advice: should I forgive him?

QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I’ll try to keep this kinda short, because I know I could go on and on. I’ve been with my husband for thirteen years and married to him for seven. A few months ago, I found out he cheated on me with a co-worker. She is half his age. At first he said it was a one-night stand and broke it off, but then he started seeing her again. I told him I was done and to enjoy his life with this girl once she gets divorced (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that part. She also has a baby). This girl is the same age as his own daughter, who he didn’t raise. He gave both of his daughters up to their mother and step-father, who adopted them, but that’s a different story. We are together right now, even though I moved back to our house we lived in before his job moved us an hour and a half away. He says he will move down here with me and drive a hundred miles each way until he finds a different job. She, by the way, still works there. I said I would give our marriage one last try. I’m not sure if I took him back because there’s still some love left or I feel sorry for him. I just know this is the last chance we have to save anything. I think I’m being a fool. I don’t think I know the difference between love and hate anymore. I’m confused on what to do.

straight up advice

As I did last week, I’ll leave this open to the advice of others before weighing in here myself… Before I even read your question, just at seeing the subject of your email, my answer is yes. I’m not going to get all religious on you, but your question is about forgiveness, and it’s only once we’ve forgiven someone that we’re able to put it behind us, and live a lighter, happier, and quite frankly healthier life.
Grudges don’t help anything unless you’re on "The Hate Diet". But you can forgive, let go, and say goodbye. And it sounds like that is what you want to do, say goodbye. But a part of you, a frightened part, wants to be told, "No, work it out. Forgive him." Because sometimes, status quo seems easier, less scary, than the unknown. Even when status quo is suck and a half. Because at least you know what that’s like.

And I think that you know this. "I think I’m being a fool," is what your intellect tells you, what your get tells you, but your fear says, "Stay, feel sorry for him, give it one last shot." Because you’re afraid to change things and face the unknown. And I can tell you, without doubt, change is scary, but it’s when we do the most growing in our lives, and I hope a time will come for you when you look back on this moment in your life and think, "Thank God I loved her enough to leave." Because that’s who you need to protect now, her, the girl you were before you met him, the girl who had dreams of who she’d be when she grew up, the girl who could imagine anything and go for it. You need to honor and respect her.

I strongly suggest you see a trained professional in your area, someone who can walk you through the different options, the patterns of behavior, the roles you’ve both taken in the marriage, and what your next steps should be. My heart goes out to you and your family. Genuinely.

go ahead, ask

If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address.

5 YEARS AGO: Motown Christmas



  1. I think the fact that you’ve already moved to be away from him says a lot and the fact that he hasn’t come to salvage his marriage does so as well. Aside from that, you have a choice. Does he make you cringe? What do you feel in your heart is the right thing to do? Do you believe him that he’ll never cheat again? Do you miss him – the core essence of him – not just the body?

    Use this time and this situation to move forward – whether its your marriage or your life, you’ve got a road ahead of you, and choose to make it for the betterment of you as a person with or without your partner.

  2. Hey there – you don’t mention whether or not you have your own children. If the answer is no – my personal opinion is GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. If the answer is yes – my opinion doesn’t change, but it will take a little more planning.

    I can speak to the joys of divorce (though if I could have avoided it for my babies’ sake, I would have). It is perfectly okay (and often wonderful) to be alone. You don’t need a man to complete you, especially a cheating, lying man. Find some peace in yourself and focus on developing strength within. Life alone whilst loving yourself is a million times better than being with a man who is the turd you described. Go to the movies alone and relish the fact that no one talks to you! Go to a restaurant alone and catch up on a good book. Browse the bookstore by yourself and enjoy that you’re not living on anyone else’s time-table or budget. Take a trip and relish moseying along in little shops, strolling on the beach, sleeping until you’re done…you don’t need a man to complete you – you just need you.

    1. Excellent advice! I couldn’t agree more.

      When I’m single is when I do the most growing – mentally and personally. I am able to evaluate what is truly important in life and what I want in a partner without someone else’s agenda clouding my decision.

      Good luck to you!

  3. “get busy living, or get busy dying.”
    to clarify – leave this guy because he sucks. start living and making yourself happy…he obviously didn’t think about your happiness when he was boning another woman. we all make mistakes, but this wasn’t a mistake. it was a calculated choice, with several calculated choices that led up to him boning someone other than you. people don’t just fall on top of one another. it isn’t just ONE choice, or ONE “mistake” (he’ll no doubt refer to it as such).

    1. Completely agree. I have been married almost 18 years and tricks and treats have tempted me along the way. None of them meant as much to me as my marriage. Period.

  4. I’m about to get married and have only a good marriage of my parents and family (grandparents etc) to look at as inspiration..

    You are the only one who knows what to do. Your heart is hard to follow sometimes, and sometimes we do things that we shouldn’t.

    Can it really be fixed? Can you really forgive? What steps will the two of you take to fix it?

    If the answer to any of those are negative; then you can see to which side the answer leans.. if its positive..then you know that side to lean.

    You are a couple. The decision needs to be made together, what do you both want, what will you both do?

    Only after that will you know, the rest of us who are not there, do not live it and do not know the details…we cant write the ending of your book. Each person is capable of different things..its up to you.

  5. I know many women who have stayed with husbands/boyfriends who cheated, but none of those couples are together today. I think they just delayed the inevitable by forgiving the cheating.

  6. Unless he unequivocally states that he will not see this woman again, that he commits to re-building trust (you know where he is at all times, you have access to his phone, email etc), and he meets your needs in terms of whatever it will take to get through this (counselling or space or anything else) then you are right to end things.

    My ex did the same and I couldn’t trust him again. I never let him back in the house. 5 years later I am through it, I have learnt to trust again, I am engaged to a wonderful man who is committed to me. And I am in a weird way grateful that my ex cheated and left: I have grown so much, the whole experience set me free.

    You don’t have to settle for this lovely.

    My thoughts are with you xx

  7. Based on what you said about his daughter, I’m going to extrapolate that he’s not very good at sticking it out when things are tough, and that’s what he would need to do for you to make your marriage work. The bond with a daughter should be much stronger (by nature) than that with a wife, so why couldn’t he commit to having a relationship with her? Since you are the one who knows him, maybe thinking about that will help you decide if he has what it takes to reform and be a husband again. Obviously I can’t judge, but I doubt you would have brought it up if that other example didn’t give you pause in this situation.

    Maybe his experience with his daughter changed him, and he’s stronger now. But a lot of cheating spouses just desperately try to “make it work” after the fact because they’re scared of being on their own, starting over, changing the status quo.

    The fact that the woman was half his age also, to stereotype, points to a mid-life crisis. If he’s trying to have a second childhood or something, are you ever going to be enough for him? I’m just trying to raise questions you should ask yourself, since you’re the one who truly knows the situation.

  8. Hallmark decimated. Only cards left: "Merry Xmas Dad and Special Someone" (aka gay life partner) and "It's Xmas; Let's Not Divorce Yet".

  9. It’s a thin line between a perfect answer and answering in a way that gets you trapped. Employers have been using “trapology” for years now and trust us, it will be used for years to come.

  10. My take on this would be for you to shop around on the internet for the right forms as a first step. Get the divorce going.

  11. i’m a practical-minded person and have benefited a great deal from a book called “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” by Mira Kirshenbaum. It really will assist you in boiling down whether to stay or not– something that only you can determine.

    sending you a hug no matter what you decide. well all deserve to be cherished by our spouse.

  12. Kids often imitate, consciously or without realizing it, what they see adults do. If the children misunderstand the adult behavior they see and don’t get the correct type of guidance at home, problems develop. Think of your child, however old, and just get out. Write a note in a journal for yourself, that you may one day choose to share with your child as the WHY. Get it all done now. It feels scary, but you have to.

  13. I don’t have work today, just catching up on your blog (blocked at work). I’ve just showered and am now watching Divorce Court. I love this show. I love this blog. I am so sorry for what she/you’re going through.

  14. I read recently that over 20% of new divorce petitions contain references to Facebook. You should hack into his facebook account and start printing things, as proof. He might admit everything to you now about work, etc., but you should have copies of the truth of this situation. Precaution, I think SK calls it in SU&D.

  15. Wow, sounds painful. I’m sorry if you’re hurting. It’s interesting to read others’ comments, as it’s somewhat clear that each person’s own experiences influence their reaction to your situation. Only you know yourself and your husband well enough to make this decision. Trust your gut. Whatever you decide, work on forgiveness – for your benefit, not his.

  16. I’m sorry – I know there’s no cut and dry to any such situation having been through a divorce myself – but honey. LEAVE HIM. This does not get better nor end well for you unless you listen to your gut and move on. You deserve SO much better.

    I am a firm believer in the once a cheater, always a cheater mantra. Don’t do this to yourself.

    1. p.s. if someone could tell me why a picture of some random ass guy shows up next to my name whenever I comment on blogs, I’d really appreciate it!

  17. i think the fact that you mentioned how he ditched his daughter (and also the tone in which you mentioned it) indicates that you probably don’t respect this man. without respect, there can’t be love.

    i think you’ve already made your decision.

  18. You’ve been with him for 13 yrs … but he has a child the same age as the other woman’s child who you refer to as a “baby” – that he had with someone else and gave custody to that person. How old are these “babies” Over 13 yrs old? Or did he have a child with someone else while he was with you?
    I realize you only gave a brief description – but I’d say let him stay and hour and a half away and start your life over.

    1. no what she said was that one of his daughters is the same age as the woman he cheated with.
      on another note, that woman has a baby.

  19. Someone else said it too. Trust your gut. Whether it’s to give him another chance so you can say you gave it one last try, or dump him, deep down inside you’ve already decided what’s right for you. That’s the only person that matters right now. Be selfish.

    Good luck.


  20. “that’s nice digg submission. I would definitely like to follow the advice”

  21. My husband recently committed a betrayal (not cheating, but betrayal nonetheless) and I forgave him. And when I forgave him, and got past my anger, I was able to see clearly. I can see his patterns of behavior, his defenses and untruths, and I can see my own patterns in response. My hurt, my depression, my shutting down. And I am going to leave him. In about 3 months, after I’ve had time to put some money together, put my things in order, and prepare myself and my children. Forgiveness does not always mean that we stay. Forgiveness allows us to get through the intensity of our emotions, and to act out of what is truly best for us. I am scared. I have been divorced before and I have put everything I have into staying in this marriage. But to stay is to slowly watch my life drain out of me. Forgiveness is powerful and gives us power to act freely – without the influence of anger, or fear. Forgive him, and then look around you with eyes unveiled and do not shrink from the truth you see. Truth to stay, or truth to leave.

      1. I agree. May not be easy but you are trusting and believing in yourself that you deserve BETTER, and you do…

  22. In fairness a Christian, by definition, already believes he has God's forgiveness…

  23. In GOD'S eyes, LOVE is NEVER absent. In GOD'S heart, FORGIVENESS is NEVER impossible. In GOD'S embrace, NO ONE is EVER alone !!!

  24. it’s easy for you to agree with her. You only hear one side.
    I am Tiffany’s husband.

    5 Days after our honeymoon, a little more than 3 years ago, I caught my wife cheating on me with a married man she worked with. She was sending him emails about how she “craved” him. She kindly explained to me that she was addicted to him and their situation. They’d been sleeping together for several months.

    I stayed with her, and we “worked through it”. I had some kind of faith in the person she “could be”.

    We had a beautiful daughter about 2 1/2 years ago. I love my daughter, and my stepson (inherited from a prior marriage in which my wife left her husband at that time because he was playing video games). I do evertything I can to teach my daughter and raise her well. Not even 3 yet, she can already count most of the way to ten! She knows some of her colors and ABCs. She knows to pray. She can dress herself. She is respectful and has great manners.

    My wife is our “sole breadwinner”, by her design. In order to keep busy, I am attending college, trying to complete my degree so I can provide for our family. I used to have a great job, but had to give it up when we moved to our current area so my wife could take advantage of an opportunity. My days not at school are spent babysitting our kids, including our 6 month old son. I do my best to play and entertain so I can have time to look for jobs that will work with my school schedule and to work on my homework. I pay our bills, make phone calls to our creditors, and fix food for myself and the children (Tiffany rarely wants to eat what we’re eating).

    My wife sits in her office, door locked, from 6 or 7am until 5 or 6pm, every day of the week except Sunday and some Saturdays. She bills for an average of two hours a day, and spends the rest of the time reading this and other blogs, and emailing seductive emails to an ex-boyfriend, a soldier in Afghanistan, whose wife recently left him.

    My wife is jealous of our daughter because I pay attention to her. She acts upon this jealousy by punishing my daughter for small things, like trying to climb on mommy when she’s reading a book, or for dancing in front of mommy’s favorite television show.

    Last year, immediately after Christmas, while pregnant with our son, my wife handed me a letter in which she outlined numerous things she wanted me to fix (about myself) and told me she was leaving me and would not consider returning until i’d fixed them. The list was incredibly hurtful, and included things impossible to fix (because they were unfounded accusations). She had already made arrangements to move into the new home, had friends lined up to help with the move, and had made numerous other arrangements.

    Caught completely off-guard, I begged for her to reconsider and to go to a counselor with me. We’d also seen a counselor from church who advised us to try a few things to mend our relationship, but she refused to do any of these things.

    After giving birth to our son, things mellowed out a little. She even sent me a nice letter or two.

    A few weeks ago, something started to feel strange again. My wife quit speaking to me, became more distant, and began being less tolerant of the children. It felt like last year’s problem, so I wrote in a private journal how i felt. I tried my own little personal psych-help, and wrote a letter of the things I wish i could say to her, and the commentary that I would print the list and burn it on New Year’s eve, hoping that would help me “work through” these “unreasonable’ feelings.
    Some things on my list were “pay more attention to the kids” and “stop running to other people with our problems – come to me first”.

    While writing it, our mortgage company called, so I ran upstairs to take the call (and access any needed files related to our mortgage). My wife found the journal entry and read it. It is this private list which was my “betrayal” of her.

    I immediately apologized without any of the “but …” phrases usually accompanying her apologies. She talks a lot about forgiveness, but I received none.

    Shortly after this incident, I was printing something in her office. This time I was the snoop … and I found her emotionally-unfaithful letters to the ex boyfriend. The letters have continued.

    My wife is a good person. She means well. Unfortunately, her decisions to leave is not really based on a private journal list I made. It is based on the difficulty she has in remaining settled. Like before, she’d already made up her mind to consider leaving … it only took an excuse (my journal) and the kind sympathy of strangers (you folks) for her to get up the “courage” (if you knew her and her fiery personality, you’d understand the sarcasm of the quotes) to tell me she’s leaving, and that there is “no chance of changing (her) mind” and that “counseling won’t change anything”.

    I’m sorry to sneak into your forum like this, but her “brave” choice is going to destroy my children, and leaving “marriage #3” is certainly not a sign that she’s “moving up” in the world. It is a symptom that “giving up” is still a habit.

    I’m not a bad person, and I hope you can forgive me for my intrusion, and that my wife can forgive me for publicly defending myself.

    1. I am so sorry that you’re going through all of this. And frankly the whole time I was reading this I just asked myself why you don’t leave her. I know you’re staying for the kids, but do you really want them growing up in your situation?
      I pray for you that you can work something out whether with her or without her. Because no one deserves to be treated that way and most importantly children don’t deserved to be treated that way by their mother.

      Do you think perhaps she has postpartum depression or something? I ask because it seemed things were good for some time and now things are bad again.

      1. I’m not only wanting to stay for the kids, but yes, the kids are a big concern. I think there is something strange going on with the whole thing and want to seek counseling, but she’s out up a lot of barriers and “circled the wagons” to keep there from being any opportunity for counseling. I love my wife, and she’s right about my “betrayal” – i wrote that ugly, ugly journal entry (for only myself) voicing some pain over last year that was unresolved in my mind.

        I love my wife, and I am praying daily for her to forgive me and for us to have an opportunity for counseling. This is the second time in our marriage i’ve been blindsided by things (our emails and conversations right up until the 26th were pleasant!), and i KNOW that learning to trust each other and communicate and “cleave to” each other would yield a far more precious future for all those involved than a 3rd divorce will.

        I wish it were postpartum or seasonal affective disorder or any number of other mental issues, but the days since her announcement have been filled with more and more cruel and well-calculated blows, and i suspect the driving problem is a deep rooted hatred of me more than anything. i want to have hope that we can go to counseling, heal, etc … but her actions seem pretty clear.

        And yeah, no one deserves this treatment … but i DID write that mean journal entry (to myself) that she read (the “Betrayal”), and she doesn’t weather pain and betrayal as well as i have. I have no excuse, only a deep, deep, deep sorrow that i was so vicious in my heart for that brief moment against my own dear wife.

        i’d give anything for last years’ pain.

    2. Aaron, please for the life of your children leave this woman. She could cause your children more harm than good by punishing them. Never in my wildest dreams would any sane, normal, loving person sleep with someone else during their engagement, let alone so close to a wedding! People are so sick! I wish the best of luck to you.

  25. Holy crap. Thank you Aaron. Not for airing your dirty laundry (as a response to Tiffany), but for showing there’s always ALWAYS another side. I truly learned something new today.

  26. Sorry for the “dirty laundry”.

    I have a different mindset about marriage, family and divorce. Unlike most people now days, I came from parents who are not divorced. I grew up with an intact family, and saw firsthand how good things could be. I only knew the inside of divorce through my friends’ eyes. As an adult, I see more clearly the terrible changes divorce or single-parent homes cause in a child’s life by witnessing my stepson, friends children and my nephews. I’m not meaning to say victims of divorce are anything “less” than persons not raised in that situation, nor do I believe that what life deals us ever robs us of the power to make choices that will bring us happiness, but there are some very distinct patterns.

    From my personal understanding of scripture, God never intended divorce for man. Divorce was granted to man because man is imperfect. While there certainly are instances where, because of that imperfection, divorce is certainly appropriate (in incidences of abuse, both physical and emotional – including adultery), in our time WAY too often people resort to divorce for every small thing rather than actually putting effort into a marriage to work things out. It seems easier, for example, to have a “change of scenery” than to deal with a depressed or overweight spouse, do deal with trying to work out a financial plan that works for both members of the relationship, to agree upon discipline for children, etc. Divorce provides a distracting doorway that more and more prevents couples from ever beginning to make their marriage happy.
    If you read about or talk to a lot of elderly couples who have a happy marriage, they’ll all tell you the same things: “Each time you overcome a hurdle, you grow closer”, “you’ll look back on some of these things and realize how trivial they were”, “don’t go to bed angry”, “after the honeymoon wears off you’re left with the reality you’ll be living with the rest of your life”, “you’ll take turns feeling “in love” and not. You’ll rarely be in sync. When you don’t feel “in love”, play along anyway”, “don’t go outside your marriage about issues that should be resolved inside”, etc.

    Before i married my wife, I’d had a string of serious relationships. They always ended for one reason or another, by either person’s choice. After the last, I decided to quit dating for awhile and try to correct any faults I’d been accused of or could see in myself. I decided that I needed to be the kind of person that I wanted to marry, and not just hope to find someone with whom i am superficially “compatible”. I read a lot of books on marriage and relationships, and actually took notes as i got ideas for how to be a husband and father, and what i wanted to do. I made a list of things I wanted in a wife … it was different than the list I made in 7th grade … instead of stupid things like “she’ll be hot!” i knew what i “needed”: “she’ll like camping”. “she won’t be obsessed with money and material things”. “she’ll have the same religious views”. “she’ll want children” … things like that. When I met Tiffany, I wasn’t interested in her. I was dating someone else (not ‘seriously’) who was my age, loved all the same music, had a lot of the same attitudes, etc. Tiffany didn’t have very many of the same tastes in things (and music was a BIG one for me!). One night she and I were talking, and she left the room to do something, and I started playing with my PDA to entertain myself, and I found “the list”. As I read it, I could see it matching her qualities, as i understood them at the time, perfectly. It took me awhile before I shared that with her, but it helped me allow myself to see her differently. She even fit some of the points of my 7th grade list, too. :)

    I’m still with her (or trying to be) because I have a higher ideal of marriage. I choose to “endure to the end”, and know that God knows where that end is, not me. I know that even though infidelity is an acceptable reason for divorce, I don’t have to choose to leave. I know that the strongest marriages are those that have weathered severe difficulty. I know that the root cause of all divorce is selfishness and sin … an abuser sins through their abusive actions, an adulterer through their immorality, an addict through whatever addiction they indulge, etc.

    I’m certainly not perfect. It would be stupid for me to expect my wife to be. We each have had a lot of struggles, and some of each other’s personal struggles have been difficult for the other. It’s normal for people in a relationship to catch a glimpse of something nice somewhere else and start to obsess over it. The scriptures call this “coveting”. I know that coveting someone elses lifestyle or relationship is just as harmful to me spiritually as coveting an actual person or thing. It distracts from my duties and obligations. My duties and obligations are to love and take care of my wife and children, not to wish she liked to listen to Depeche Mode or baked cookies for the kids or was more affectionate like so-n-so’s wife, etc.

    marriages are successful – and life more joyful – when we put emphasis on others, not on self. The idea that “you have to do things that make YOU happy” is contrary to all the teachings of Christ. Christ emphasized service, loving your neighbor, cleaving to your spouse, giving your life for your friends, etc. I can’t think of a single time his teachings indicated an important principle of “loving yourself over everything else”. Individualism, which became popular in the 1960s and is the current core of most ‘pop-psych” books … those called “self-help” … is probably one of the biggest factors in the increase of the divorce mentality. Yes, it’s a good thing to have goals and to reach them, but in a marriage your goal should be to lift up the other, not “hope they help me achieve my goal”. If both parties lift the other up, both will achieve their personal goals.

    I still love Tiffany. It took me a lot of thinking and reading overnight to realize that … i was so hurt when she told me yesterday that she’s leaving. Our marriage has taken a lot more work than most people’s had or should, but the terrible fires we’ve already endured have tempered us. While i certainly hope she changes her mind, I can’t say I’ve regretted knowing her and sharing a part of my life with this woman.

    As for the person whose story spawned this thread … no one can decide whether or not it’s worth leaving but you. It’s no one else’s business. Sometimes spouses cheat because they’re rotten, sometimes they cheat because they’re neglected. Sometimes they’re not cheating when we think they are. You can describe your situation to a million strangers and all of your extended family, but only you and God are going to know what is right in your situation. IF you can forgive him and IF he can repent (stop, never do it again, try to repair the damage that has been done) … if you can “work it out” … your marriage will definitely be better years from now as a result. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that, and that you have children to worry about.

    1. Sorry you’re going through this, Aaron. It is good to have your perspective as it is easy to jump in with opinions without having all the information. Courage and strength.

  27. If you’re not being honest with yourself and others about your own role in the problem, NOBODY’S advice is going to help you find the right solution and, ultimately, happiness. I guess this is something we should all keep in mind with our problems.

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