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Infidelity during courtship: Should you forgive and move on?

perdonar una infidelidad

Antonio Guillem - Shutterstock

María Álvarez de las Asturias - published on 02/01/23

Should you forgive someone for cheating, and if you do, does it mean everything needs to go back to normal?

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Is it possible to forgive an infidelity during courtship? I think that what some of the people who have asked me this question are really asking is, “Do I have to forgive my boyfriend/girlfriend for an infidelity?” Here is my answer, which I realize some people may disagree with. 

Forgiving someone who has hurt us is not obligatory: you cannot force someone you have hurt to forgive you. However, we should forgive anyone who hurts us, because (among other things) forgiveness is liberating for the one who forgives. Generally, forgiveness may come some time after the offense, because it’s more difficult immediately afterwards when the wound is still raw and painful.

However, behind the question, “Do I have to forgive?” some people seem to be asking themselves, “If I forgive, does this mean that I have to return to the situation before the offense?” – as if forgiveness has to go hand in hand with erasing the offending event with the stroke of a pen.

The answer is NO! The facts have happened; the infidelity has occurred. And it’s one of the most deeply wounding situations in a couple’s relationship. Therefore, you can say: “I forgive you, but now I’m going to think about what I’m going to do in view of what has happened.”

At this point, I’d like to tell you that no one can decide for you whether you should continue the relationship or break up: it’s up to you to decide. Perhaps it might help you to weigh the circumstances. Has he or she apologized to you, or do they think it’s not relevant? Was it a one-off event, or a recurring one? In other aspects of your relationship, have they shown you that they deserve your trust, or not?

Two decisions, both legitimate

If you decide to break up, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t forgiven the offense; they’re two different things. Forgiving is perfectly compatible with not wanting to continue courtship with a person you can no longer trust.

I say this because there can be confusion between the two things – comments along the lines of, “If you really forgave me, you wouldn’t break up with me!” This is not true: I insist that you can forgive and not want to continue that relationship.

If you decide to continue anyway, take your time. It takes work to regain lost trust; the party who has been unfaithful must understand and accept that it will take time to prove that he or she is worthy of your trust.

On the other hand, forgiveness is not magic: that is to say, it’s also normal if, once you’ve decided to forgive that infidelity, you get angry sometimes, or bring the issue up again with reproaches and rage, because that wound has not yet healed. It may reopen periodically until all the hurt comes out.

And it’s one thing to decide to forgive and another to experience peace. Those who have suffered infidelity often feel bad because, they say, “I want to forgive, but every time I close my eyes I see them together.” Of course, that’s normal.

The act of will to forgive IS ALREADY FORGIVENESS: if you decide to forgive another, you have forgiven them ipso facto. But this decision doesn’t immediately reach the heart: the experience of forgiveness is not automatic. Again, it takes time for the process of forgiveness to close the wound, so that it’s no longer raw and only a healed scar remains.

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Relationships
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