People have come to me with a whole host of problems, and the essence of all of them is: I didn’t get something I wanted. I got “no.” I wanted my partner to be faithful; they weren’t faithful. I got “no.” I wanted somebody to tell the truth; they told a lie. I got “no.” I wanted to be loved as a child; I wasn‘t loved in a way that I felt good about. I got “no.”

It’s so important to be able to understand the universal experience of this—of objecting to the way life is and trying to substitute the way you want it to be, then getting upset when your substitution doesn’t take.

The essence of forgiveness is being resilient when things don’t go the way you want—to be at peace with “no,” be at peace with what is, be at peace with the vulnerability inherent in human life. Then you have to move forward and live your life without prejudice.

forgive-your-spouse-after-an-emotional-afairIt’s the absence of prejudice that informs forgiveness. You realize that nobody owes you, that you don’t have to take the hurt you suffered and pay it forward to someone else.

Just because your last partner was unkind to you doesn’t mean you always have to give your new partner the third degree. With an open heart, you move forward and accept what is, without prejudice.

You don’t just accept it because life sucks and there’s nothing you can do about it—though that may be true—but you accept it in a way that leaves you willing to give the next moment a chance. Fred Luskin

Accept Your Spouse After an Emotional Affair?

How do you become a team again …if you can’t forgive your spouse for an emotional affair? What are the building blocks of acceptance, and how can we get there if for cultural, family-of-origin, or mental health reasons we find that we can not forgive?

Here’s a TEAM Approach for Developing Acceptance:

Transference Management.

In Science-Based Couples Therapy, here I would tuck all the skills of softened start-up, effective trigger management, and repair attempts. The couple has to entirely excavate all of their interlocking resistance and reluctance. A couple well-trained in handling transference issues can recognize “were doing it again” and consciously de-escalate. These couples accept the fact that they both have Vagus nerves and manage them with skill.

Empathy Development

Empathy is the bedrock of marital satisfaction. It’s an uncomfortable realization that we are virtually all sinners in emotional infidelity… can we have empathy for the predicament that leaves us in as human beings (Romans 3:23).

Not forgiving or accepting the prevalence of emotional infidelity is maladaptive in the extreme.

Acceptance of Bozo Status, Self, and Others 

Limerence fades. And nature abandons us with our old brain to manage a fresh, intimate aspiration.

If we can be mature about accepting disappointments and human frailty, and create emotional space for profound imperfection, we might hack our way into deeper intimacy. Remember…we are all Bozos on this Bus.


Real intimacy is facilitated by an observing self. It is best if there is always a part of us that can watch emotions arise, and external motivations and rigid expectations crowd our personal preferences. Intimacy is a choice. Reactivity is an inheritance. Few couples exit a Negative Sentiment Override and cross the threshold into Positive Sentiment Override without mindfulness.

Meaningful Suffering

forgive-your-spouse-after-an-emotional-affairSome folks never succumb to a full and heavy sorrow, and some people remain in grief for too long, complicating their grief in the process.

The Stoics remind us that grief and suffering because are unavoidable dimensions of human experience. The experience informs. The experience has power.

But to access the power of the experience, we can choose to acknowledge our wounds and that we have been diminished in some way.

What do you do with your grief?

You could, I suppose, weave a personality disorder such as Passive-Aggression, Borderline Personality Disorder, or Narcissism around it.

Or perhaps use it as a blunt instrument in all your intimate interactions.

You could also cling to it like flotsam for dear life, lest you surrender your identity as a “survivor.”

Luskin says that a deep human being is one with idiosyncratic internal motivation. They can accept the possibility in the next moment with openness and curiosity.

We have a popular notion of the five stages of grief. But this notion is more poetry than clinical research. On the other hand, Luskin’s research demonstrates three phases of grief that are essential to forgive your spouse after an emotional affair:

Acknowledge the Harm
Luskin says that the first step is to fully acknowledge the harm done. Acknowledgment trumps role. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Involved Partner or the Hurt Partner. Seeing “what is” is unavoidably painful work.

Feel the Harm

Meaningful Suffering. You have to suffer to let it move through you. But when you forgive, you render suffering optional. It happened. But your emotional response may be informed by your Inner Motivation.

Share the Story of the Harm

If you keep grief to yourself, you are doing it the hard way. It’s bad for your health, and it may kill you.

That said, the people who tell everybody about their grievance have the next poorest outcomes.

The sweet spot in the Resilience Research shows that what you need for a healthy response to difficulty is to share your problem with a few select, carefully chosen, caring people over time. Those are the hurt partners who possess the best chance to forgive their spouse after an emotional affair.

Grief and Forgiveness

Luskin says that before you can forgive your spouse after an emotional affair, you will have to grieve.

Forgiveness is a natural integration process of traumatic experience that concurrently exists on a continuum with grief.

Luskin understands the relationship between forgiveness and grief in this way:

When you’re violated, injured, or hurt, the natural human response is grief. All of those problems can be seen as a loss—whether we lose affection or a human being or a dream—and when we lose something, human beings have a natural reintegration process, which we call grief. Then forgiveness is the resolution of grief.  Fred Luskin