Betrayal in a marriage is one of the most challenging experiences a couple can face. It can shatter trust, leave emotional scars, and make it difficult to move forward. Although infidelity is one of the most common types of betrayal, there are many other ways that trust can be broken, such as an affair, conditional love, and emotional cheating. However, forgiving and rebuilding your marriage is possible despite the pain and heartache. 

While Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” it’s easier said than done. Couples who are dealing with betrayal often wonder if they will ever be able to have a full and trusting marriage again. Although forgiveness is crucial for healing betrayal, achieving it can be challenging. There can often be resentment from being betrayed and that pain needs to be dealt with by forgiving the person that caused the resentment. Forgiveness sets yourself free from the pain caused by someone else; it does not mean restoration of the relationship or marriage. In this article, we’ll explore the REACH model of forgiveness, which will help you heal and move towards a stronger, more fulfilling relationship. 


Try the REACH model to forgive betrayal.

Everett Worthington, couples therapist and college professor, outlines six steps for forgiving yourself and others using five steps with the acrostic REACH. Worthington began working with couples and his interest was peaked surrounding forgiveness in his work with them. He had a campaign that funded his forgiveness research in addition to personal situations that pushed him to work on his own forgiveness and self-forgiveness. His REACH research has been in 25 trials, is easy to remember, and can be accessed by anyone online for free.

R – Recall the Hurt

First, remember the hurt of the betrayal and what has occurred in your relationship. You can recall the hurt individually or discuss the betrayal with your partner and likely a therapist. When couples are recovering from an affair, there is often a time to “put it all on the table” and ask disclosure questions about what occurred. Similarly, recalling the hurt may leave you with questions as you hear your partner’s view of the betrayal. 

E – Empathize with the Other 

The betraying partner: 

The betraying partner must take ownership and be remorseful. Their remorse shows that they are willing to pursue them. This idea of making atonement is a process of repeatedly taking ownership and showing your partner that you are putting them first. By being curious and expressing empathy, you can show your partner they are worth pursuing, and so is your marriage. 

If you are trying to forgive yourself, it is helpful to ask yourself if you have expressed remorse to the person you have hurt and if you can remind yourself that you are human. Then, ask yourself what you can learn from the poor choices and behaviors of the past to avoid repeating them.

The betrayed partner: 

When you empathize with another person, you acknowledge that they are human. Empathy also shows your partner that you can see their perspective, not that you agree with it in full. 

All humans will make mistakes and need forgiveness, including yourself. 

When we can see our partner’s flaws and still pursue them, we can say that we are both equals. This removes contempt from the relationship. 

A – Altruistic gift 

The idea of the altruistic gift is giving the gift of forgiveness to a person who hurt you. A gift is not something that is earned but an unselfish gift you choose to give someone. Research indicates that those who gave had increased dopamine levels and endorphins associated with serenity and peace. These chemical interactions in the brain also lead to feeling happier and less depressed. 

When we are generous and give, our brains are impacted for the better as forgiveness positively impacts both partners. The betrayed partner is releasing the betraying partner, and the betrayed partner is giving themself the gift of peace. 

C – Commit 

Decisional forgiveness can be defined as intellectually or cognitively deciding to forgive someone and move forward. The moment forward involves the reduction of ongoing bad behaviors or hurt in a relationship and, if appropriate, working to reconcile and have a positive relationship. In other words, you can choose to forgive someone, even multiple times, and still have underlying feelings.

On the other hand, emotional forgiveness involves replacing negative emotions with positive ones. It requires you to no longer hold anger and resentment toward yourself or your partner. How is this possible? Worthington’s research shows that emotional forgiveness can be influenced by how we think and talk about the person or event that caused us harm. The narrative we give ourselves can affect our relationship with our partner and lead us toward forgiveness or not, depending on how we reassess our judgment.

If you have been betrayed, you must decide whether you want to forgive your partner. This decision is a commitment to continue to pursue forgiveness even when your feelings tell you otherwise. As you seek emotional forgiveness, you can begin to write a new narrative for yourself and think differently about your partner. 

However, forgiveness may look different if your partner has not changed their behaviors or is unwilling to change them. The couple would likely need a safe place to explore the betrayal in couple’s therapy and consider what boundaries the betrayed partner needed the betraying partner to honor to begin to rebuild trust. As the couple finds success in therapy, the betrayed partner can start forgiving and rewrite their narrative. 

H – Hold onto forgiveness 

As seen in the other steps, forgiveness is a repetitive process that takes work to sustain. Each time, there has to be a decision to forgive and work to emotionally forgive. In relationships, each partner will never be perfect and will need the forgiveness of the other person. This does not mean that in a betrayal, the betraying partner does not face ongoing consequences. 

The betraying partner has to work to earn trust back, which can take quite some time, and then maintain transparency and honesty. The interim consequence may be having check-ins with their partner to have their phone looked at, not traveling alone, or whatever the betrayed partner deems necessary. 

A setback may also occur if the betraying partner hides things in the disclosure process or is not transparent in the rebuilding trust process. Both partners need to hold on to decisional forgiveness and make strides toward emotional forgiveness. 


You can find forgiveness after betrayal.

Worthington’s REACH steps to forgiveness are meant to supplement your betrayal healing. The process of finding forgiveness is unique and may require ongoing effort, particularly as grief presents and as your relationship evolves. Forgiveness can free yourself from the anger and resentment you have been carrying. 

If you have decided to forgive your partner’s betrayal but are still hitting roadblocks, schedule an appointment with one of our seasoned therapists. Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.