They unfaithful partner usually wants it, but they cannot demand forgiveness. It is your gift to give or withhold. But whether or not they deserve it, I believe you should eventually forgive, for a number of reasons:
- Your own healing. Whether or not your marriage survives, you need to be able to eventually move on unencumbered by bitterness or vengefulness. If you never stop ruminating over your spouse's betrayal, the "you must pay for this" attitude will become a destructive force in your life.
- Your partner's healing. Your forgiveness will be a necessary part of your spouse's recovery from the affair, if your marriage is going to survive and flourish. This will be especially true for a spouse who is experiencing significant shame (your lack of forgiveness traps them in their guilt) or who is struggling with emotionally disconnecting from the other woman/man (your lack of forgiveness keeps them at a distance).
- Working toward trust. You'll never be able to move toward trust until you forgive. You can forgive without trusting; but you cannot trust without forgiving.
Some people misunderstand forgiveness. They think that forgiveness means forgetting, or never being upset about the affair again, or never talking about it again. Not so. Forgiveness does not erase the past; it just puts it in a new perspective.
Forgiveness simply means you come to the place of no longer holding your spouse "in debt" for their affair. You stop accusing. You stop using it as a weapon. You choose look forward instead of back, and refuse to be trapped by hurt & anger. You probably will not find your way to forgiveness easily or quickly (I am suspicious of that kind of forgiveness, because it usually is not honest), but it should be a goal you're working toward.
It may take a while for you to experience the consistent feeling of forgiveness. Here's what one of my clients wrote nearly a year after finding out about her husband's affairs:
"I have been thinking so much lately about forgiveness. There are days that I have to consciously make the choice to walk in forgiveness. At times it can be so easy to want to "fall back to what he did in the past" when [my husband] irritates me or we have a disagreement over something totally unrelated to the affair behavior.
"But I think more and more that I am actually beginning to 'feel' it. I don't have to work as hard to make the conscious choice every day. And I am starting to see that in those moments when I want to act out in a very un-forgiving manner towards him, it really is the rush of emotion [pushing that response]. When I can step back, calm down, and really take time to process, I know I no longer WANT to punish him, or torture him, or hold anything over his head, or make him pay somehow for the hurt or anger I feel."