In a lifetime of every pair, there may come a time when their relationship reaches a breaking point, wherein the partners all but separate from each other. The reason for the once tenacious relationship to show the signs of breakdown is infidelity, whether it be the one that affects married or unmarried couples. There is a two-way scenario of how their relationship progresses. Either it falls apart or a partner cheated on by the loved one seeks ways to mend the relationship. It may be to save children, valuable relations or both that men and women decide on staying together. Both scientists and journalists from popular media outlets agree on the possibility of conciliating partners or even putting band-aids on the relationship to have suffered from deep emotional and psychological wounds inflicted by infidelity through a number of practical counsels.
In their book Intimate Relationships: Issues, Theories, and Research, Ralph Erber and Maureen Wang Erber (8) argue that the conventional American family was rather short-lived from a historical perspective. Usually less companionate and more formalized, the American family was less child-centered, and affection was not the building block of the major social institution (R. Erber and M. Erber 8). Now that the American family has gone from being more formalized and less affectionate to being more child-centered, loving, and companionate, relationship infidelity is a difficult experience to overcome. Emancipated women hold their spouses accountable for marital faithfulness. With feelings being central to relationship, the problem of extradyadic relations or betrayal is becoming particularly painful for both of fiancées or individuals dating each other. Even so, interventions and expert pieces of advice help rebuild relationship contrary to the bitterness of experience.
Infidelity and Forgiveness: Scientific Considerations. Advice on Possible Interventions Based on Forgiveness
Much as relationship may seem broken following betrayal, infidelity still leave room for forgiveness and reconciliation as suggested by scientists. Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (n.p.) suggest that trauma-based forgiveness model is the most widespread model of treatment for couples affected by the act of unfaithfulness. Forgiveness is the process, whereby partners enhance understanding of themselves, each other, and their relationship, which allows abandoning negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, after surviving a huge interpersonal betrayal (qtd. in Heintzelman 6). Gunderson and Ferrari (1) also admit that the victims of unfaithfulness act may the perspective of the offender to look into the reason of betrayal, which makes it less likely for them to consider the affair as intentional and evil-minded.
McCullough, Worthington, and Rachal (n.p.) define forgiveness as the shift in motivation, whereby a person replaces such destructive reactions to an offender as revenge or avoidance, with behavior that is constructive by its nature (qtd. in Hall and Fincham 510). Gunderson and Ferrari (1) define forgiveness as an attitudinal change motivated by the wish to heal. McCullough, Worthington, and Rachal (n.p.) suggest that the victims of transgression or love affair may avoid further contact, exact their revenge upon offenders, and wish harm upon them or forgive betrayers and absolve from the act of infidelity (qtd. in Gunderson and Ferrari 1). The second approach is forgiveness, a constructive move highly recommended by psychologists and other relationship experts in opposition to highly destructive response patterns.
According to Gordon and Baucom (n.p.), rather than being a distinct even in time, forgiveness is an ongoing process that requires time. Forgiveness does not have to be followed by reconciliation. Partners can decide on terminating their relationship, which does not keep them from satisfying the specifications of forgiveness (qtd. in Heintzelman 6). Hall and Fincham (510) note that forgiveness does not require that a cheated partner excuse, much less connive at the extradyadic behavior. Staying together is also not obligatory; however, forgiveness does make reconciliation a likely possibility. By its very definition, the concept of forgiveness enhances the likelihood of pro-relationship behaviors, possibly enhancing the desire of the traumatized partner to re-establish the relations. The above-mentioned replacement of destructive sentiments like avoidance and revenge increases the possibility of eventual reconciliation (Hall and Fincham 510-11). Three main elements constitute the final stage of forgiveness, such as achieving a more balanced and realistic view of relationship, reducing the desire of punishing the partner for unfaithfulness, and letting negative affect go together with enhanced empathy (Heintzelman 6-7).
Worthington (n.p.) notes that, over the past few years, scientists have started to concentrate their efforts on therapeutic strategies that make emphasis on forgiveness. Freedman and Enright (n.p.) and Hebl and Enright (n.p.) suggest that interventions based on forgiveness enabling pairs to reframe their interpersonal trauma in a cognitive way and gain a better understanding of motives behind the act of unfaithfulness are an efficient treatment to improve psychological functioning and increase partner’s level of forgiveness (qtd. in Heintzelman 7). Interventions based on forgiveness have been found to be clinically useful inasmuch as they facilitate anger and hostility reduction, and an increase in empathy and positive feelings for pairs that are seeking to handle an interpersonal conflict.
Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (n.p.) have examined six couples that have undergone treatment elaborated to expedite their recovery from an affair. Following the treatment, pairs reported to have fewer symptoms of posttraumatic stress, marital distress, and depression and show grater forgiveness in response to affair disclosure (qtd. in Heintzelman 7). With that in mind, forgiveness turns out arch-important in affair recovery (Heintzelman 7). According to Gordon and Baucom (n.p.), while forgiving a disloyal partner may appear impossible to accomplish, forgiveness is a highly recommended of interventions for couples to achieve from the extradyadic affair (qtd. in Hall and Fincham 511). Brown (n.p.), Olson, Russell, Higgins-Kessler and Miller (n.p.) admit that forgiveness is an essential stage in the process of healing, being equally important for pairs that reconcile and couples that separate (qtd. in Hall and Fincham 511).
Gordon, Baucom, and Snyder (n.p.) state that another element of forgiveness model is that forgiveness coincides with recuperation from a traumatic experience (qtd. in Heintzelman 8). Baucom, Gordon, Snyder, Atkins, and Christensen (n.p.) opine that affair is never a negative incident only. Infidelity is a negative experience that undermines core convictions central to emotional security and breaches plenty of essential assumptions people have regarding intimate relations like the belief of trust between partners and the perception of relationship as a safe place (qtd. in Heintzelman 8). Beyond doubt, the intervention based on forgiveness requires time to rebuild values, such as trust and safety associated with relationship.
Gordon, Snyder, Atkins, and Christensen (n.p.) note that the defiance of basic assumptions may cause a cheated partner to lose control due to the inability to predict the future actions of a partner. Forgiveness implies efforts of reconstructing former cognitions and regaining the sense of interpersonal control, power, and security as the cornerstone elements of the relationship (Heintzelman 8). Gordon and Baucom (n.p.) suggest that one of the ways to recuperate from interpersonal trauma is the cognitive processing of the act of unfaithfulness and learning the ways to rebuild the relations and carry on with the life past the bitter experience. The advice is for partners to develop mutual empathy and compassion and enact behaviors that would re-establish the relationship balance.
Gunderson and Ferrari (2) suggest that the feelings of betrayal and hurt experienced by victims start to subside from an emotional perspective if they forgive their offenders. Forgiveness makes it possible for victims to give full vent to the feeling of resentment and hate they harbor in order to experience positive feelings like understanding and compassion. From behavioral viewpoint, cheated individuals may turn more civil towards their partners. With no revenge or avoidance sought by the victims, they may initiate a conversation. Gordon and Baucom (n.p.), Kelley (n.p.), and Worthington and Wade (n.p.) admit that emotional, cognitive, and behavioral elements set the stage for forgiveness (qtd. in Gunderson and Ferrari 2).
Gunderson and Ferrari (4) state that the presence of apology raised the likelihood of forgiveness of a sexual affair. Darby and Schlenker (n.p.) assert that phrases like “I was wrong” and “I am sorry” show remorsefulness, the recognition of offense, and the attempt to rebuild the relations. An apology cushion the negative impact made by unfaithfulness (qtd. in Gunderson and Ferrari 4). One of the main objectives of forgiveness is the restoration of harmony in relationship. (Gunderson and Ferrari 2). Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro and Hannon (n.p.), Paleari, Regalie and Finchman (n.p.) note that satisfaction with relations and commitment facilitated forgiveness (qtd. in Gunderson and Ferrari 2). Thus, while forgiveness does not necessitate reconciliation, as mentioned above, it may help restore harmony and rebuild relations.
What Popular Sources Have to Say about Forgiveness
According to the founder and the president of a popular counseling website Affair Recovery, Rick Reynolds (n.p.), forgiveness has nothing to do with repentance, unlike reconciliation. This is a gift a person gives him or herself, which liberates from the hurtful actions of the offender. It is an internal affair that has little-to-no bearing on the partner. Forgiveness means reclaiming power and gaining momentum for recovery (Reynolds n.p.). The expert is correct in the sense that forgiveness is the first step to recovery and control. What runs counter to scientific interpretations is that forgiveness is a purely internal act that bears no relation to the partner since excusing the offender may set the stage for future reconciliation and relationship restoration. Scientifically correct is the assumption that defines forgiveness as the act of liberation from negative emotions. Reynolds (n.p.) proceeds to note that forgiveness does not necessarily imply reconciliation since cheated individuals can wreak their bitterness and resentment, without making efforts to reconcile with the partner. If the partner who inflicted the moral wound does not take responsibility for his or her actions, there is no use trying to reconcile (Reynolds n.p.). Both pieces of advice are correct since a person does not have to reconcile to forgive. There is no sense in rebuilding relations following an affair if the offender takes no accountability and admits his or her guilt.
Reynolds (n.p.) admits that to forgive is not to condone or treat the unfaithful behavior as unimportant. Forgiving disloyal partners does not reduce the gravity of offense. The fact of forgiving the act of infidelity, by itself, emphasizes the reality that a trauma has been inflicted. Partners’ failing to see the seriousness of transgression can make cheated individuals feel unimportant and trivialized (Reynolds n.p.). The experts’ advice on not showing indulgence towards offenders is scientifically correct. As has been mentioned in chapters above, forgiveness does not require that a cheated partner connive at the extradyadic behavior of the cheater. Indeed, the attitude of the cheated partner should reflect that excusing does not mean the partner will make light of the act of unfaithfulness or its occurrence.
Reynolds (n.p.) claims that forgiving infidelity is not a one-time event. Partners may go on struggling with the act of unfaithfulness committed by their loved ones. The repercussions of infidelity may continue making themselves felt years after the betrayal. Every new consequence that presents itself needs releasing. Forgiveness or no forgiveness, cheated partners will have to handle the outcomes of the bitter experience. It is not that forgiveness will necessarily release from person from haunting thoughts. Still, the intensity and amount of negative thoughts will diminish with time. If partners do not relieve each additional consequence, bitterness and resentment are sure to seize them (Reynolds n.p.). There is scientific prudence in this piece of advice since letting past grieves and resentment go is a constructive move that helps restore emotional balance and take a sober, realistic look at things.
Business Coach Monica Magnetti (n.p.) opines that retribution is in no way a proper response to infidelity. After being inflicted a moral wound, people are quick to grow indignant and vindictive. Obsession with resentment and the quest for moral satisfaction or retribution may guide individuals cheated on by unfaithful partners. However, the path of retribution is the wrong way to go. The like-for-like mantra that urges people to make their offenders feel hurt is counterproductive. What cheated individuals should do instead is try to understand their partners, their motivations like the lack of self-confidence, which leads them to resort to “quick-fix” sexual encounters that elevate their self-esteem (Magnetti n.p.). As suggested in chapter above, forgiveness is the process, whereby partners enhance understanding of themselves, each other, and their relationship, which enables them to abandon negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is scientifically correct to make efforts to understand the partner and his actions rather than abandon oneself to emotions. Understanding is prerequisite to emotional release, forgiveness, and potential reconciliation. Scientists have proved that looking into the reasons of adultery may help the offended to rule out evil intentions that might have not been the case by the act of infidelity.
Haltzman (n.p.) states that a person who has cheated on a partner needs to beg pardon for his or her actions. Such apology should reflect the recognition of what a person apologizes for, which means it should be genuine, sounding convincing, so that a partner will accept it. While making one’s apology for infidelity to the partner, it is important to take full responsibility. There should be no sharing responsibility with partners or anyone else like the boss who assigned the offender a female coworker (Haltzman n.p.). Overall, a sincere apology coincides with scientific recommendations given by psychologists. Clearly, there is no place for shifting blame on other people or circumstances by making an apology for unfaithful actions. Nor is sharing the responsibility with a partner a good idea since it neutralizes the positive effect of excuse and creates suspicions as to the genuine nature of the apology.
Hence, forgiveness, whether practiced by oneself or via expert psychologists, relieves people of stress and traumatic repercussions and expedites the recovery from the affair. Both separating and pairs looking to rebuild their relations ought to practice forgiveness. The intervention based on forgiveness requires time to rebuild values, such as trust and safety associated with relationship. Forgiving causes hurt and betrayal to subside with time. Releasing negative feelings like hate and resentment, excusing allows experiencing positive ones like compassion and understanding. Once negative sentiments are gone, cheated partners may even initiate a conversation. An apology is an important part of forgiveness, one of its main conditions. A sincere apology and the recognition of one’s guilt do help restore relationship harmony and rebuild the relations.
Speaking of popular sources, their suggestions almost correspond to those put forward by scientists. The agree on the need to relieve negative emotions to regain control and recover from an affair, the fact that forgiveness does not necessitate reconciliation and that taking responsibility for one’s actions is reason enough to consider reuniting. Popular source suggest partners should not condone what has happened, which does not contravene scientific counsels. When made, an apology should be sincere, and no responsibility sharing should occur, which is a piece of advice suggested by both scientists and popular media experts. Departure from vindictive sentiments and intentions and attempts to look into the motives of infidelity are perfectly scientific. However, popular sources make a mistake by claiming forgiving is an internal process not related to the partner. In fact, excusing allows reconciling with loved ones and rebuilding relations, which means the forgiveness occurs in association with the partner who has committed adultery. Apart from this inaccuracy, popular sources should have given coverage to the value of interventions based on forgiveness so lavishly interpreted by scientists. In other respects, popular sources sound unanimous with scientific ones. Overall, forgiveness is an important relationship counsel that allows achieving recovery from an affair and rebuilding relations, on which both scientific and popular sources agree.
Erber, Ralph, and Maureen Wang Erber. Intimate Relationships: Issues, Theories, and Research. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson, 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Gunderson, Patrick R., and Joseph R. Ferrari. “Forgiveness of Sexual Cheating in Romantic Relationships: Effects of Discovery Method, Frequency of Offense, and Presence of Apology.” North American Journal of Psychology, 10.1 (2008): 1-14. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Hall, Julie, H., and Frank D. Fincham. “Relationship Dissolution Following Infidelity: the Roles of Attributions and Forgiveness.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 25.5 (2006): 508-522. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Haltzman, Scott. “How to Apologize for an Affair.” Huff Post. Divorce. 29 July 2013. n.p. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Heintzelman, Ashley. Recovery from Infidelity: Exploring Variables Related to the Healing Process. Diss. University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Magnetti, Monica. “After Infidelity, the Art of Forgiving without Forgetting.” Your Tango. n.d. n.p. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Reynolds, Rick. “Forgiving Infidelity: what Forgiveness Is not.” Affair Recovery. n.d. n.p. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.