How do you forgive yourself after an affair?
8 steps to self-forgiveness
We can hear that terminology thrown around but it can be difficult to know how to really DO it.
Most people who realize they need to ‘forgive themselves’ first were stuck in the painful pit of shame.
If someone else had wronged you, you’d want an apology, and then you’d decide whether or not to forgive them.
But when it’s you who’s done wrong and betrayed your husband AND your own values, the steps are less clear.
Maybe you don’t believe you deserve forgiveness for the affair, or you don’t know how to forgive yourself.
Either way, you feel awful and stuck.
How do you forgive yourself even when it feels impossible?
Without self-forgiveness, your shame may lead you to do things for which you feel even more ashamed.
Shame builds on shame.
This is why some women switch to other addictions to drown out that shaming voice in their head.
It’s important to note- shame is never a good motivator for long lasting change.
You might get short term results, but shame never produces the type of ‘heart change’ that someone truly needs.
This is true in parenting our kids, as an employer with employees AND in this area of someone wanting to change
after their affair.
To unburden yourself, you must practice self-compassion, and to heal yourself and your marriage; you must recognize your humanity.
No human being is perfect. We all make mistakes…yes, sometimes even mistakes as big as infidelity.
Our mistakes only define us forever, if we let them.
(If you’re a betrayed spouse reading this- please don’t get hung up on the word “mistakes” to mean I’m not taking it seriously;
it’s the closest word I can use to define the terrible choice an unfaithful spouse makes when crossing that line into adultery).
Here’s the 8 steps to help you experience self-forgiveness.
1. Acknowledge and appreciate.
The first thing I’d like you to do is to acknowledge and appreciate the way you feel right now.
Acknowledge that not everyone is self-aware or empathetic enough to admit they’ve done something wrong-
yes even after an affair, as some justify it by blaming the spouse.
So, appreciate that you’re the kind of person who can recognize your faults and mistakes and say,
“I did this; I am responsible.”
That IS important moving forward.
You’ve done something wrong, yes, but at your core, you are probably a good person;
if you weren’t, you would have absolutely no care or concern about what you’ve done.
*Although a lack of empathy is very common during acting out in an affair, because of the deception one is in with affair fog,
that usually lifts and the reality of shame and self-loathing start to set in after one is coming out of that fog.
You can read also more about what affair fog is not.
2. Think of how you would speak to a friend with the same problem.
Many of the principles of self-forgiveness are the same as forgiving someone else.
When you forgive another or forgive yourself, you let go of your grievances and judgments and allow healing to start.
By “let go,” I don’t mean you pretend it never happened or say that what happened was OK.
Letting go means you open the door to your self-imposed prison with the key of God’s grace and mercy.
Extend the same grace to yourself that you probably would to a friend coming to you in her brokenness.
Forgiveness isn’t a pardon or an excuse, and it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to have feelings
of regret or remorse about what happened.
Forgiving means accepting what happened and finding a way to move forward; knowing the past is gone.
3. Understand how you got to this place.
First, you must own what you have done and the consequences of your actions.
And, you need to accept that there’s nothing you can do to change the past,
(which I’ll talk more on in a minute).
There’s one thing that those who’ve done the “unforgivable”
and those who’ve done the “easier-to-forgive” have in common:
They’re all human.
Human beings make mistakes.
Some mistakes are small, and some are huge, but they’re all made for the same reason:
We are imperfect creatures, and we’re all deserving of forgiveness.
Think about what has happened in your life that led you to do what you did.
How did you get here?
Were you trying to escape from something in your life, or within yourself?
What were the experiences you’ve had, and the limiting beliefs and perceptions that led you to this moment?
Of course without shifting blame on your spouse or making excuses because
there are always better ways to deal with problems than having an affair.
This isn’t about excusing or justifying what you did, but simply identifying the why –
and not just the what of what happened.
When you know why you did what you did,
you’re more able to find more constructive ways to meet the same need in the future.
4. Forgive your past self by letting go of the anger.
Remember, you were doing the best you could with the skills you had at the time.
Yes, you knew better in your soul…but for whatever reason, you were
disconnected from acting in your true morals and beliefs.
You didn’t know what you know now- and you didn’t know the signs or vulnerabilities you were in before the affair.
Most people who were unfaithful,
minimize the seriousness of the conversations they engaged in with someone before the affair started.
Many affairs begin as emotional affairs– which often blindside even the most careful people,
especially those who proudly thought they were above ever having an affair.
This doesn’t minimize what you did, but being angry with yourself doesn’t do anything to change the past- nothing will.
To become the person you want to be, and have the life you want to have moving forward-
you must forgive yourself for the things you regret doing in your past.
Some experts suggest looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “I forgive you” out loud to yourself.
Be specific if you can.
For example: “I forgive you for having the affair,”
“I forgive you for continuing the inappropriate friendship when I had alarm bells going off inside.”
Think about what she (you–pre affair) did not know then what you know now.
By forgiving the younger woman within you, you can start to heal and grow.
We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we have.
Sometimes those tools aren’t very helpful;
maybe your parents weren’t good role models, or your perceptions and judgments were flawed,
or the thoughts you had about yourself or your marriage were wrong and destructive.
I want you to sit quietly for a moment and say to yourself, “I did what I did because I am human and human beings aren’t perfect..
now what can I do NOW to work at fixing this?”
5. Learn from this experience.
Take a step back and see everything that has happened as a result of what you did.
Not just what harm it caused others or yourself, but also what lessons you learned from it.
If you don’t believe you’ve learned anything, it means you haven’t examined the situation and your feelings closely enough.
Take some time to think about why the affair happened and how it’s changed you.
Some questions to reflect on:
What can you learn about yourself or others from it?
How can this make you a better, more compassionate person?
Is there a way we can improve our marriage going forward now?
What wisdom can you gain from your mistakes?
Even the worst trials can make us stronger.
Asking HOW questions are usually better than WHY questions;
“How can I learn from this and change myself?” as opposed to “Why didn’t I know better?”
Make a plan for how you will make better choices from now on; recognizing the areas you let slide, and make those stronger.
6. Make amends when it would help.
There’s a reason this is step nine of the 12 steps in AA:
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
We can make amends for the wrongs we committed against others by taking actions to repair the harm we caused them.
You can communicate to the person you’ve harmed (first of all your husband) your deep remorse for the damage you’ve done to them and apologize.
Find a way to better the life of the person you hurt, or if he won’t allow you to help him, do something to help others.
Show yourself and the world that you’ve learned from your mistake.
When we also harmed ourselves (like we did when we betrayed our own values), it can really help our own healing
by helping those struggling with the same issues that once made us feel shame.
Many women stay in my private Facebook group AMA Women long after they’ve been helped and are doing better,
simply to help other women and extend a hand of support and encouragement for them.
This helps us stay strong in our own recovery.
Making amends can help your recovery as well.
There’s a saying in AA that says:
“This requires good judgment, a careful sense of timing, courage, and prudence—
these are the qualities we shall need when we take made amends.”
7. Accept your current situation.
You’re living with the result of the choices you made…and it’s pretty uncomfortable if you’re in the early stages of recovery.
Consequences for our wrong choices and sin don’t magically go away because we’re sorry.
The hardest part is knowing we can’t go back in time and change our choices- that’s pure regret.
But to heal from shame and become the woman you want to be—and build the life you want to have—
you first have to accept who you are and where you are right now and let go of the regret from the past.
Nothing you can do now, tomorrow, or in 10 years can change the past.
But you DO have a choice today- in the present time you’re given- to change into a woman you can be proud of.
The key is learning to accept life on life’s terms- with all its bumps, bruises and mistakes as it is now;
not how we wish it were, or how it ‘should’ be.
Ask yourself, “What can I do to ensure I don’t make the same mistake again?”
This requires a dedicated commitment to staying mindful of areas that you weren’t before.
8. Forgiving yourself is actually important for your husbands healing-
and your marriage recovery.
My last point is- how can we expect our husbands to forgive us, when we can’t even forgive ourselves?
He first needs to see your remorse over what you did; but then also your ability to forgive yourself as God has forgiven you.
Remember, no benefit or good can come from keeping yourself stuck in the dis-empowering pattern of self-punishment.
Punishing yourself doesn’t serve anyone.
It might be what others want you to do, but it isn’t what God wants for you.
To serve others, help your husband heal, and make your own life better, you must forgive yourself.
As I’ve stated here a few times-there’s nothing any of us can do to change the past, and frankly,
constantly ruminating in your thoughts about how terrible you are etc..just keeps you stuck there in the past.
You’ll stay so focused on YOU and what a terrible person you think you are,
that you won’t be able to focus on how to help him heal.
Shame wants us to hide from others; so when your husband tries to open up to you about his pain (which he needs to do),
you won’t be able to sit with him in that pain (and be empathetic), because all you can see is the shame of what you’ve done.
It takes a strong woman to not shrink back and hide from the pain you see in another-especially when you’re the one who caused it.
I know how incredibly hard that is to do. But it’s critical if you want to restore your marriage.
Don’t let shame and unforgiveness for yourself rob your marriage of that healing.
1. Acknowledge and appreciate who you are and the opportunity to change now.
2. Think of how you’d speak to a friend with the same problem and extend that grace to yourself.
3. Understand how you got here- we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.
4. Forgive your past self, by letting go of the anger that comes as part of the stages of recovery.
5. Learn from this experience- what can you do differently moving forward.
6. Make amends when it would help and not harm others.
7. Accept your current situation- wishing it were different doesn’t change anything.
8. Forgiving yourself is important for your husband’s healing as well as your own.
If you’d like to read more posts for the wife who was unfaithful- click here.