Why You Should Forgive Your Cheating Ex

Find out why forgiveness might just be the most powerful emotion of all.

Why You Should Forgive Your Cheating Ex [EXPERT]

Jaylee made her way slowly across my office and into a chair. As she began to tell her story, silent tears coursed down her face and fell onto hands clasped tightly in her lap. Here is Jaylee's story:

Several years before, Jaylee had returned home early from a meeting to discover her husband in bed with the babysitter. "I have tried to get over it," she said. "We got a new bed and redecorated the room. We went to counseling. I have tried everything, but nothing has worked. Every time I look at him all I can see in my mind is the two of them in our bed amidst disheveled sheets."


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"Have you tried changing the picture in your mind?" I asked. "Every time that old picture pops up, have you purposefully envisioned a new replacement picture?" She shook her head. "That psychological stuff does not work with me." I smiled. "It is brain function stuff." She rolled her eyes and continued. "As I said, I have tried everything, but nothing has helped. Finally, I told him to move out."

"How is that working?" I asked. Silence and more tears stream down her face. "It appears that you are still sad. It has been five years since the incident. What are you still sad about?" I asked Jaylee. In a nanosecond her entire demeanor changed. Her black eyes blazed fire and indignation. "What do you think I am sad about?" she shouted. "Are you a complete moron? He ruined my life. That is what I'm sad about!"


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It also appeared that sadness was the least of her problems. For several minutes Jaylee raged about the injustice of life. After all, she had been a good wife and mother and did not deserve this. "Have you tried forgiving him?" I asked. 

Shaking her head, Jaylee replied, "He asked me many times to forgive him, but it was all just too egregious. Now it is too late. He remarried last month. Besides, why should I forgive him? He does not deserve to be forgiven." "Should we not be forgiven for our faux pas?" I asked. "Faux pas!" Jaylee screamed. "Are you kidding me? What he did was absolutely unforgivable. He ruined my life!" "You could still forgive him," I said. "It is never too late. The person could have died, and you could still forgive."

Some definitions of forgiveness focus on reducing unforgiveness. Many acts have the potential to reduce unforgiveness and are thus often confused with forgiveness. As one researcher put it, successful vengeance will eliminate unforgiveness. 


"Forgiveness does not mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, condone bad behavior, justify the wrong or excuse the act. It certainly does not mean that you chose to remain in an abusive relationship or that you waive your right to justice and compensation," I explained to Jaylee.

I explained that at least two types of forgiveness appear in the literature: decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness.

• Decisional forgiveness is behavioral intention to no longer resist forgiving the transgressor.

• Emotional forgiveness is the replacement of negative unforgiving emotions with positive emotions. Emotional forgiveness, which involves psychophysiological changes, has more direct health and well-being consequences.


Jaylee could begin with decisional forgiveness and, hopefully, move on to emotional forgiveness. "The bottom line," I said, "is that forgiveness and forgiving appear to be crucial to healthy living." As Doctors Arnold and Barry Fox put it, when you say "I forgive you," you are also saying "I want to be healthy." The act of forgiving allows the body to decrease the amount of catabolic chemicals it produces and instead instructs the subconscious to banish negative feelings from the mind. "Forgiveness has less to do with others and everything to do with the forgiver. In this case, that would be you," I said to Jaylee.

"Think of it this way," I continued. "Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. A way to stop harboring destructive feelings. Forgiveness can improve your health. If you choose not to forgive, you will likely be the one who pays most dearly. A person living in unforgiveness, all the while wishing that the other person would die, is the one actually drinking the deadly poison. I know that you are accustomed to holding a grudge, but there is another way."

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According to renowned cardiologist Herbert Benson, there is something called the physiology of forgiveness. Being unable to forgive another person's faults is harmful to your health. As recently as a few years ago, it would have been difficult to find much information on the physiology of forgiveness. Although the field is admittedly new, it has grown exponentially over the past decade with more than 1,200 published studies.


Studies have shown that there is psychology and physiology at the root of forgiveness. An unwillingness to forgive has been linked with a variety of health hazards and negative consequences, including the following.

• Increased stress levels and muscle tension.
• Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
• Increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol.
• Suppressed immune function.
• Increased risk for depression, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
• Decreased neurological function and memory.
• Impaired relationships at home and at work.

On the flip side, studies have revealed the power of forgiveness in a number of beneficial ways, including the following.

• Healthier relationships.
• Greater mental, physical and spiritual health.
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility.
• Lower blood pressure.
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.
• Making room for compassion, kindness and peace.


"In fact," I told Jaylee, "it appears that the one who forgives tends to benefit more than the one who is forgiven." Jaylee would have none of it. Rising from the chair, she painfully made her way toward the door. "I will think about it and let you know," were her parting words.

Unforgiveness is one of the problems individuals grapple with in life. According to Father Al Lauer, founder of Presentation Ministries, his belief at time of ordination was that about half of all problems were due to unforgiveness. Ten years later, he estimated that at least three quarters of all health, marital and family problems stemmed from unforgiveness. After more than twenty years in ministry, he concluded that over 90 percent of all problems are rooted in issues related to unforgiveness.

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Several days passed. Then, one morning the call light on my office phone was blinking. Picking up the receiver, I dialed into my voicemail. "I have decided and I will not do it," the voice said. "I've decided I would rather die first!"

Do you need to forgive yourself for something? Is there anybody in your life you need to forgive? How healthy do you want to be? Forgiveness is a choice, a gift you give yourself. Choose it today.