I hear from a lot of women who tell me that the thoughts or memories of their husband's cheating is something that invades their mind on a daily or very frequent basis. Because of this, may of them feel that forgiveness is not going to be possible. After all, if they are thinking about this and struggling with it quite often, how can you really offer genuine forgiveness?
I'm often asked things like "aren't forgiveness and forgetting really the same thing?;" or "isn't being able to forget the cheating required for forgiving the cheating?" The answer to these questions is not necessarily, although these things are optimal. (And, it's quite possible that your putting this pressure on yourself is impeding your progress.) I will discuss this more in the following article.
Why Forgiving The Affair Doesn't Necessarily Mean That You Will Forget It: I would be willing to bet that if you asked 100 women who saved their marriages after the affair if they ever, from time to time, think about the infidelity, that the vast majority of these woman (even those who have been able to recover loving and happy feelings in their marriages) will tell you that yes, they sometimes remember the shock, pain and betrayal of this situation. In reality, these things are almost impossible to completely forget.
This is true of almost any major trauma that you recover from in your life. Let's look at a real life example that might put this in perspective. Let's say that a child becomes ill and eventually recovers. It's probably unrealistic to say that there won't be times when you look at that same child and think back to when they were ill. However, because hopefully the child is no longer sick, although the memory of these times may momentarily bring back negative and scary memories, mostly, you just look at the child and feel grateful that you are looking at them healthy today and the illness is now behind you. In fact, it's likely that the illness gave you a unique perspective and it's possible that it made you appreciate your family (and the frailty of life) even more.
An affair is sort of like this. So long as your marriage is able to recover, you will still remember, but you will look at it as something that thankfully, is in the past. And, it too will give you a unique perspective. Many people tell me that working through the infidelity made them look at their spouses in a different way. They no longer took their spouse, and their marriage, for granted. And, they saw first hand that their spouse was willing to join hands, work things out, and rehabilitate the marriage – even if it wasn't always easy and was at times excruciatingly hard.
That's not to say that everything will always be roses and rainbows. This is unrealistic too. There may be days when you suddenly wake up angry or find yourself reliving this difficult time even when you think that you moved on. But over time, as you are honest with one another and work through these issues, these little obstacles begin to happen less and less and last for shorter periods of time.
Forgiveness For Infidelity Does Not Mean That You Just Ignore What's Happened: Many people who perceive that you have to forget about the affair to forgive seem to believe that when you forgive, you just wipe the slate clean and let your partner get off without any changes or repercussions. This is inaccurate. At least as I see it.
Forgiveness instead means that you're committed to moving on. It means that you realize that no marriage, and no person, is perfect. It means that you are satisfied that your partner is going to rehabilitate themselves, is committed to you, and will leave no stone unturned until you have what you need to effectively do this. And, these things sometimes take a considerable amount of time and trying different things until you are able to get to this place.
I firmly believe that when people sometimes tell me that they are unable to forgive, then one of three things can be happening. Either the person doesn't understand that forgiveness is more for them than their partner (as you can't really move forward if you are holding onto pain and negativity); or the person is trying to forgive too soon; or the person has not received or asked for what they need in order to offer this forgiveness in a healthy and genuine way.
If you're at a point where you can not yet think about forgiving (as forgetting is not all that realistic and not required,) then ask yourself what you need that you are not getting. If this is something that you need from your partner, then have the courage to ask them for it. Whether this is reassurance, information, affection, or working through issues or doubts, it's very unlikely that you will be able to genuinely offer your forgiveness until you get these things. And, you deserve them as much as your partner does.
I greatly struggled with forgiving my husband after his affair. I attempted this too soon, before I had what I needed, and this backfired. Luckily, I did not give up entirely. Although I never would've believed this two years ago, my marriage is stronger than ever after my husband's affair. It took a lot of work, and I had to play the game to win, but it was worth it. Because of all the work I did on myself, my self esteem is at an all time high. I no longer worry my husband will cheat again. You can read a very personal story on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com.