Can You Forgive A Cheater?

“Betrayal is a riddle we want to solve”
Sascha Arango, The Truth and Other Lies

The other night I had a dream that my partner cheated on me. I woke up in a foul mood and a cold shoulder in his direction. When I shared this with a friend, he said I should probably take a break from Beyonce’s Lemonade for a minute. I think he might be right.

It had me thinking, if my partner did cheat on me, what would I do?

I came to the honest conclusion, that if staying in the relationship was still on the table, I would probably do whatever it takes to make it work. I can hear the gasps through the screen. I can also hear those of you that have been through this all to common experience whisper yeah in secret agreement.

Is this a permission slip for my partner to cheat: absolutely not. Believe me, there would be scorched earth for miles in all directions from my rage (I do really need to step away from Lemonade) but I would eventually calm down and make sense of the wreckage.

Forgiving infidelity is incredibly challenging. Trust is like a bank account and when you cheat it’s a lot like filing bankruptcy. The relationship has to start over in the red and it takes time (if ever) to get back in the black. But, it is possible and far more common than people talk about. This is, of course, if both people are willing to work at making the relationship better.

Listen, I am not condoning cheating, lying, or deceit but life is long, if you’re lucky, and a lot of stuff happens in a lifetime. Let me also highlight that I am not referencing serial cheaters and liars. The old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” is absolutely not true. With that said, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so if your partner has pattern of behavior associated with cheating and lying (they’re the same thing) I would never, ever, encourage staying.

There is a clear difference between a lapse in judgement over the course of a long life and a personality defect. If you don’t know the difference, please go talk to a professional. 

Infidelity is packed with shame so we don’t talk about it, even with our closest friends and family. Most people don’t share the infidelity with anyone for fear that it will change how people will view the offending party and the relationship (because they often want to make it work and they don’t want people to hate them).

There is this misconception that when you partner with someone you somehow own them. This is simply untrue. My partner always has the choice to stay or go. I hope he stays but he doesn’t have to unless he wants to. I would never want him to feel forced to stay or obligated to stay against his wishes.

The more complicated and heartbreaking issue is when someone falls in love with someone outside the relationship. When this happens, reconciliation is rarely possible. In my experience, the physical acts of infidelity are seldom the death blow to the relationship. It is when your partner opens themselves up to an emotional connection that they can’t stop reaching out for the other person. Sexual intimacy is important in a relationship but not as important as love.

Nothing ever is.

“Forgiveness is not an event. It is a series of decisions made over and over again.”
Karen Salmansohn



3 thoughts on “Can You Forgive A Cheater?

  1. I am in the situation you describe. In 3014, I discovered my husband was cheating on me. My first thought was “now I have to get a divorce!” because that’s what I thought was the most appropriate reaction to infidelity. While it is one path, it’s not the only one. After confronting anger, shock, tears and disappointment, my husband asked for a second chance. I decided to give it to him. It’s not been an easy time of my life, at all, but my marriage is more truthful and real than it ever was in the beginning. While I wish we never had to go through the pain of betrayal, I’m grateful for the relationship we have today.


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