I find that people are often confused about the difference between forgiveness and trust. They are not the same. Forgiveness says, “I choose to let go of this offense and release you from its debt.” Trust says, “I choose to act according to the belief that you will not let me down.” There are circumstances in which I may genuinely forgive someone, but never trust them again. For example, I can forgive a business partner for stealing money out of the account, but decide to not risk working with him any longer. I can forgive a babysitter who hurts my child, but never ask them to provide childcare again.
Much of my counseling work focuses on helping couples navigate the rough waters of affair recovery. One of the waves they have to avoid is the belief that once forgiveness takes place (1) the offending spouse will experience a return to “life as normal,” including no more questions about the past or expectation of accountability in the future, and (2) the offended spouse will need to choke down concerns or questions about their partners’s current and future behavior since real forgiveness means forgetting. These are lies.
Forgiveness is a gift; trust should be earned. In an affair, forgiveness opens the door to trust, but the couple has to travel that path together before they reach the destination. The trip may take more time than they planned.
The person who had an affair and wants to rebuild their marriage must be willing to go to extraordinary measures to earn a spouse’s trust again. I find that the willingness to do this is a good indicator of whether or not a person has really ended an affair and is willing to invest in their marriage.
The person who has been betrayed should understand that forgiveness is an important step toward their own healing and recovery, but is separate from the choice of trusting a spouse again. But the good news is that genuine trust can be restored over time.
Read more about the steps involved in affair recovery.