Enright's Forgiveness Therapy on the Success of marriages of Couples Ages 18-34 After Infidelity

Forgiveness is hard thing to achieve in full honesty. Yet, it is an important step in moving past an act of infidelity or other injury. Thus, the following proposal explores the previous research involved with Enright's forgiveness process model and how it is applied to various population groups who have had to deal with emotional injuries. It then moves on to explore the need to study Enright's model within young married couples who have had to deal with a recent infidelity within the context of their marriage. It outlines specific stages which counselors will then determine if the couple has moved passed based on a sliding scale to provide statistical data to analyze.


The topic of infidelity is a very sensitive one within the context of all marriages. It represents the violation of one of the most sacred marital principles. What does a couple do when faced with such a disastrous situation? Many couples will opt to take the easy road out and completely end the marriage. However, there are those who do still love one another so immensely that they will be willing to do whatever it takes to reconcile their marriage in an effort to continue on with their lives. The question is, how do couples forgive?

There are various methods in which a counselor can help a couple try to achieve a good balance within the marriage after one or both parties are unfaithful. Forgiveness itself is important within the scope of counseling, for it "is a response to unfairness that includes the diminution of resentment or anger toward an offender and institution of more positive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors toward that person," Knutson et al. 2008:194). The role of the subsequent counseling after the occurrence of an infidelity is immensely important. It can help facilitate true forgiveness by the injured party in a healthy way through various steps. In fact, "the process of forgiveness in romantic relationships enables victims to view themselves as accommodating, their partners as redeemable, and their relationships as resilient," (Gunderson & Ferrari 2008:3). It gives the relationship new hope to fight through such battles and live to move forward with the life the couple had previously planned. It is an essential part of either closing the relationship or moving forward with it; "Forgiveness is critical in determining whether couples repair their relationships and restore closeness following hurtful events," (Bachman & Guerrero 2006:46). However, forgiveness is not something so easily achieved. True forgiveness takes time and effort on both the part of the injurer and the injured. It is a journey which must be consciously decided upon in order to really rectify the infidelity which had caused such chaos within the context of the relationship.

There are several approaches in which a counselor can facilitate this real type of forgiveness in order to allow the couple to really move past the actual act of infidelity. One of these methods has been formulated and studied by researcher Robert Enright, who composed a model which formulates a process model to guide a couple through such treacherous and trying times. Within the scope of this process model, Enright has isolated twenty one specific stages of forgiveness within a broader spectrum of four major stages. These four broad stages include levels where the injured party is allowed to explore and accept the injury which occurred through the infidelity of his or her partner.

After the initial uncovering of an infidelity, there must be recognition of such an act. Thus, the first stage of Enright's model is that of the uncovering phase, where "individual becomes aware of the emotional pain that has resulted from a deep, unjust injury," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). This time period may vary depending on the nature of the infidelity and the mind of the individual who was injured. Within this spectrum, the injured party is allowed to explore his or her feelings of anger and hatred as a way to fully understand them and eventually move past them in the subsequent stages. In this phase, "the injury is honestly understood," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). All emotions towards the act of infidelity and the party who committed the offense are uncovered and explored. This is an absolutely crucial step in the process of Enright's forgiveness model. Without uncovering such feelings of anger and hurt, there is no true way for the injured party to efficiently move past them. Exploring these emotions may be an incredibly painful for the injured party, but is an absolute necessity in order for that person to not harbor any residual feelings of anger or resentment during the latter stages of the process model.

The next phase within the model incorporates the conscious decision to move on with the relationship and forgive the injurer for what he or she has done to put the relationship in such jeopardy. During this phase, the "individual begins to understand that a change must occur to go ahead with the healing process," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). Thus, the injured party has to make the painful but honest decision to move forward with the forgiving process in order to completely rid him or herself of the anger and resentment harbored for the injurer within the relationship. Forgiveness is then used as a healing strategy for the injured party. With the conscious decision to forgive comes a sense of power and commitment to the relationship. The injured party then commits to forgiving the injurer. At this early stage, it is not a total and complete forgiveness right away, but rather a commitment to the process of forgiveness. True forgiveness is never achieved right away, and any attempts to claim so will eventually lead to underlying resentment that was not fully explored and expelled from the relationship.

After making the conscious decision to work towards forgiveness, the real work begins. Within the context of this phase, the "individual begins the active work of forgiving the injurer," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). The injured party must act on his or her commitment to fully forgive the one who had wronged them, in this case their romantic partner who had committed the infidelity and placed the relationship in danger in the first place. The injured party then really tries to understand the injurer as part of the human community, a community that involves all social interaction between individuals. Thus, the injured party sees the pain and suffering the injurer is going through as a response to committing the infidelity. After this recognition, the injured party can then work to forgive the injurer which "may or may not include a reconciliation," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). It is of no real importance at this stage whether or not the final outcome is that of recognition. At this stage, the most important thing is that the injured party begins to understand the injurer in a way that goes far beyond the context of the injury committed.

The final broad stage is the actual outcome of the therapy and efforts of the counselor to facilitate true and real forgiveness between a couple who has been affected by an act of infidelity. This last stage is that of the outcome, or deepening phase. In this period, "The emotional relief and new found meaning may lead to increased compassion for self and others," (Enright & Reed 2009:1). Thus, the injured individual is allowed to find solace in their position in the human community, which then supersedes their own individual dramas which includes the act of infidelity which had placed them in such turmoil to begin with. This is the stage where the injured party may or may not decide on reconciliation, but at this point it is not of great importance. What is important is that the injured party can feel empathy for the injurer and then move forward in a meaningful way. This is the point where counseling may cease, for the injured party has come to grips with the pain of the infidelity.

Literature Review

Enright's process model of forgiveness has been tested in numerous varying contexts which give clout to its success as a therapeutic tool. It has been used within a broad range of spectrums that go far beyond marital infidelity. In fact, most academic research utilizing the principles of the forgiveness process model has focused on other types of injuries other than marital infidelities.

One of the most difficult populations to work with is that of young children. Unfortunately in our imperfect world, children are innocent victims of a wide range of abuses that can cause the child to harbor almost unnatural feelings of resentment and anger towards their injurer.

This negative emotional response to injury can lead to serious behavioral ramifications later on in life which can then cause distress in their adult relationships. Thus, the forgiveness process model has been in used in therapy with young children in order to test its…