4 minute read

10 Things Forgiveness Is Not

Last Updated: March 10, 2021

Beth Denison

Beth Denison, CLC, PRC, along with her husband, Mark, founded There’s Still Hope, a national sexual addiction recovery ministry. Beth works with ladies one-on-one and in groups as a trained life coach and an A.A.S.A.T. Certified Partner Recovery Coach. She brings the experience of being married to a sex addict for 35 years. She has been a faithful pastor’s wife, popular speaker, and women’s ministry leader. For help in your own healing journey, visit There’s Still Hope.

Forgiveness is such a beautiful concept. We certainly welcome it when we have made a mistake, acted inappropriately, or hurt someone else. But forgiveness becomes difficult when we are the ones who have been severely wounded. C.S. Lewis said it like this: “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

One of the most difficult facets of betrayal by a sexually addicted spouse is forgiveness. The deep wounds inflicted are not merely the consequence of a single offensive act. They are the result of the repeated deception and duplicity of the addict. How can someone forgive such cruelty? Forgiveness can seem even more difficult when we believe it to be something it is not.

In an effort to bring some clarity to the subject, we will consider ten things that forgiveness is not.

1. Forgiveness is not always quick.

Unquestionably, God’s command is to forgive. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

But certainly, God understands that there are times when this will be extremely difficult. This command is given for our good because he knows what an unwillingness to forgive does to our bodies, minds, and spirits. Unfortunately, many religious communities do a disservice to some deeply wounded individuals by guilting them into attempting to forgive before they have adequately processed their pain.

2. Forgiveness is not condoning the offense.

In forgiving a spouse for sexual betrayal, you are not condoning or downplaying the severity of what has been done to you. Those actions are sinful, and they are grievous to you and to God. They must not be minimized.

3. Forgiveness is not a feeling.

Forgiveness is a choice. We don’t wait until we no longer feel angry or hurt to forgive. We don’t wait until we feel like forgiving. We can choose to forgive regardless of how we feel. Corrie ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

4. Forgiveness is not the same as trust.

A mother can forgive someone who hurt her child but never trust that person to babysit again. We can forgive our spouses for betraying us sexually, but the trust may not be restored for a while. Pastor and writer Dave Willis says, “You don’t have to trust someone in order to forgive them, but you do have to forgive in order to make trust possible again.”

Forgiveness means letting go. God promises that he is just and will deal appropriately with each person based on the choices they make. “Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging.’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it’” (Rom. 12:19). When we forgive, we are releasing that person into God’s hands and trusting him to deal with the offending person as he deems best.

Related: How to Tell If Your Husband Is Really in Recovery

5. Forgiveness is not a pain eraser.

The absence of pain is not necessarily an indication of forgiveness. Because forgiveness is not predicated upon feelings, it is possible to forgive while still wrestling with lingering pain. When a doctor removes a cancerous tumor, the healing begins immediately, though the pain remains. Similarly, forgiveness removes the “tumor,” but the wound must be allowed the necessary time to heal.

6. Forgiveness is not reconciliation.

It is possible to forgive someone without restoring the relationship. Reconciliation is not always possible or even wise. For example, in the case of sexual addiction, the addict may choose the addiction over the relationship by either walking away or by failing to pursue the recovery that is the necessary foundation for restoring the marriage.

7. Forgiveness is not conditioned upon remorse or an apology.

Ultimately, God commands us to forgive–period. Even as Jesus looked upon those who were crucifying him, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus forgave them despite their lack of remorse. Matthew 6:15 tells us that if we don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive us. His command is not dismissive of our pain. To the contrary, God knows that our refusal to forgive sentences us to a life of pain. Withholding forgiveness until we receive an apology or see remorse is to relinquish control of our peace and future to another.

8. Forgiveness is not cheap.

The cost of your husband’s betrayal is too great to be cancelled by his sincerest intentions and effort. It cost Jesus his life to cover our betrayal. None of us can pay him back for that. Forgiveness is cancelling that debt–sending it away.

9. Forgiveness is not forgetting.

God promises, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12). It’s not that God has chosen amnesia, but forgiveness at the deepest level. He has cancelled our debt by meeting our sin with mercy. God commands us to forgive in the same way. While forgiveness is spiritual, forgetting is biological. The point of forgiveness is not to forget the offense, but to remember it with God’s grace.

10. Forgiveness is not impossible.

In the depths of betrayal trauma, it might be impossible to imagine ever being able to forgive your spouse. But God would not command us to do something that is not possible. It will likely be impossible to do it in our own strength. God promises to give us the strength we need. “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

A little boy was sitting on a park bench in obvious pain. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumble bee.” The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?” The boy replied, “Because I figure I’m hurting him more than he is hurting me.”

There may be a number of reasons we may choose to not forgive our spouses for the pain they have caused. Perhaps we think forgiving them makes us vulnerable to future betrayal or that it causes us to lose leverage in the relationship. But if we could sum it up in one sentence, I think our reasoning would sound similar to that of the little boy: We think we are hurting our spouses more by remaining in our unforgiveness than if we were to move from that position. And we believe they deserve to hurt. In reality, we keep hurting ourselves.

You may truly desire to forgive but just can’t seem to get there. Begin by daily asking God to help you in the process. Remember that your spouse is a child of God. His bad choices don’t define him. Don’t nurse your wounds. Continuing to ruminate on what your spouse has done to you will keep you stuck in unforgiveness.

Focus on the personal benefits of forgiveness. It is a gift you give yourself. T.D. Jakes says, “Forgiveness is about empowering yourself, rather than empowering your past.” Begin empowering yourself today through the power of forgiveness.

  • Comments on: 10 Things Forgiveness Is Not
    1. James Ross on

      Honestly, I think we get cheated by the English language when it comes to the word forgiveness. In the New Testament we are command to forgive (aphiemi) in Matt 6, but the word can be translated just as easily to “cast up to the Lord” “to leave” or left behind. Retaliation is not for us, we are called to lift our hurt up to the Lord. This is achievable no matter what the other person does. The other word translated as forgiveness “charizomai” means to reconcile, restore, rescue or deliver. But charizomai requires both parties wanting, moving in the same direction. We may never get charizomai with everyone who hurts us. It’s a amazing study to see how different those two words are, and it makes sense we get them confused because as different as they are their both translated forgive. If you struggle with forgiveness, please study the meaning of these two words in the New Testament. (The Old Testament uses different words but very similar ideas).

      Reply
      • Debra Lee on

        Please tell me which forgiveness is spoken of in Mattew 18:21-25. Gods forgiveness is obviously charizomi, but is the forgiving seven times from aphiemi?

    2. Jon on

      Here is my experience with my wife’s forgiveness.

      My wife does not need to forgive me for watching porn. I think she prefers that my sex life consist of porn rather than having sex with her.
      1) She rarely or never wants sex with me. So watching porn takes nothing away from her that she wants. It doesn’t hurt her and she feels better when I do it. She has nothing to forgive.
      2) She condones me watching porn and does not feel that it is an offense.
      3) She feels better when I watch porn instead of being interested in her.
      4) She has never really trusted me with her life and emotions so trust is not an issue when it comes to porn
      5) She feels no pain when I watch porn
      6) I’m not sure we’ve ever had much of a relationship, so reconciliation would presuppose that we were ever close in the first place. We never were, so the issue would be ‘concilliation’. We’ve never actually connected.
      7) She’s never asked for an apology because she does not seen anything wrong with me watching porn.
      8) She does not consider porn watching a betrayal probably because we have never had a real relationship to betray to begin with.
      9) She probably forgets that I watch porn most of the time because probably emotional closeness with me is not important to her.
      10) Forgiveness is not needed, although I wish that my watching porn would bother her enough that it was consequential to her.

      Reply
      • RickyB on

        Can you forgive her?

    3. Lilian on

      What if the person in question keep offending you every now and then and what the person is doing is really affecting your everyday life and you don’t have any where else to go? How do you start the process of forgiveness?

      Reply
      • Moriah Bowman on

        Lilian,

        I am a firm believer that forgiveness for betrayal must come with boundaries. You cannot be expected to just “forgive and forget.” Betrayal can have a very deep and devastating effect on a spouse.

        Although I do not know your specific situation, and thus do not want to suggest specific boundaries, I do want to encourage you to reach out to another married woman (perhaps someone older, who has been married for some time) and ask them for wisdom. Pray and spend time in Scriptures, asking God to encourage you and strengthen you through this trial. You cannot do this alone!

        Blessings,
        Moriah

    4. Concrete Surf on

      I know these points are meant to be for porn and sexual infidelity. But really they can be used in any situation where forgiveness is needed. Awesome work!

      Reply
    5. George Robinson on

      Point 7. above is not true on two counts where it claims that: Forgiveness is not conditioned upon remorse or an apology. Withholding forgiveness… is to relinquish control of our peace..”

      No,no. A perpetrator who intends to repeat their evil should not be rewarded with forgiveness, otherwise they become emboldened. Secondly, of course a victim can achieve peace and closure without offering succour to a perpetrator who is pleased with his attack or intends to reoffend. Victims may have been injured, but that doesn’t that they’ve been beaten into confused thinking too.

      Reply

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