Infidelity or unfaithfulness can be one of the most heart-breaking and damaging hurdles to overcome in the pursuit of healing the relationship with your partner as it leaves its mark without the care for others who are involved. Often, infidelity can be considered as an act of betrayal that could be serious enough to end the relationship. Those who carry forward their relationship may face troubles in maintaining loving-kindness towards each other in the future which could take place in the form of a physical or emotional affair that matters little, but the price for infidelity is expensive either way. However, some couples wait for decades after discovery wherein many of them share one common experience regardless of the amount of time that has passed which is the pressure to forgive.
Many partners who have been unfaithful and want to salvage their relationship seek to be forgiven, but sometimes, some partners who have been betrayed are not ready to forgive until they are sure that their partners can understand the pain which has been caused.
Understanding the Impact of Infidelity
Infidelity is not always characterized by sexual acts but often occurs in the form of a new relationship outside the primary relationship of the individual. Typically, an affair may suggest that an individual was unfaithful over some time with an affair partner, and to some, it may include secretive thoughts about another person other than the partner or the development of the emotional connection outside the primary relationship of the individual.
In most relationships, infidelity can be evidenced by:
- Thoughts or acts that are kept secret by one partner because they know that another person might not approve of them.
- There could be guilt related to crossing the boundaries of a relationship, even if one partner is not aware of what has happened.
- Feelings of betrayal when the thoughts or acts are revealed or discovered by their partner.
Partners who have crossed the boundaries of the relationship or proved to be unfaithful may not be aware that they have crossed the line into infidelity. They may also not have the intention of harming or damaging the relationship with their partners. However, they often discover later that the pain which has been experienced by their partners may go deeper than they could have imagined. The partner which has been betrayed may come to find that their trust, sense of safety, identity, and worldview have been shaken.
Many people go through emotional or physical symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts that creep over the day, difficulty eating, depression, or others. These experiences and the pain may heal throughout time therefore there is not a specific timeline for forgiveness. Couples who want to recover from the trauma of infidelity in their relationship generally find it essential to invest significant effort and time into the rebuilding of their relationship.
What forgiveness can signify and what it doesn’t
After infidelity comes to light, the person who was unfaithful hopes to be forgiven right wat by their partner. While forgiveness may be the essential part of the infidelity recovery, it not always occurs at the beginning of the process of the recovery and usually takes place near the end of the process. Also, for the partner who has been betrayed, forgiveness often means the end of their journey of the relationship as it can feel dangerous and uncertain for the partner.
Forgiveness can feel dangerous to some as it may indicate certain beliefs that don’t necessarily support which are:
- I can never feel upset or hurt again.
When an affair has been discovered, the couples who try to reconcile may fall into opposite roles. The partner who has been betrayed can be considered as the ‘good partner while the unfaithful partner can be considered as the ‘bad one. The partners remain in this role until the good one sees the bad partner having changes in their behavior and is trying to understand the hurt they experienced as a result of the bad partner’s actions.
Hurt stemming from the breach of trust may lead to an impact on their emotions and their daily functioning. In this case, the betrayed partner may feel that it is better to forgive for the sake of their relationship, but doing so might not prove to be helpful to remove the pain of the partner. By forgiving, they might feel they can never try to heal from the pain or learn how they can prevent it from happening again for them.
2. I am accepting or excusing the behavior.
Many partners do struggle with the idea that forgiving infidelity doesn’t mean that the behavior of the individual is acceptable. Some relate it to raising their children and if there are no consequences related to deterring the behavior, then the behavior is excused. Partners, who have been betrayed may feel by forgiving, they are offering the unfaithful partner, a “get out” of the jail-free card.
Therefore, both the partners need to work to find a way so that they can either deal with or separate the pain of breach from the freedom of forgiveness. However, the reality is that forgiveness is for the forgiver. It can help you to think of forgiveness as taking the burden of your pain and hurt. By forgiving, you are saying, “I do not want to carry this burden of pain any longer.” An individual can still experience hurt as a result of behavior but choose to forgive because they want to begin to heal and don’t want to feel burdened.
3. I want to restore the relationship.
A partner who was unfaithful in the relationship might believe once they are forgiven, that the relationship will return to how it was earlier. But, this might not be the case, even when a person can forgive, they might still be ready to work or repair their relationship any time soon.
Restoration isn’t always the goal of infidelity recovery and it doesn’t have to involve both partners. Sometimes, either or both partners may choose to heal alone. Forgiving the unfaithful partner may mean moving from the relationship and soon a partner who was unfaithful similarly may choose to move on from the relationship.
Counselors can teach people, the various levels of recovery such as:
- The first and the foremost level is forgiveness that involves releasing the self from the pain of the experience. Individuals may struggle to heal when they are going through a tough time or are consumed in pain.
- The next level is reconciliation. This level could be different for everyone. Many couples find this to be the goal for their marital counseling as they want to build something new together. Realizing that the old relationship was broken, they choose to work to create a new one that is similar and incorporates the experiences of their previous relationship. However, this could turn out to be a cautious approach as well, as the partner who experienced the betrayal may continue to scan the relationship for the negative signs into the healing process which could be because of the trust issues that might have formed due to such an experience.
- The highest level of forgiveness is called a restoration which is the level where most of the couples aspire to be in and it indicates that the relationship is restored to its previous standing.
Moreover, in most cases, the first level is sufficient for the individuals who chose to recover on their own; however, reconciliation is necessary to rebuild the trust and faith in the relationship, but it is important to remember forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean that reconciliation will follow in there.
4. Now, I must be ready to trust my partner completely.
Partners tend to expect that if their betrayed partner has forgiven them, then they will be able to trust them, but trust and forgiveness are two separate events that take place. Trust allows the individual who was forgiven to find release from the guilt, while trust helps the individual forgiving find the release from pain. The act of rebuilding trust also requires participation from both partners.
Many people face consequences and struggle to find a way to ease the pain wherein forgiveness turns out to be a painless way out from the concern. Unfortunately, when the partner who has been betrayed is rushed to forgive, the increased distance in their relationship and pain is often the result. Whereas, in some cases, forgiveness might not be possible and in other cases being unable to forgive their partner may prolong the pain.
Finding the place where forgiveness proves to be beneficial can be a delicate process wherein patience from the end of both the partners is more likely to aid the recovery rather than forcing the process. No recovery has a shortcut or a timeline, therefore the recovery is hard where partners either choose to rebuild their relationship or end it. In either case, recovering from infidelity can present an opportunity for both partners to grow and find strength where couple counseling can be a helpful step in this process for them.
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