- Infidelity is a major threat to relationship that often result in the dissolution of couples
- A partner's willingness to forgive their heterosexual partner's infidelity depends on how threatening they perceive the infidelity to be
- The more threatening they perceive infidelity to be, the harder for them to forgive, regardless of the gender, which increases the likelihood of break-up
Couples are most likely to break-up when they suspect infidelity as it becomes harder for them to forgive. For both men and women, the likelihood of break-up is directly related to the perceived level of threat to the relationship and lack of internal forgiveness. Internal forgiveness includes keeping distance and wanting revenge.
Breaking rules and promises are part of long-term relationships that are bound to cause disappointments. Minor transgressions lead only to disappointments and are often forgiven or even forgotten. Other transgressions are major and seriously affect the relationship.
After studying around 160 different cultures worldwide, researchers have concluded that infidelity is one of the most common reasons that heterosexual couples break up.
When it comes to forgiving their partners, both men and women are equally willing to do that, despite perceiving infidelity differently.
The recent study examines how couples respond to infidelity vignettes and what aspects of the relationship influence the probability of forgiveness or breakup following emotional and sexual infidelity.
The new findings show that the degree of forgiveness is not related to the type of infidelity.
"We're surprised that the differences between the sexes weren't greater. The mechanisms underlying forgiveness are more or less identical between genders," says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Psychology.
Kennair has co-authored a new article in the Journal of Relationships Research. The article addresses infidelity and the mechanisms behind forgiveness.
The study consisted of 92 couples who independently completed a questionnaire related to issues describing hypothetical scenarios where the partner had been unfaithful in various ways.
One scenario describes the partner having sex with another person, but not falling in love, while the other describes the partner falling in love with another person, but not having sex.
Processing infidelity was identical among men and women. Most people believe that it is unlikely that they would forgive their partner's infidelity.
"Whether or not the couple breaks up depends primarily on how threatening to the relationship they perceive the infidelity to be," says first author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology.
The more threatening infidelity feels to the couple, the worse it is for the relationship. Their willingness to forgive each other decides whether the relationship can continue.
"A lot of people might think that couples who have a strong relationship would be better able to tolerate infidelity, but that wasn't indicated in our study," says Professor Mons Bendixen at NTNU's Department of Psychology.
When no sex is involved in infidelity, another aspect comes into play. To what extent can the unfaithful partner be blamed for what happened? "The degree of blame attributed to the partner was linked to the willingness to forgive," says Bendixen.
When the partner willingly has sex with another person, the relationship is at stake because even after accepting blame, the chances of forgiveness are very small. Accepting blame does not mean that the partner will be forgiven for their physical infidelity. "The blame factor doesn't come into play when the partner is physically unfaithful," Grøntvedt says.