05/29/2012 11:28 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

Forgiving Infidelity

He cheated on you and you are in pain. Not only did he violate the wedding vows, but he betrayed your trust. Although he's apologized and wants to move on, you are not ready.
No doubt, like many people in my practice, you're still devoted to him, care for him and love him. He has apologized often and is now complaining that he misses sex with you. You can't, however, let go of what he did with another woman. I have seen many women in my practice who keep interrogating their husbands about this 'other woman.' Their husbands become frustrated and assure their wives that the other woman meant nothing to them and that their wives mean everything to them.

I hear questions like "What did she have that I don't? What was she wearing? Where did you do it, and was she hot? Why did you do it?" You may be grilling your spouse in similar ways.
No matter the assurances that he gives you, you continue your relentless questions, obsessing over every detail. He is getting more and more frustrated. He wants you to forget it but you can't do that. You've been traumatized and need to heal. Forgiveness leaves you vulnerable and you fear that if you let your guard down he can cheat again.

One of my male patients told his wife that he felt terrible about what he did and that he'd never do it again. He pleaded with her to forgive him and said that he'd do anything to make it up to her. Sobbing, with a trembling voice she said, "I wish I knew how to forgive you, but I can't let go of it. What you did with that woman keeps going over and over in my head."

If any of this sounds familiar, your traumatized brain has not healed as yet. The pain has been lodged into your brain and each time you revisit the adulterous act in your mind, it becomes more entrenched. The more you obsess, the less serotonin and GABA your brain triggers. Let me explain the importance of these two neurotransmitters. Serotonin lifts depression and cuts though the obsessional loop, whereas GABA reduces anxiety. With a shortage of both, you are in trouble and so is your spouse.

At an unconscious level, you are not only punishing your spouse, but unfortunately, you are punishing yourself, so it is double trouble. Not only do you feel depressed and miserable, but the more you blame him, the less he has to take responsibility for what he did; the more you punish him, the less he has to punish himself. You are doing his work.

The key then is to work on ways to heal your traumatized brain and then to practice the steps to forgiveness. In my book, "The New Science of Love: How Understanding the Brain's Wiring Can Help Rekindle Your Relationship," I outline ways to heal your sensitized amygdala -- the seat of emotions that houses the fight or flight response. Any remote reminder of the affair, such as a TV show of a couple kissing, is sounding your amydala's alarm. At times you may fight bitterly with your spouse and at other times you may withdraw and flee from any affection or sexual desire.

In my book I explain how you and your spouse can re-develop your matching mirror neurons -- miniscule brain cells behind the eye sockets that link intimate partners and make them more attuned to each other -- so that you can begin to heal your brain and forgive. To your surprise you will have to put yourself in your spouse's shoes. Despite your partner's lack of empathy, you must take the high road and find it in your heart and brain to empathize with him. If this seems near impossible; it is not. Forgiving infidelity is possible, and with hard work it is probable.

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