this, like you caused this. And don't let anyone attempt to force you to prematurely ‘get over it.’ Take whatever time you need to process this.
Dr. Gary Brown, Los Angeles-based dating and relationship therapist
You get to define what forgiveness actually means.
My most important recommendation is to fully understand what forgiving means and then make a choice based on what you want to experience. Forgiving infidelity can look two ways: releasing your partner knowing you have different sets of values, or accepting your partner and both of you unitedly committing to work on change so infidelity doesn't happen. The choice is completely individual and either way is a fine choice. It is completely up to the person who experienced infidelity to make the best choice for [themselves], detached from what others will think about them. And that is a responsibility the person who has experienced infidelity must take. Forgiveness means putting your attention back on yourself rather than on the other person, and reclaiming a sense of inner peace and love. One of the greatest myths about forgiveness is that it is done for the benefit of the other person.
Raeeka Yaghmai, certified dating and relationship coach and founder of Dating with Confidence
Be gentle, kind, and generous with yourself as you heal.
While you are healing and forgiving, remind yourself that the only thing you did was try to show someone love and cultivate a life for you both. Allow yourself to feel the pain and unburden yourself of what was your former life so that you can move forward in the relationship. All you did was demonstrate that you have the capacity to love, trust someone, and build a life for yourself. You can rebuild again.
Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method
Despite how hard the process of forgiving may be, at least it's reassuring to know that there is a way forward, even after cheating. The key takeaway here is to be gentle with yourself and not be afraid to hold your partner to a high standard while you heal — and while they prove themselves worthy of forgiveness.