Should You Ever Forgive Infidelity? Some Partners Do Continue Their Relationship
Infidelity is one of the most painful, traumatic experiences someone will ever encounter.
Relational betrayal breaks hearts, shatters dreams, and destroys trust.
Both men and women are guilty of being unfaithful, yet many are forgiven.
Infidelity doesn't have to mean the end of a relationship; it's often the beginning of a deeper partnership in terms of understanding the necessity of love, loyalty, honesty, and respect.
Why do some partners decide to forgive the unforgivable? Research has some answers:
There are Cheating Categories
Within relationships, people are unfaithful in different ways. Ashley E. Thompson et al. (2020) explored the variables that determined what types of infidelity were forgiven easier than others.
Studying the relationship between behavior, gender, and forgiveness, among other variables, they found that men forgave infidelity more than women, and that the most forgivable behaviors were solitary, followed by emotional and online.
Sexual behavior was the least forgivable.
Ashley Heintzelman et al. (2014) looked at post-infidelity trauma, forgiveness, and growth among couples who stayed together.
They note that both clinicians and researchers recognize that people can heal from infidelity trauma, and embrace both forgiveness and personal growth, which they defined as "posttraumatic growth" (PTG).
Examining a group of people who remained in a relationship after a partner had been unfaithful, they examined trauma, forgiveness, and relationships of differentiation of self from family of origin.
They found that differentiation was positively related to forgiveness, and moderated the relationship between trauma and forgiveness.
Arguably of particular significance to the ability to continue a relationship post-infidelity, Zeintzelman et al. (ibid.) found that forgiveness was the only significant predictor of PTG.
Menelaos Apostolou and Nikolaos Pediaditakis (2022) examined post-infidelity persuasion tactics used to win a second chance.
Are such tactics successful? Sometimes, if they are persuasive.
They cited one previous study (Apostolou and Demosthenous, 2021) that identified 32 reasons likely to lead people to forgive infidelity, classified into four broader factors, in order of likelihood:
1.) When the partners’ children in common asked the innocent spouse to forgive his or her partner, 2.) When the innocent spouse (this time) had also been unfaithful in the past or was planning to be in the future, 3.) Reduced likelihood of future infidelity, and 4.) When the innocent spouse was financially dependent on the wayward spouse.
In their research, Apostolou and Pediaditakis (ibid.) found that sure enough, the tactics that were used to solicit forgiveness significantly mirrored the factors that led people to forgive infidelity in the previous study.
They did, however, find significant sex-differences in the use of tactics. Specifically, except for the tactic of enlisting the assistance of relatives and friends, women were more willing to use persuasion.
They speculate that this might be due to the physical strength difference between men and women causing women to rely more on psychological manipulation.
In every case, forgiveness is a careful, prayerful, decision to extend grace based on a variety of relational factors, unique to each couple.
A decision that takes all relevant factors into consideration, and that optimistically, should only need to be made once.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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