How to Forgive Him After He Cheats

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Learn from an expert how to forgive your partner when he cheats. Examine the different stages of forgiveness. And, how the stages might differ for each person.

Advice on How to Forgive Him After He Cheats

Reader Question

Hello Lori. I had been dating a man for little over a year. He has two little girls that I adore. We got along very well, loved each other's family and vice versa. He was always very kind and gentle towards me. I have been divorced for 10 years and he had only been divorced for about a year and a half so I was very much ok with taking things slowly. (Jason) and I were best friends and known as "a couple" almost immediately after we started dating. One night after having a few cocktails, J told me about a woman that he had been involved with before he met me that he had considered a "soul mate" but that she was married. I was upset by this of course but I have also had a "soul mate" relationship that didn't work out so I felt like I understood. Many months went by and we were very happy with each other. His friends would always tell me that he said I was the most wonderful woman he had ever been with. After little over a year this woman (Tonya), called J and said that her husband had been arrested and that she and her four children had no place to go, could she stay with him for a couple of days? J asked me if it would be all right with me and I said that it would be ok for a couple of days. Of course, I knew what would happen. I just felt that I needed to let him go through this experience so that he could move forward, with or without me in his life. It would be his choice. Of course, after about three days he was confused and upset. She wanted him back and he didn't know what to do. I told him that we should take a break so that he could figure things out. After about two days we meet for dinner and he told me that he couldn't believe that he had ever thought about being with her and that he loved me and didn't want to be without me. This was the first time he had used "the L word". He went home and told her that he wasn't going to leave me, and she needed to find somewhere else to go. She was very angry and couldn't believe that he had not chosen her. Of course she did not leave (No car, No job, No family or friends and 4 children under the age of 8). After about another week J and I broke up. She had broken him. After about three weeks he asked me to meet him out. He looked terrible and hadn't been home for weeks except late enough to take a shower and sleep. He grabbed me and kissed me. He said that he missed me so much, that he loved me and my family but that what he had done was so terrible that I would never be able to forgive him and nothing would ever be the same. I tried to explain that I understood from the beginning that this had to happen or he would have always wondered about her and never been able to completely love me but he would not listen.

She has been gone now for some time and still he just seems to be punishing himself. Out of the blue the other morning he brought me breakfast, we sat and talked for awhile, just about random things. He has been working 12 hour days and seems so sad. His eyes are lifeless. I really don't even feel like there is anything to forgive him for. The human experience is never easy and if the tables had been turned and my "soul mate" had shown up on my doorstep I'm not sure what I would have done.

I miss J very much and would like to try again even though I know it would never be "the same". He has a beautiful heart. I will never give up on him but I may have to .... give him up.

Is there anything I can do?


Expert Reply

Dear Angie,

I can understand why you and your boyfriend are having difficulties. Each of you is on a different page of forgiveness. You have responded to the situation one way and your boyfriend is responding in a different way. What you don't say in your question is if or how you arrived at the stage of forgiveness. This would help to explain how you could 'let go' of the feelings associated with being betrayed by your boyfriend of one year choosing his ex-girlfriend over you. You do talk about how you came to accept the situation and even forgive him for his behavior toward you and your family. So I am not sure if you went through all the stages to forgiveness or skipped a few. Either way, you did it without your boyfriend. Now he is in one stage while you are at stage four --forgiveness. As a result, there is a big disconnect between the two of you.

There are four stages that one goes through on the road to forgiveness. Each stage is healthy and normal. Although the feelings associated may feel anything but normal. To review, I have listed the stages below.

Stage one: The first stage is hurt. When someone causes you deep pain as a result of betrayal or loss of trust, the natural response is to feel hurt. This stage is the result of feeling that you have been treated unfairly by someone you care deeply for.

Stage two: The second stage is anger. The memory of how painful you feel turns to thoughts of anger. You may even think about how you wish the other person would suffer as much as you are. Unlike hurt, which can leave you feeling vulnerable, anger can be very empowering. Some people may experience thoughts of revenge. This is also normal, it is when thoughts turn to actions or behaviors that can cause a person to do or say things they later regret.

Stage three: The third stage is healing. To arrive at healing, you will need to have gone through the first two stages. Stage three requires seeing the person who hurt you from a different perspective. Here you might try to see things through the other person's eyes, trying to understand why and how he could have done the behaviors he did. Empathy is a necessary step to healing.

Stage four: The final stage is forgiveness. Forgiveness is when you invite the person who has wronged you back into your life. Although this doesn't have to be in the literal sense, it can just be in your heart and mind without the other person being present. For most people the stage of forgiveness is very difficult to reach. Here you realize that the other person is fallible; that in a loving relationship each partner will hurt the other from time to time. This doesn't mean you are a doormat, it means that you are able to rise above the behavior to see into the heart of the other person.

In your situation with your boyfriend, you are at stage four while he is alone in stage one. This is why he is grieving and you feel helpless. In order to move forward, it will be necessary for you to join him in stage one. You can do this by setting aside some time when the two of you can talk without being interrupted. You can begin the process by telling your boyfriend what it felt like for you to watch him choose his ex-girlfriend over you. Reliving the unpleasant emotions will not be an easy experience. Try not to avoid the painful feelings by jumping to stage four. Instead, allow your boyfriend to hear how his behavior affected you. Give him permission to tell you how he grieves over the knowledge of causing you pain.

After you both have shared your painful experience, you can then move to share with your boyfriend what it was like for you to be angry with him and his ex-girlfriend. Allow him time to understand your feelings. He may even have had similar feelings toward you for how he perceived you behaved and for her at how he perceived feeling trapped. It may be hard for each of you to hear the other's experience, but it is a necessary step towards forgiveness.

After each of you have shared your own emotions and have heard the other's experience, you are then ready to move on to stage three, healing. Stage three may take longer to move through then the first two stages as healing requires each person to 'let go' of the past and focus on the present. Also, stage three is an opportunity for the two of you to go through together. In order to go through this stage, talk about what steps or ritual you both will use to demonstrate healing. How will each of you mark the 'letting go' process? What steps will be taken to avoid this kind of situation in the future?

The experience of going through the stages of forgiveness with your boyfriend will bring the two of you closer together. By sharing feelings, showing empathy for the other, each of you has an opportunity to re-establish trust which can only strengthen your relationship and your love for each other.


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