Q&A: Forgiving and reconciling in infidelity

Q: Is there a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation in a case of marital infidelity? A year ago, I discovered that my husband had resumed a previous and long-term emotional affair with a friend of mine. Their relationship has ended and I believe I’ve forgiven him, though I’m still having a hard time trusting or feeling any affection for him. 

A: We’re sorry to hear of the deep hurt you’ve experienced. There are, in fact, some very significant distinctions between forgiveness and reconciliation. For one thing, forgiveness is an individual decision, whereas reconciliation is a joint venture. Forgiveness is an element in the larger process of reconciliation. Without true forgiveness there can be no reconciliation, but one can forgive without necessarily being reconciled. A great deal depends on the other person’s response.

There’s also an important difference between the choice of forgiveness and the emotion of forgiveness. Once you’ve determined to let go of a past offense, it can sometimes take a while for your feelings to catch up with your cognitive decision. Changes of this nature don’t usually happen overnight.

Given the circumstances, your emotions are completely understandable. You husband must give you the time you need to work through those feelings of betrayal and invalidation. He must also realise that before there can be true reconciliation, he needs to respond to your forgiveness by taking the initiative to rebuild trust into the relationship. That means acknowledging his betrayal, entering into your pain, and daily demonstrating his fidelity, reliability, and trustworthiness as a person. That’s what repentance is all about. In the meantime, your task is to stay open to trusting him again in spite of the baggage of the past. 

If you’d like to discuss your situation further, we’d encourage you to call our Family Support Services at 03-7954 7920 or write to support@family.org.my.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

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