- Infidelity is a relatively common occurrence, estimated to occur in 20–25 percent of marriages and close to 75 percent of dating relationships.
- The cheated-on partner can experience various mental health symptoms, including posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.
- The main reasons people forgive infidelity are a reduced likelihood of future cheating, dependency, children, and one's own infidelity.
Infidelity is a relatively common occurrence, estimated to occur in 20–25 percent of marriages and close to 75 percent of dating relationships (Shrout & Weigel, 2020). In the aftermath, the partner who was cheated on can experience a variety of unfortunate symptoms, including posttraumatic stress symptoms, depression, and anxiety.
This is particularly true when attributing responsibility to the partner who was unfaithful, and if they had lower self esteem to begin with (Shrout & Weigel, 2020).
While there are many common reasons not to forgive an unfaithful partner, recent research published in Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, seeks to understand why people do forgive their partner’s infidelity. In the first of three studies, researchers conducted 35-minute semi-structured interviews in a university laboratory on 40 participants of 20 men and 20 women with a mean age of 33 years old.
In the interviews, participants were asked to discuss the different reasons that motivated them to forgive. Once each interview was complete, an open-ended questionnaire on the matter was conducted, asking the same participants to again list as many reasons as they could for forgiving infidelity, to add further detail.
The following 32 reasons were revealed, structured into four broad categories:
Reduced likelihood of future infidelity
- If she/he shows me that she/he has truly regretted it.
- If infidelity was casual and not recurring.
- If she/he gives me a sound excuse.
- If she/he swears that she/he will not do it again.
- If she/he shows me that he really wants to be with me.
- If I love her/him.
- If it was the first time she/he did it.
- If she/he confess it on her/his own.
- If she/he did it only once.
- If she/he persuades me that she/he truly loves me.
- If it was a frivolous act.
- If she/he was drunk when she/he did.
- If we have been many years together.
- If I believe that I led her/him with my actions to be unfaithful.
- If we have a good time together.
- If she/he did at the beginning of our relationship.
Dependency on partner
- If I depend on her/him financially.
- If I cannot easily find someone else.
- If I do not have another place to stay.
- If I receive financial support from her/him.
- So that nobody else will get her/him from me.
- If I am used to be with her/him.
- If my family urged me to forgive her/him.
- So as not to waste everything that I have invested in this relationship.
- If I am old.
- If she/ he threatens to commit suicide.
- If she/he is seriously ill.
- If my children ask me to forgive her/him.
- If we have young children together.
- If we have children together.
Participant's Own infidelity
- If I am planning to cheat on her/him.
- If I had cheated on him.
A follow-up study conducted on 722 participants (374 women, 348 men with a mean age of 33). In the sample, 35.7 percent of the participants were married, 34.3 percent were single, 24.7 percent were in a relationship, 5.0 percent were divorced, and 0.3 percent were widowed. The participants had, on average, 0.8 (SD = 1.1) children.
Participants were asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, “how each of the following reasons have motivated you in the past, or could motivate you in the future to forgive your partner if he cheats on you” of the 32 reasons discovered in Study 1.
Women found were more likely than men to indicate being motivated by not having another place to stay or “so as not to waste everything that I have invested in this relationship”, and participants who had more children were more likely to list children as a motivating factor for forgiving their partner.
The researchers then conducted a third study, replicating the methods of the second study, but with another sample, while also administering a personality test. Results found that older people were more likely to forgive infidelity, and those with higher scores in the personality measure of agreeableness were more likely to forgive infidelity generally.
While the research is based on self-reported data, which comes with notable biases, it is nevertheless interesting to discover the myriad of reasons people feel motivated to forgive their partner's infidelity–including their own.
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Apostolou, M., & Demosthenous, A. (2021). Why People Forgive Their Intimate Partners’ Infidelity: a Taxonomy of Reasons. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 7(1), 54-71.
Shrout, M. R., & Weigel, D. J. (2020). Coping with infidelity: The moderating role of self-esteem. Personality and individual differences, 154, 109631.