How To Forgive A Cheating Husband: Lessons From Elizabeth Edwards

John & Elizabeth Edwards

This year, learn how to let go of the past and find peace in the present.

It's been said that during her final days, Elizabeth Edwards was too busy living to think much about dying. Instead of planning her funeral or fielding the media, she chose to bask peacefully and quietly in the love of her closest friends and family—including estranged husband John Edwards—determined to maintain what CBS News called "a very warm and nurturing home" for her children.

If her last days were spent with Mr. Edwards at her side, the disgraced former-Senator and presidential candidate who had lied to everyone—including his own wife—about his notorious extramarital affair, it begs the question of how, in her final days, did Elizabeth Edwards manage to concentrate on living with gratitude instead of dying with bitterness? Rather than spend her end shunning her husband, she gracefully forgave him, died at peace and in doing so, taught the rest of us some exemplary life-lessons in forgiveness and getting back in touch with what matters most. Did Elizabeth Edwards Forgive John Before Her Death?

Though Elizabeth Edward's clarity of thought and strength to forgive might have come from knowing how close she was to death, all of us can learn from her example—after all, you never know what challenges may lie around the corner. Our YourTango Experts took a look at how this amazing woman so resiliently saw through the despair of her cancer, and the personal shortcomings of her estranged husband, all the way to the bright side:

She Chose Forgiveness.
Ultimately, Edwards chose to deal with cancer the same way she had dealt with her husband's indiscretion: in peaceful surrender to what she couldn't change.

As she wrote in her book, Resilience: "Just as I don't want cancer to take over my life, I don't want this indiscretion, however long in duration, to take over my life either. But I need to deal with both; I need to find peace with both. There is still a great deal of sorting through to do—the lies went on for some time. And we both understand that there are no guarantees, but the road ahead looks clear enough."

Dr. Erica Goodstone, PhD, YourTango expert and renowned relationship coach says, in situations such as these, the act of forgiveness plays a huge part in healing.

"Forgiveness helps the person who forgives even more than the one being forgiven," says Goodstone. "It allows one to love the other person for the whole being that he or she is, not just focused on this one painful aspect or series of events." Moreover, she found comfort and support for her act of forgiveness in both the presence and her sense of family.

She Understood We're Only Human.
Shortly before her passing, Edwards posted this reflection about finding strength through accepting weakness on her Facebook page—the post was to be her last:

The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.

In facing our foibles head on, we hone our capacity to be grateful for the positive aspects of our relationships. "Ms. Edwards never said she was perfect, actually she admitted many times that she was only human, and she may not have been able to truly forgive her husband for everything that happened in their very public marriage," says YourTango Expert Dr. Tammy Nelson. "Yet her gratitude for every day that she lived included the life she led with John and the family they created together."

The fact that she was able to die at peace with John at her side probably signifies she was somewhat able to focus on her positive feelings toward him—and maybe could empathize with him as a fellow erring human. In recognizing the default state of imperfection that exists in all of us, Elizabeth may have rediscovered a peaceful place in her relationship with John, and could forgive him enough to move past any lingering frustrations he had left her.

And perhaps Elizabeth found the grace to forgive and withhold judgment of John in her darkest moments because she was able to understand how John's transgression was part of his  personal struggle and, likely "had very little to do with [them] as a couple," Goodstone says. She further speculates John's past infidelity was a misguided act of "self-realization" or "self-actualization" and suspects Elizabeth was able to see his affair as a separate issue from herself, because she knew what she and John had together couldn't "be replicated or replaced," which brings us to our next point. How To Forgive Your Spouse In 8 Steps

She Let Love Rule
Even if they've split, couples with a significant history can sometimes rise above their differences, and resurrect their appreciation for each other to find comfort in troubled times.

"When one partner is dying, the love that has always been there rises to the surface," says Goodstone. "Elizabeth Edwards impersonalized her marital problems and found a way to keep the love for her husband, which I am sure helped to sustain her during her final moments, because I am sure they both felt the love that had always been there in spite of infidelity."

YourTango Expert Michele Weiner-Davis agrees with this train of thought. "The fact that John was unfaithful does not negate the good times in their marriage or the history they share," says Weiner-Davis. "When death is imminent, people often have clearer visions about what really matters in life. It's not that infidelity doesn't—it matters big time. However, the good times that they shared rise up above the rest."

She Put Family First.
A devoted mother, Edwards' love for her three children made healing her relationship with their father a priority, because she wanted him in the best possible emotional place to care for their kids after she was gone. "I see the father of my children, and that's very important to me," Edwards told Nate Berkus. "Particularly since I have a terminal disease, this is the person who at some point will take over the primary parenting, and it's important to me that he heals, if he needs to." 7 Surprising Facts About The New American Family

After all, co-parenting—especially for an extended period of time—can create a very powerful bond between two people. Of this, Weiner-Davis elaborates: "Why would Elizabeth have John Edwards at her bedside while she dies?' The answer is simple. Elizabeth and John have been married for 35 years, which is more than half her life. Together, they have three children. She believes that despite his transgression, he has been a good father to their children. Elizabeth commented that during hard times in their marriage, she leaned on John—as most spouses do. That's what good marriages are about—taking care of each other through thick and thin."

With additional research from Emen William Garcia.