Woman staring out a window contemplating how to forgive infidelity.

How to Forgive Infidelity – The First Time

Discovering your partner has cheated is gut-wrenching. The betrayal cuts deep and you begin to question whether anything about your relationship is or was real. You also wonder if your relationship is over or if it’s possible to forgive their infidelity.

If this is the first infidelity, forgiving it is most likely possible, but it will be a complex and difficult journey. To be clear, forgiving infidelity is not about forgetting or excusing it. Forgiveness is acceptance and choosing how you want to move forward with your life. For 57%, this work leads to the maintenance of their relationship and, hopefully, a stronger relationship.

The Impact of Infidelity

The emotional fallout of infidelity can feel like a whirlwind. One moment you may be drowning in anger, the next isolated on an island of sadness, quickly followed by a torrential downpour of confusion. Despite how unnatural they feel, these emotions are natural, and acknowledging them is the first important step of healing.

You must allow yourself to feel these uncomfortable emotions rather than trying to bury them. Suppressing your pain won’t help you move forward. If you do not deal with these emotions, they can erupt at another, usually inopportune, time and/or be a constant companion that consistently colors your world with a shade of distrust.

Then there are the psychological effects of infidelity that often linger long after the initial shock. These include trust issues, anxiety, and even depression. These are big challenges and will take time to overcome. So, remember to be patient with yourself along the way.

In his book, The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples, John Gottman, PhD, shares the importance of dealing with the emotional aftermath of infidelity. He suggests that processing your intense emotions can prevent long-term damage to both your mental health and your relationship. According to Gottman’s research, couples who face their pain together and work through it can come out stronger on the other side.

The Decision to Forgive

Deciding to forgive infidelity is something you must whole-heartedly choose. It’s a black-and-white decision that you make for yourself. Yet, for most, the decision can take some time to make because of all the issues and concerns that must be considered.

If you are struggling to know where you stand on the idea of forgiving your partner’s infidelity, you can start by reflecting on your feelings and reasons for considering forgiveness.

Do you want to rebuild your relationship?

Are you feeling pressured by external factors?

Are you struggling to see past your hurt and anger?

When you take the time to understand your true motivations, you will be better able to make the decision that works best for you.

Choosing forgiveness means committing to working through the hurt and rebuilding trust. You will need to be open to difficult conversations and acknowledge the pain both of you are experiencing. For forgiveness to have a chance of working, you will both need to be completely honest, vulnerable, and willing to face uncomfortable truths.

In her book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Ester Perel discusses how healing can only happen when you both understand the underlying issues that led to the infidelity. Both of you must engage in this process, showing empathy and a genuine effort to understand each other’s perspectives.

Setting boundaries and developing new behaviors that support trust and transparency are also required for true forgiveness. For many couples, this includes open communication about feelings and fears, regular check-ins about the relationship, and a mutual commitment to addressing issues as they arise.

Remember, forgiveness is not about excusing the betrayal or erasing the past. Instead, it’s a conscious decision to heal and move forward, together or apart.

Self-Care During the Process

It’s oh-so-easy to overlook self-care when you are in the midst of forgiving your partner’s infidelity. Yet, self-care will make you more resilient which makes it easier to do the work to move forward.

Think about self-care as falling into 3 broad categories.

  1. Care for Your Emotional and Physical Health

    Focusing on your well-being can be challenging at any time. It’s even more difficult when you are working through the aftermath of infidelity. However, self-care activities can significantly improve your emotional and physical health.

    You might consider adding exercise, hobbies, and relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Immersing yourself in activities like these can give you a much-needed break from the stress and help you regain a sense of normalcy and control.
  2. Build a Support System

    It’s natural to lean on friends and family for emotional support. Surrounding yourself with loved ones who can offer a listening ear and a comforting presence can make a world of difference.

    However, not everyone is comfortable sharing all the details of their partner’s infidelity and its repercussions with close friends and family. If this sounds like you, you may choose to join support groups for people who have experienced infidelity. These groups can provide a sense of community and deep understanding.

    Another important part of a support system to consider is counseling or therapy. Professional help can be incredibly beneficial, whether you choose individual sessions, couples therapy, or a private marriage counseling retreat. Counselors and therapists can help you navigate the complex emotions and challenges that come with forgiving infidelity. They can offer tools and strategies to rebuild trust and improve communication for you individually and as a couple.
  3. Engage in Mindfulness and Stress Relief Practices

    Mindfulness and stress relief practices can help you manage stress and promote healing. These practices include meditation, journaling, and yoga. Each can provide mental clarity and emotional stability by encouraging you to stay present and grounded. When you are present and feel grounded it is much easier to process your emotions.

When you prioritize self-care, you will naturally find that your inner strength improves, and you can more easily find your unique path to forgiveness.

Be patient with yourself as you find your way from betrayal to a future based on trust and understanding. You will have good days and not-so-good ones. As with everything worthwhile, the struggles you will go through will be well worth it because, in the end, you will be free of the painful past.

(And if this is not the first time your partner has been unfaithful, you will want to read this My Husband’s Repeated Infidelity is Ruining Our Marriage. Can He Change? for insights on dealing with repeated infidelity (regardless of gender) and making informed decisions.)

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats