How to move on without forgiveness after an affair

Tammy Nelson, PhD explains why empathy is more important than forgiveness in recovering from an affair
Relationship Advice | How to move on without forgiveness after an affair
KidsInTheHouse the Ultimate Parenting Resource
Kids in the House Tour

How to move on without forgiveness after an affair

I think traditionally we've always thought that the goal of recovery from an affair is forgiveness for the person who cheated. But frankly, forgiveness is like a power struggle. If you had the affair and you cheated and you say, I'm sorry, then I'm supposed to grant you forgiveness. Well frankly, you get everything. You had the affair. Now you get the forgiveness. So if one day I'm still upset or still angry, or something triggers me, then I might just take my forgiveness back, because frankly that's all I have. So forgiveness becomes a power play. And naturally over time, forgiveness is an organic process. It happens with empathy. Empathy is really the goal, not necessarily forgiveness. You can recover from an affair when you both learn to have a certain empathy for the situation before, during, and after the affair. In other words, can you put yourself in your partner's shoes and understand what they were feeling and experiencing before, during, and after the affair. It doesn't mean you have to forgive them. It doesn't mean you even have to understand. But it does mean you have to be able to say, knowing you the way I know you, it makes sense that this happened. I don't like it. I don't know if I actually can forgive you. But I get it. And in order to feel like you can move on, they have to say the same thing to you. I can imagine that for you, this was an incredibly difficult experience. And knowing you the way I know you, this must have been really hard for you. And I get it. And that's what empathy is. Empathy is different than forgiveness, because forgiveness is temporary. You know, I'm sorry is pretty much skin deep. It really doesn't mean much. Because I'm sorry has a hook. If I say I'm sorry, you're supposed to give me something back. So the goal is not to keep apologizing and keep demanding forgiveness. And the goal is not to grant your partner forgiveness. The goal is to move forward to learn a new way of relating to each other, to experience the other person's feelings, to experience empathy, and to validate that.

Tammy Nelson, PhD explains why empathy is more important than forgiveness in recovering from an affair


Expert Bio

More from Expert

Tammy Nelson, PhD

Psychotherapist & Relationship Expert

Tammy Nelson PhD is the author of several books including, “Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together”  (2008) and  “What’s Eating You? A Workbook for Anorexia and Bulimia (2004)” and her latest  book “The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity” (January 2013) is receiving critical acclaim.  She has been a featured expert in New York Times, Washington Post, Self,  Glamour Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, MSNBC,  Shape, Men’s Health, Women’s Health Woman’s Day, Women’s Health, and a source in Time Magazine. She writes for the Huffington Post, YourTango and can be followed on her blog

Tammy Nelson is a Board Certified Sexologist, a Certified Sex Therapist and an Imago Relationship Therapist.  She is an international speaker and a licensed psychotherapist in private practice with over 25 years of experience working with individuals and couples.  She travels and lectures internationally on her quest for global relational change.

More Parenting Videos from Tammy Nelson, PhD >
Enter your email to
download & subscribe
to our newsletter