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Infidelity and Forgiveness: What The Experts Say
by Rachel G. Baldino for

Many relationship experts contend that, at least under certain circumstances, marital infidelity can actually be a forgivable offense.

More specifically, infidelity expert Ruth Houston, author of the widely acclaimed book, Is He Cheating on You? - 829 Telltale Signs, maintains that, "Infidelity is never excusable, but in some circumstances, it may be forgivable-depending on the attitude of the cheater about the cheating. There must be genuine remorse about the infidelity, about having hurt one's mate (not remorse that the affair was discovered)."

Houston also asserted in a recent interview that, "If the guilty party is truly sorry, and has severed all ties with the affair partner, and is willing to get professional help, if necessary, then it's possible that the infidelity may be forgivable, if it occurred under the following circumstances:

A. Under the influence of drugs or alcohol;

B. While going through a midlife crisis;

C. As a response to a life crisis - the death of a loved one, the loss of a job;

D. As a one night stand;

E. In cases of sexual addiction, where the person is seeking, or willing to seek medical/ professional help."

Infidelity Expert Ruth Houston states, 'There must be genuine remorse about the infidelity, about having hurt one's mate.'

On the other hand, Ms. Houston believes that marital infidelity is, "Definitely not forgivable if the cheater:

A. Feels he/she has a right to cheat;

B. Feels no guilt or remorse for having hurt his/her partner;

C. Wants to sweep the affair under the rug and proceed as if nothing has happened;

D. Does not feel that the cheating was wrong;

E. Refuses to sever ties with the affair partner;

F. Continues to lie about the affair;

G. Is a habitual or serial cheater who has had one or more affairs in the past;

H. Is a sex addict who refuses to seek help."

Honest, open communication is absolutely critical when it comes to repairing a relationship that has been damaged by infidelity.

The Best Chance for a Relationship After an Affair

Couples therapists Betsy and Bruce Bergquist have been married for fifty years. For the past eleven years, they have been practitioners of Imago Couples Dialogue Therapy, a form of couples therapy which was created by Harville Hendrix, celebrated marriage counselor, author, and founder of the Imago International Institute.

The Bergquists' motto for their practice is: "'Restoring Tenderness and Intimacy to Your Relationship.

Through their personal use of Imago Couples Dialogue in their own marriage, Ms. Bergquist states that she and her husband Bruce, "Will always have issues, but using Dialogue to process them always allows us to move to new understanding, growth, and awareness of each other. Through Dialogue, we have been able to be fully curious about each other and our differences, and especially about the mysteries of our reactions and behaviors toward one another, so that the issues no long pose a threat but instead make us stronger."

In a recent interview, Ms. Bergquist stated that infidelity "can become forgivable when a communication structure for both partners allows for true forgiveness to occur." It is her contention that relationships "have the best chance to survive an affair if the following steps can be taken:

  1. The affair is ended, and all contact with the third party is ended.

  2. The one who had the affair is willing to listen to their partner's hurt without being reactive or defensive and also willing to express remorse.

  3. The couple is willing to look at the relationship prior to the affair, and both parties equally own the lack of connection and intimacy and failure to communicate dissatisfaction to each other that led to the affair.

  4. The couple is willing to look at hurtful childhood experiences and how early childhood family relationships (for example, infidelities in their own families) may be undermining the present relationship."

Ms. Bergquist describes Imago Couples Dialogue treatment as follows: "Couples learn to talk to each other using a safe process of dialogue which, if the steps are followed, will take them from the affair itself deeper into their childhood pain where emotional needs were not met, or feelings were not acceptable, or where the child was not listened to and interacted with, or made to feel loved.

"Here, perhaps for the first time, couples begin to see the vulnerable, hurt child in their partner and experience empathy, the ability to see the world through the eyes of the other and imagine their experience on a feeling level. The childhood pain evoked does not make the affair okay but both partners can begin to see the childhood pain behind the affair and experience empathy for the other as the basis for forgiveness."

Actually, forgiveness has been empirically proven to be an essential ingredient for achieving one's optimal emotional health.

In her work with couples, she always stresses to them: "We are not going back to childhood; we are trying to grow up and out of childhood. We are trying to be more conscious of how the past still has a grip on us, even though we may deny it."

When Children are Involved

In Ms. Bergquist's view, as far as marital infidelity is concerned, "It is especially worthwhile to try to save a marriage where there are children involved, assuming no violence, child abuse or neglect issues are present. Children's best interests are absolutely paramount. Children are the true victims of divorce and carry the scars of the divorce into adulthood.

"They grow up in the emotional, physical, and psychological space between their parents and when that space no longer exists or is fraught with disagreement and hurt and lack of safety, you can only imagine how that affects their capacity for healthy completion of their emotional and psychological growth both at the time and later on in life."

About the Author contributing editor Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW, is the author of the e-book, Loving Simply: Eliminating Drama from Your Intimate Relationships, published in 2006 by, and the print book, Welcome to Methadonia: A Social Worker's Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic, published in 2000 by White Hat Communications.

Her articles have appeared in Social Work Today, The New Social Worker, New Living Magazine, and other publications. After earning her MSW from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in1997, she provided counseling services, first at a methadone clinic, and later at an outpatient mental health treatment facility.

Ms. Baldino has been quoted about managing anger in relationships in Kathy Svitil's 2006 book, Calming The Anger Storm, which is part of the Psychology Today Here To Help series. She has also been quoted in such magazines, newspapers and online publications as For Me Magazine, Conceive Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Albany Times Union, The Tallahassee Democrat, Bay State Parent Magazine,,,, The Newhouse News Service, and Indianapolis Woman. She lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.

Recommended Reading

The Top Five Things Couples Argue About

The Top Seven Signs that Someone is Lying to You


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