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Infidelity And — Forgiveness?

The fractured relationship world is divided into two kinds of people: those who forgive their partners’ infidelities and those who don’t.


My neighbor of long ago – I’ll call her Jean – used to describe her marriage as ideal. That was before she came home two days early from a business trip and found her husband handcuffed to the bedpost with a leather-clad dominatrix looming over him. Twenty years and many thousands of dollars worth of therapy sessions later, Jean and her husband are still together, and were seen last year at their daughter’s wedding, holding hands and beaming with shared pride.

Lisa”, my colleague and wife of a city magazine editor, was enjoying herself at an office party when she spotted her husband’s secretary emerging disheveled from a storage closet. Moments later the closet door re-opened and her husband slithered guiltily from inside. Since that moment in 1993, Lisa has not spoken except through an attorney to the man who is now her former husband.

Mimi” has told me that when her live-in lover fails to appear as planned, she goes out to search for him, driving up and down the streets of her small town. She usually finds his car parked in front of one of several now-familiar apartments. She leaves notes on his windshield telling him in colorful language that his infidelities are making her suicidal.  She knows he’ll be home in a few hours and they’ll engage in furious quarrelling followed by extra-passionate love-making. Mimi is 62; her lover is 67.


What is it about infidelity that causes such a variety of reactions? Is it simply the fact of that infidelity, or is it the circumstances that surround it? Is there a 1-to-10 scale of blame and pain? Is catching your partner in a one-night stand a mere three on the pain scale, while learning he’s involved in a serious, long term relationship is maybe a nine?  Is his secret visit to a prostitute more forgivable than a sloppy flirtation witnessed by a roomful your friends?

We are all products of our culture and upbringing, which accounts in part for why some women give straying partners the boot and others take a “boys will be boys” position. In a special category are those women who find their unfaithful partners all the more attractive (“If other women want him, he must be worth more than I thought!”). When sex after discovery of a lover’s indiscretion is all that exhilarating, these women are their cheating partners’ enablers.

Forgiving a cheater is a hot-button topic for women of any age, but for older women it has a special poignancy. No matter how strong our bodies, our egos and spirits are frail. The little voice inside says, “at my age, this is it.” Finding a lover/spouse in one’s sixth or seventh decade is an amazement, a miracle, a gift. It may seem as though abandoning it will close all doors, even those that are merely ajar. Without the wider opportunities and longer timeline available to women decades younger, older women are likely to stick and stay. But how to forgive?


Forgiveness may seem like swallowing too much of one’s pride, and some women disappear instead into self-pity — or revenge. But forgiveness is not condoning bad behavior, or even reconciling with someone who has done something so hurtful. Forgiveness is not for the cheater; it’s for the cheated-on. It’s not letting him go free; it’s freeing yourself of debilitating, long-term physical and mental upset.

Whether you’re a forgiver or a hanger-on, there’s one thing we all probably agree on. Hopping into bed with the perpetrator is not forgiveness in its healthiest form.

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'Infidelity And — Forgiveness?' have 11 comments

  1. July 10, 2014 @ 6:52 am Guy

    The only advice i want to give is to always communicate with your partner. Infidelity finds a way but communicatation is the key to keep it at bay.

  2. January 5, 2013 @ 8:50 pm Candy

    It seems to me that infidelity goes hand in hand with jealousy. I had a relationship long ago and I was so jealous that I literally drove a good man away and into the arms of another, or I should say others (plural). I nagged and cried about what at first was nothing, and then my worst fears were confirmed.

  3. October 29, 2012 @ 7:40 am MJH19

    Super post! You have nailed it, the fact that even though infidelity itself may not be too complex (get some!), reactions are different. A friend of mine who just caught her long-term companion in a compromising state has decided to forgive because she thinks their relationship is worth it. I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted if I were in her shoes.

  4. August 26, 2012 @ 9:49 pm JPWriter

    Sound advice — that forgiveness is not for the cheater, but for the person who’s been wronged. This blog is insightful and extremely well written. It’s also quite unique. Brava, Sienna.

  5. July 16, 2012 @ 1:15 pm Alicia

    A man I was in love with cheated on me with my friend. I tried to forgive him but I wasn’t sure it wouldn’t happen again, which made it impossible in the end to genuinely forgive. I am now with someone who seems more likely to be loyal, but since my experience with an unfaithful man I find it difficult to fully trust, so I remain on guard. I wish it wasn’t so, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

  6. July 16, 2012 @ 1:09 pm Walt

    What about women who cheat? Why do you always complain about men? Now that women are exposed to more temptation than in the days when they were confined to home and hearth, they get into the same scrapes as men do and it is just as hurtful to their partners.

  7. June 8, 2012 @ 10:00 pm Whiskey

    You seem to be advising women to stay in strained and sometimes terrible relationships. I can not imagine staying with someone who did any of the things you describe. Your reader who comments that it is natural for men to go astray is taking the easy way out and should be ashamed for condoning this kind of behavior, which is wrong no matter how long it lasts and what the object of their interest is.

  8. April 17, 2012 @ 10:21 am Tracey

    Your friend Mimi has to get a grip. What a waste of time following this guy around. She needs to show him the door.

  9. March 23, 2012 @ 9:28 am Pollyanna

    It tougher to cheat these days – GPS on cellphones, too bad for these men trying to tell their wives they’re working late at the office. But cheating is really wrong and I’m not a forgiver.

  10. March 17, 2012 @ 2:03 pm AudreyZ

    For me it’s a matter of degree, as you say. It’s possible and even natural for men to go stray. When they hit a certain age they go crazy when a woman makes eyes at them. I don’t think I could cope with a man who was involved in an actual relationship with another woman, but a one-night stand is forgiveable in certain circumstances.

  11. March 17, 2012 @ 1:20 pm Party Girl

    Where do these old coots get off with infidelity?!? They should be grateful to have a relationship instead of making fools of themselves as some do with young girls.

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