There are two indispensable elements that make forgiveness possible. Without them, people struggle with anger, hurt, fear and insecurity, without resolution.

Let’s take the case of a couple where one partner had an affair. This scenario is not uncommon in our society, where 50% of married people admit to having had at least one extra-marital affair in the course of their marriages.

We refer to the person who had the affair as the injuring partner, and the other the injured partner. And let’s say that the injured partner finds out about the affair and confronts the injuring partner. This situation, not surprisingly, triggers very powerful feelings ranging from disbelief, anger and hurt to fear and confusion. The injured partner wants – indeed, needs – to talk. He or she wants to know the details, when, why and how the affair happened. There is also a wish to retaliate and punish the injuring partner. There is fear about the future, as trust is gone.

The injuring partner, on the other hand, may feel ashamed, wants to forget and asks to be forgiven. He or she may think “this is in the past. Let’s move on,” convinced that there is no need to “dwell” on what happened.

Yet forgiveness is impossible to achieve because forgiveness is not an act, but a process. This process takes time to develop. It is only after partners have done the necessary work that forgiveness can be achieved.

Forgiveness benefits both partners and can take the relationship to a deeper level of intimacy, if properly handled. But, for it to be achievable, two elements need to be in place:


The injuring partner needs to become aware of the full emotional impact of his or her actions on the other partner and feel what the other is feeling. Up until that point he or she might have minimized this impact, assuming that what is not known does not hurt. However, without open communication, the injuring partner won’t be able to achieve a full understanding and own responsibility for his or her actions. Once the two partners develop an honest way of communicating their feelings, they need to give each other all the time required to process the emotional impact of the affair. The length of this process vary from couple to couple, as a lot of specific elements may speed it up or slow it down. This part of the work requires patience, staying with the feelings, even and particularly when they are uncomfortable and, for the injuring partner, being emotionally available to the injured partner.


There needs to be a reasonable expectation that this behavior won’t occur again in the future. I say “reasonable” because none of us has 100% security about what another person will or will not do in the future. Forgiveness applies only to those actions that occurred in the past, not to those occurring in the present or possibly happening in the future. It is only when the injuring partner can provide reassurance that he or she is a changed person that the injured partner can start to rebuild trust. The injuring partner needs to feel and express regret and remorse and communicate these feelings appropriately to the injured partner.

Author's Bio: 

Daniela Roher, PhD is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Carefree, AZ and in Scottsdale, AZ. Daniela has worked in this field helping individuals and couples better understand their emotions and teaching them how to manage and regulate them, without letting them get overwhelming or frightening. She has been in this profession for over thirty years, both in Europe and the U.S. Aside from her reputation as a clinician, Daniela has developed a national reputation with her blog.