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What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?


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Despite infidelity being a highly traumatic experience, not all couples end their relationship after discovery of the affair. The present study provides insights into the experience of couples who remained together after having experienced infidelity by one partner. Narrative inquiry methods were used to undertake and analyze in-depth interviews with eligible participants from eastern Australia who responded to advertisements. The key themes acknowledged by participants as reasons for maintaining the relationship were motivation to stay together, treasuring acts of kindness, meaning making, and social support. However, the reconciliation process was tortuous and involved forgiveness, seeking counseling, managing memories, vicarious learning, and changing couple dynamics. In rebuilding the relationship, a modification often took place, resulting in a shift in the power dynamic. The article outlines professional considerations for counselors and other therapists in relation to professional practice.
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Journal of Family Issues
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0192513X11424257
2012 33: 1494 originally published online 21 OctoberJournal of Family Issues
Iona Abrahamson, Rafat Hussain, Adeel Khan and Margot J. Schofield
What Helps Couples Rebuild Their Relationship After Infidelity?
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© The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/0192513X11424257
7Abrahamson et al.Journal of Family Issues
© The Author(s) 2012
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1University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
2La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Corresponding Author:
Rafat Hussain, School of Rural Medicine, University of New England, Armidale, New South
Wales 2351, Australia
What Helps
Couples Rebuild
Their Relationship
After Infidelity?
Iona Abrahamson1, Rafat Hussain1,
Adeel Khan1, and Margot J. Schofield2
Despite infidelity being a highly traumatic experience, not all couples end
their relationship after discovery of the affair. The present study provides
insights into the experience of couples who remained together after hav-
ing experienced infidelity by one partner. Narrative inquiry methods were
used to undertake and analyze in-depth interviews with eligible participants
from eastern Australia who responded to advertisements. The key themes
acknowledged by participants as reasons for maintaining the relationship
were motivation to stay together, treasuring acts of kindness, meaning mak-
ing, and social support. However, the reconciliation process was tortuous
and involved forgiveness, seeking counseling, managing memories, vicari-
ous learning, and changing couple dynamics. In rebuilding the relationship,
a modification often took place, resulting in a shift in the power dynamic.
The article outlines professional considerations for counselors and other
therapists in relation to professional practice.
infidelity, narrative inquiry, counseling, Australia
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Abrahamson et al. 1495
Infidelity is a common phenomenon in marriages (Atkins, Baucom, &
Jacobson, 2001; Dupree, White, Olsen, & Lafluer, 2007; Gordon, Baucom,
& Snyder, 2004), with lifetime prevalence rates estimated at 20% to 40%
(Blow & Hartnett, 2005a) and up to 45% to 60% (Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder,
2004). Infidelity has serious consequences for relationships (Peluso & Spina,
2008) and is one of the most common reasons for couples entering couple
therapy (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). However, extramarital affairs
are considered by couple counselors as one of the most difficult problems to
treat (Whisman et al., 1997) and thus need to be better understood.
A key focus of existing research has been to understand the reasons for
couples having affairs. Researchers have presented a variety of typologies of
affairs (Weeks, Gambescia, & Jenkins, 2003). For example, Levine’s (1998)
four categories include affairs, just sex, making do, and imaginary-partner
sex. Pittman (1989) and Pittman and Wagers (1995) categorize infidelity as
the accidental encounter, habitual philandering, romantic affairs, and marital
arrangements. Lusterman (1998) lists eight types of affairs: entitlement, sex-
ual identity, sexual addiction, exploratory affairs, tripod affairs, retaliatory
affairs, exit affairs, and midlife events. Brown’s (2001) typology includes
five types of affairs: conflict-avoidant, intimacy-avoidant, sexual addiction,
empty nest, and out-of-the-door. Bagarozzi (2008) proposes seven catego-
ries: brief encounters, periodic encounters, instrumental and utilitarian
affairs, short-term affairs triggered by developmental challenges or changing
life circumstances, paraphiliac affairs, cathartic affairs, and more complex
and enduring relationships. Although there is considerable overlap within
and across these typologies, it is also clear that there is a wide variety of rea-
sons for and patterns of infidelity.
Infidelity has been associated with multiple factors including gender, with
a higher frequency among men (Atkins et al., 2001), and poor marital satisfac-
tion (Atkins et al., 2001; Blow & Hartnett, 2005a, 2005b; Brown, 2001). When
two-person systems are under stress, a third person is sometimes brought in to
stabilize the relationship (Atwood & Seifer, 1997; Carter & McGoldrick,
1999). However, triangles are often dysfunctional in that they offer stabiliza-
tion through diversion rather than through resolution of the issues in the cou-
ple’s relationship. After the secret is revealed, relationship issues may still be
obscured, as attention tends to be focused on the affair instead of their part
in the marital issues that predated the affair (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999).
The difficult emotional and relationship processes that couples experienc-
ing a disclosure of infidelity tend to go through have been described by a
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number of researchers. Olson, Russell, Higgins-Kessler, and Miller (2002)
describe the first phase as a roller coaster phase in which emotions swing
wildly from one extreme to another while the parties deal with the shock of
disclosure and the many uncontrollable feelings that are activated. The sec-
ond phase, the moratorium phase, is activated when the couple (or individu-
als separately) agree to put the hurt aside and try to get on with their lives. In
the third phase of this model, couples are oriented more to the future and
focused on rebuilding trust in the relationship. However, past research explor-
ing how couples have recovered from infidelity (Brown, 2001; Dattilio,
2000; Glass, 2003; Lusterman, 1998; Pittman, 1989) has not adequately illu-
minated the process of recovery. Factors associated with continuation of the
relationships after infidelity include the level of motivation to maintain the
relationship and the capacity to forgive (Atwood & Seifer, 1997; Halford,
Kelly, & Young, 1997). Others have explored what couples need to do to
rebuild or maintain the relationship, such as healing their own hurt, forgiving
their partner, and seeking counseling (Whisman et al., 1997).
Most research on infidelity is based on quantitative studies. For instance,
Blow and Hartnett (2005a), in their detailed review of infidelity in committed
relationships, examined all the major studies conducted since 1980 and found
only four qualitative studies. Of these, only one has direct relevance to
Western literature (Olson et al., 2002). However one of the limitations of this
study was the focus on exclusive partners only. Only one qualitative study
(Bird, Butler, & Fife, 2007) has been identified since Blow and Hartnett’s
(2005a) review that is of direct relevance to the current study. This paucity of
qualitative research involving couples who have experienced infidelity is
concerning, since such research offers the potential to inform this difficult
area of clinical practice and allows for in-depth exploration and analysis of
the recovery process.
Very little research on infidelity has been undertaken with Australian sam-
ples and within the last decade. One Australian study by McAlister, Pachana,
and Jackson (2005) involving university students aged 18 to 25 years in a
dating relationship is limited by its focus on dating rather than married rela-
tionships and by its use of hypothetical scenarios. An earlier survey from
Western Australia on major reasons for breakdown of the marital relationship
found that two main reasons for relationship breakdown were a lack of com-
munication (25%) and infidelity (23%; Esmond, Dickinson, & Moffat, 1998).
Given that attitudes to infidelity are usually influenced by cultural and tem-
poral norms, it is important to investigate current experiences and infidelity
within the Australian cultural context.
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In this article, we use qualitative research methods to explore the experi-
ences of Australian couples who have stayed together following marital infi-
delity. The current research includes both exclusive and nonexclusive partners
and thus allows a better understanding of the relationship dynamics. It focuses
specifically on informants’ perceptions of the rebuilding of their relationship
following disclosure of marital infidelity, including exploring the reasons for
the affair, how the couples processed the experience, and factors that helped
them continue with the relationship.
To understand the experience of a complex socioemotional phenomenon
such as infidelity, a methodology was required that allowed for the revelation
of the breadth and depth of the informants’ subjective experiences as well as
their relationship story. Traditional qualitative methodologies of interview-
ing and coding such as grounded theory have the potential to fragment or
decontextualize the events, whereas a narrative approach allows for multiple
perspectives to be woven together in a process of making sense of the phases
of revelation, adjustment, and change in their lives (Reissman, 1997).
A narrative approach to interviewing and analysis was thus adopted to
investigate the storied experiences of living and coping with infidelity using
the informant’s own voice (McLeod, 2001). Such an approach allows mean-
ing attributed to objects or events to be constructed through an ongoing pro-
cess of interaction with their environment. The story that is constructed is
reflexive (Bruner, 1990) and subject to constant editing and updating as
informants’ lives are lived and their personal understanding and awareness
changes (Crotty, 1998). A narrative inquiry design is therefore particularly
useful in examining nonnormative experiences such as infidelity (Reissman,
1997, 2003; Stuhlmiller, 2001). We used postmodernism as the underlying
conceptual framework as individuals’ perceptions of past infidelity is not
based on one objective reality but on multiple realities molded by their per-
sonal, social, and cultural constructs. Moreover, postmodernism allows a
focus on narratives and texts as interpretations of the “lived experience”
(Denzin & Lincoln, 2000).
One of the methodological challenges for the present research was choos-
ing the terminology that could capture the roles of the marital partners in
infidelity. At differing times in the literature, the one having the affair has
been described as the “involved partner” (Moultrup, 2003), the “infidel”
(Pittman, 1991), the “participating partner” (Gordon et al., 2004), or the
“offending partner” (Olson et al., 2002; Zola, 2007)—all of which have a
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pejorative tone. Descriptions of the partner not having the affair have been
the “cuckold” (Pittman, 1991), the “injured partner” (Gordon et al., 2004;
Olson et al., 2002), the “noninvolved partner” (Moultrup, 2003), or the “non-
extramaritally involved spouse” (Bird et al., 2007). Given that sexual exclu-
siveness is an assumption for most couples in a marital relationship (Atkins,
Baucom, Eldridge, & Christensen, 2005), we chose the terms nonexclusive
partner for the individual having engaged in the extramarital affair, and
exclusive partner for the individual not having an affair to describe the roles
of partners, while minimizing a judgmental or pejorative tone.
Sampling and Recruitment
Purposive sampling was used to seek informants (either exclusive or nonex-
clusive partners) who had experienced infidelity and who had remained
as a couple for at least 2 years following the discovery of infidelity. Two
approaches were used for recruitment of suitable informants. First, a media
release outlining the study was provided to media outlets in southeast
Queensland, Australia, seeking volunteers from eligible people. Second,
local counselors were advised of the research so that they could inform suit-
able clients about the study and provide information about how to partici-
pate. To protect confidentiality, counselors were given a standard information
letter to give to clients. The letter requested clients who may be interested in
being interviewed to contact the researcher directly. The letter stated that the
clients reserved the right to participate or not in the study and that declining
participation would not influence the outcome of their current therapy. The
project was approved by the institutional ethics review committee.
A total of seven people volunteered to participate, five nonexclusive and
two exclusive participants. Five participants were referred by counseling
agencies, whereas two responded to the media advertisement. Given the sen-
sitive nature of the study and well-recognized difficulties in recruiting this
sample for in-depth qualitative research (e.g., Bird et al., 2007), it was decided
that the present sample was adequate to undertake the exploratory study.
An in-depth interview method was used to elicit the informants’ stories
about the affair, how it had occurred, how it was disclosed, how the partners
responded to disclosure, and how they managed their relationship over the
postdisclosure period. They were also asked to reflect on the relationship
more broadly, why they thought the affair occurred, and what contributed to
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them being able to maintain the relationship after disclosure. Thus the inter-
view focused not just on events but also on their interpretation of these
events. The informants told of their challenges and how they faced these
and how they had arrived at the place they were in at the time of the inter-
view. This method was consistent with the goal of narrative inquiry, which
is not to provide verifiable accounts of events but, rather, to understand the
meaning attached to events and how this changes over time (Reissman,
2003). The relationship that builds between the researcher and the informant
is unique and inherently means that what is said during this encounter may
not be replicated if someone else were to elicit the narrative.
Interviews were conducted with volunteer informants in 2005-2006 by the
first author. The location of the interview was negotiated to suit each infor-
mant and interviews lasted approximately 90 minutes. Prior to the interview,
informed consent for audiotape recording of interviews was obtained. The
informant’s right to privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality were respected
via a pseudonym chosen by each informant. After each interview, the inter-
viewer made notes containing the impressions, reflections, and feelings about
the interview and each informant’s story as a whole. By the seventh inter-
view, considerable consistency in key themes was found, although it is too
small a sample to claim that saturation had been reached.
Coding and Analysis
Audiotaped interviews were transcribed and coded. A variety of analytic
approaches were used for narrative inquiry (Jones, 2002; Kirkman, 2002;
Neimeyer, 2001). For the present study, a thematic analysis and a broader
metanarrative (or plotline) analysis were combined (Polkinghorne, 1995).
The plot embedded within the stories became a focus of analysis. This focus
was determined by the content of the data and meanings within the texts. The
deidentified transcripts were read by the remaining authors, and the emergent
themes were debated until a consensus was achieved that the key issues in
every individuals’ narratives were fully captured in the coding scheme. The
validity of the meanings that were emerging from the data was sought by
looking for contradictions and consistencies across all the informants’ sto-
ries. The reading and rereading of the transcripts allowed for the identifica-
tion of key words and themes that gave rise to coding and analyses so that
meanings could be identified from the individual stories. This process took
considerable time but allowed for analytic rigor to be documented in the
analysis regarding credibility, dependability, and transferability of the study
findings (Tobin & Begley, 2004). As recommended by McLeod (2001),
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1500 Journal of Family Issues 33(11)
individual segments of stories can be grafted into a larger story providing a
“whole picture.” In the present study, individual narrative vignettes were
selected from the full transcripts and included in the metanarrative sections
of the results.
Sample Characteristics
A description of the informants involved in this research is presented in
Table 1. There were four male and three female participants ranging in age
from 30 to 46 years. All relationships had from two to five or more children
together, and two participants had stepchildren. The length of their relation-
ship ranged from 6 to 23 years, and time since the affair was discovered
ranged from 2 to 10 years.
In the present study, the duration of infidelity was not more than 2 years,
but the total number of transactions was high, almost daily during the period
of the affairs. The location was in their own homes or offices. Although most
participants made efforts to avoid risk of discovery, some left a trail of e-mails
or text messages. Two of the participants revealed the affair of their own
accord, and none of the participants had a same-sex affair. Only one of the
participants had a past history of infidelity. In terms of occupation, the three
female participants reported home duties, whereas the male participants
reported being a tradesman, insurance officer, technology professional, and a
psychologist, respectively. Three of the seven participants had parents who
had experienced marital infidelity.
Table 1. Demographic and Relationship Characteristics of Informants
(Years) Gender
No. of
Age of
(Years) Occupation
Years Since
Anton 30 Male 2 4, 6 Technology 10 3
Bella 36 Female 4 12-20 Home duties 23 10
Cheryl 44 Female 3 + 4 step 8-24 Home duties 7 7
Darren 46 Male 5 + 2 step 8-24 Insurance 7 7
Errol 44 Male 2 9, 15 Psychologist 6 6
Felicity 32 Female 2 7 , 9 Home duties 12 9
Gary 35 Male 3 4, 6, 8 Tradesman 11 2
Note: The names are pseudonyms. Cheryl, Darren, and Errol had been married before.
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Reasons for the Affair
All informants found it important to explore and understand why the affair
had taken place. In the period preceding the affair, all nonexclusive partners
reported profound experiences of hurt, isolation, and pain, combined with an
unexpected opportunity for an affair presenting itself. Nonexclusive partners
identified that they were particularly vulnerable at the time the affair started
because of issues such as the death of a family member, financial and work
pressures, and feeling unappreciated and lonely in the primary relationship.
The impact of negative life events was often compounded by other stresses.
An example of this was expressed by Anton: “My wife was emotionally
unavailable for me as she was caught up in being a mother of two and away
from the support of her extended family.” Another participant said,
I felt neglected by my husband as he was consumed with his business
which was failing. He was preoccupied with his problems and did not
want to listen to mine so when someone noticed me and seemed to
care, I responded.
In addition to their vulnerability, the informants indicated that “opportu-
nity” was a key determinant of starting the affair. In all cases, they had not
sought out the affair, but rather the opportunity presented itself and in their
vulnerable state, they embraced it. For example, a nonexclusive male said,
Not only did my dad die but also I was having problems at home and
at work. My son was in trouble at school and my wife was trying to
handle it as much as possible. But, she unloaded on me and at the same
time I wasn’t happy at work. I didn’t fit in with my work mates and felt
alone most of the time. I suppose I had a lot on my mind. Anyway,
I found that a new girl at work seemed to notice me and said, “Hi,”
now and then. One day we just started talking and I found that she
listened to me and didn’t expect me to solve her problems. I began to
look forward to seeing her smiling face at work. She was the only
bright spark in my life. A few weeks later after the staff party we
became lovers. It was great, but I did feel guilty sometimes. (Gary)
Another example was the following:
This girl was at work and she was interested in me, got to me during a
low time. She was privy to what I earned and I think that was part of
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her attraction to me. Not that I like to admit that but being realistic
about it. She was 14 years younger than me, being 28 or 29 and I was
about 44. She came up with all these wonderful ideas on how to make
my business more professional like salary sacrificing and I sort of fell
into it. At a conference she sat next to me one weekend, so close to me
that I could feel the vibes and it was yummy. I didn’t do anything,
I resisted that. It would have been about 6 months later at another con-
ference, I had a few beers under my belt and she made it clear that she
was available and I ended up in her room. (Darren)
What these stories seemed to point to was the difficulty informants had in
managing their emotional life. Despite clear warning signs of problems in
their emotional life and their primary relationship, the problems were not
actively dealt with. Rather, the informants’ stories were of stoicism in the
face of difficulties, initial resistance to temptation, and then capitulation
when resistance failed.
Responses to Disclosure of the Affair
When the discovery of the affair occurred, both exclusive and nonexclusive
informants found it overwhelming. Two of the nonexclusive informants
voluntarily told their partner about the affair because they wanted to be hon-
est. They thought that the disclosure might help their partner have a better
sense of their unhappiness leading up to the affair and that this understand-
ing might form a basis for rebuilding their relationship. Even though the
exclusive partners valued their honesty, the affair still meant that they sepa-
rated for a few months. The remaining exclusive partners found out about
the affair through suspicion and evidence. For example, one exclusive
partner said,
I had organized for the children to be looked after and decided to sur-
prise him by accompanying him to Sydney. I jumped up in the morning
and said “I’m coming with you” and he said “Oh, that’s good . . . we
booked into the hotel that the company had organized for him and the
lady behind the reception desk said, “Oh this is Mr. H’s account from
last week.” The moment I took that envelope (normally he wouldn’t
get a bill because the company would pay for it), I had a feeling this
was strange and when I checked the bill I saw dinner and breakfast for
two. He denied it for a little while and eventually the other woman’s
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husband rang me and said, “I believe your husband is having an affair
with my wife.” (Cheryl)
Another experience of the discovery of infidelity was the following:
My husband began to get suspicious of me as I was distant and unre-
sponsive to him. We did not have sex anymore. Eventually, he fol-
lowed me to the gym where he saw me talking to the other man and
then he watched as we went to lunch. He confronted me in the restau-
rant. I was shocked and tried to deny his accusations. Later on at home,
he demanded to know the truth. I then admitted that I was having an
affair. The look on his face was unforgettable, like he had been stabbed
in the chest. (Felicity)
The immediate feelings and responses around the discovery of the affair
were varied. Similar to experiencing any trauma, the feelings were intense
and overwhelming. Feelings such as shock, horror, denial, anger, hurt,
anguish, despair, guilt, sadness, inadequacy, rejection, and betrayal surfaced
with actions of yelling, silence, withdrawal, and distancing. For those who
had the affair, their feelings were ambivalent as they sometimes felt remorse
but also elation over what had occurred.
Factors Associated With Decision
to Stay Together and Rebuild the Relationship
The analysis revealed four key themes that were influential in the decision to
maintain the relationship. These were motivation, acts of kindness, meaning
making, and support.
Motivation (“Winners never quit”). In all the narratives, motivational factors
had an important impact on the decision to continue in the primary relation-
ship. The informants described how the couples had to be highly motivated
to repair the relationship even though they knew that this required enormous
effort. Motivation was seen as especially paramount where the relationship
involved children, property, and more time already invested in the relation-
ship. Many informants were able to clearly express this. For example, an
exclusive female said,
Our relationship involved a big investment of time, memories, and
property, and we didn’t want to forfeit any of that. We worked out that
we both were very motivated as we had three kids, a house, and lots of
good memories. (Gary)
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One nonexclusive partner described this determination to work on the rela-
tionship and solve problems in the following way:
Coming from a farming background, it was up to us to work things out
for ourselves. It was up to us to solve our own problems just like get-
ting rid of our own garbage. On a farm, no wheelie bin truck collects
our garbage, we see to it ourselves. (Bella)
Their fear of failure led to the informants’ determination to find a way to
succeed in saving their damaged relationship. All but one of the couples had
temporarily separated when the affair was first discovered. However, most
found that, financially, they could not sustain two households, and some
stated that they did not want to admit failure of the relationship. Fear of fail-
ing in the relationship was evident especially for those from a broken or
divorced home and family. They did not want to be a single parent raising
children on their own. There was a sense of being emotionally shattered and
yet enduring to avoid being labeled a loser or failure. A nonexclusive male
described his experience as follows:
After having had one failed marriage, I did not want to fail again and
be labeled a loser. I was determined to save my marriage and so I made
the decision to win. (Darren)
Another nonexclusive female said,
Coming from a broken home, where my father had an affair resulting
in the family break up, I decided I did not want to walk away and leave
my children devastated. I wanted to show them that losers walk away
but winners never quit. (Felicity)
Treasuring acts of kindness. Contrary to society’s traditional view on infi-
delity, the informants in this study realized that even though they had betrayed
or been betrayed, nevertheless they would show “mercy” and rebuild their
relationship. One of the nonexclusive males described an important factor in
rebuilding their relationship as, “she was merciful and stopped bringing up
my fling with the other woman.” A nonexclusive female added, “After the
anger subsided, he was kinder to me and showed mercy.” Even though the
nonexclusive partner knew that he or she had offended the exclusive partner,
they were taken aback by little gestures of kindness exhibited by the exclu-
sive partner. For example, when one partner found out about the affair,
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instead of blaming the nonexclusive partner, he showed love and forgiveness
by presenting her with a bouquet of flowers.
This touched me deeply, so much so, that I marveled at him and knew
he was the better man. This act was so sacrificial and noble, and in my
heart I honored him for it, but at the time I could not speak of it, but
I treasured it. (Bella)
Meaning making. Although the first reactions to disclosure of the affair
were often shock, anger, feelings of betrayal, guilt, or shame, the informants
described this initial phase being followed by a process whereby they were
moved to make meaning of their lived experience. They found that they had
to face the truth of what had happened and understand it as a couple issue as
well as an individual issue. Facing the truth was experienced as both con-
fronting and liberating. Through ongoing reflection on their stories, the infor-
mants began to gradually make meaning of their experience, so that, by the
time of the interviews, their stories had developed into their version of
the “truth.” Couples recognized that there were several issues that led to the
affair and that they had both contributed to it. One exclusive female expressed
her process like this:
I felt stuck in blaming him for having the affair. Then I gradually real-
ized that I also played a part in what happened. It dawned on me that
we were like a pair of shoes that go together and I found that strangely
challenging but also liberating. (Cheryl)
In the process of meaning making, the couples found that talking with
each other about what went wrong was helpful. Even though it was difficult,
they were able to listen and respond. One exclusive female decided that she
had a “choice to be better, not bitter.” Several informants described going
through an experience of cognitive dissonance, a state of extreme discomfort
resulting from the discrepancy between their own and society’s beliefs about
the exclusivity of relationships, their confidence in their partner’s love and
commitment, and their overt behavior in having the affair.
Several experienced the process of making meaning and healing in a spiral
pattern. In other words, it involved a process of moving forward and upward
at certain times and at other times, going backward and feeling like they were
back at “square one.” However, by the time of the interviews, the informants
no longer felt this was the case as they gradually realized that progress was
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being consolidated for further grieving and healing to take place. As one
nonexclusive partner described it:
Sometimes he would go on and on about me sleeping with someone
else, which made it very uncomfortable for me. But gradually he
stopped talking about it, and I promised him I would not do it again.
Support. Exclusive and nonexclusive partners experienced the role of sup-
port from others in very different ways. Exclusive partners were generally
consoled by family and friends for their partner’s infidelity. However, this
was experienced as a conditional support. They knew from listening to the
media that societal norms were often in favor of ending the relationship. They
expected that they would be cautioned against deciding to stay in the relation-
ship and work things out, and perhaps judged for it. One of the exclusive
informants described feeling judged for staying in the relationship:
My family and friends thought I was mad to even contemplate staying
with the bastard. (Cheryl)
On the other hand, the nonexclusive partners found that they were criti-
cized for their infidelity, and they received much less support from family
and friends. Instead, they found others were skeptical that they would be able
to change their behavior. For example, one nonexclusive partner said,
I told my parents and siblings. One of my sisters was very critical of
me which hurt a lot. My mother showed understanding as she had been
unfaithful 12 years before, but my father found it difficult as it took
him back to his own pain. Maybe, he identified with my wife more
than me. However, he said he could understand how it happened, espe-
cially as my wife was not emotionally there for me. (Anton)
Active Reconciliation
Once informants had made the commitment to stay and rebuild the relation-
ship, they identified a number of strategies that helped them actively reconcile.
These included an intention and practice of forgiveness, going to couple
counseling, managing intrusive and negative memories, and vicarious learn-
ing. The process of rebuilding the relationship was described in all cases as
leading to a modification of the fundamental dyadic dynamic of the relationship.
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Abrahamson et al. 1507
Forgiveness. Each informant emphasized that forgiveness played a large
part in “getting back on track.” For example, one woman had attended a
workshop on forgiveness that helped her forgive her husband for his affair.
Some saw forgiveness as a process of “gradual forgiving bit by bit.” Others
felt that “forgiveness and acceptance were essential precursors to the healing.
I accepted what had happened and was able to overlook it.”
Many couples discovered that when they forgave, their negative feelings
toward their partner were not automatically replaced by positive feelings and
that they did not forget the injury. A nonexclusive male discovered that for-
giveness can be gradual, “bit by bit my wife forgave me and the look in her
eyes softened. I felt relieved that the nightmare was fading and after about
5 months we made a truce.” A nonexclusive female found that it took time for
forgiveness to happen.
If my husband had not loved me enough, it would have ended. He did
not reject me but reached out to me and he forgave me. He showed me
mercy, even though some days he would be hurt and angry. (Bella)
Counseling. Reconciliation also required assistance in the form of counsel-
ing. The five participants who had received counseling considered the experi-
ence helpful. They felt that counseling was a safe place and having someone
really listening and remaining neutral was important. One informant
explained it this way, “without a doubt, the counseling helped us to talk with-
out shouting at each other. The counselor acted like a referee.” For relation-
ships to thrive, it was found through counseling that the informants had to
give clear expression of their wants and needs. They realized that their part-
ner was not a “mind reader,” and it was important to be open and honest in
their communication. Through counseling, the informants realized they
needed to learn to operate from a more adult state.
Of the informants interviewed, only two did not have counseling. One
felt, in retrospect, that counseling would have sped up the healing process,
as it took 10 years to rebuild the relationship. The other one felt their profes-
sional background gave them the expertise to come to terms with the “criti-
cal incident” themselves. Counseling allowed for exploration of new ways
of communicating and relating. For example, the informants learned about
“I” statements where they owned their issues without blaming. They looked
at what went wrong in the relationship.
There was a lot of pain for us both, but we talked about what went
wrong and how we could make it right. We realized how we had been
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so critical of each other and then how the other one would sulk. It
wasn’t easy. In fact it was bloody hard. (Gary)
Managing memories. Informants found it difficult to manage their memo-
ries, as they would have flashbacks of moments that would overwhelm
them. They found that avoiding the phrases of “if only” and “what if” helped
them in coping with infidelity. Informants were very clear that the habit of
constantly bringing up what had happened was very damaging to the rebuild-
ing of their relationship. They soon learnt not to say out loud “if only you
hadn’t” as it involved a circle of regret, “which goes nowhere.” One exclu-
sive female said,
Initially it would come up sometimes but I tried very hard not to. In
bringing it up, you’ve got to remember you’re bringing her back to his
mind and his thoughts. Every time you raise her name, you are bringing
her back into his mind. To be honest, after we reconciled there wasn’t
a day that went by for about 4 years that I didn’t think about it. (Cheryl)
Vicarious learning. Another aspect of reconciliation was vicarious learning.
Vicarious learning is described as learning that is obtained from sympathetic
experience of another’s experiences (Sharf, 1996). The informants expressed
how helpful it was to learn from others in dealing with infidelity. Being able
to observe how others had dealt with similar situations in the past provided
helpful insights to repair the relationships. Some informants had reservations
after watching what their friends went through. “I’d seen others who were not
happier or better off by ending the relationship. Many of my friends are mis-
erable and lonely now and wish they had worked things out.” The real-life
examples of others were pointed out as helping in the process as well.
I think it helped that our counselor had also had an affair. He seemed
to understand what we were going through and he gave us hope that
our relationship could recover. Also the fact that my parents had sur-
vived infidelity was helpful.
Another informant shared an example of vicarious learning:
I wasn’t going to be the ex-wife from hell. I wasn’t going to hand him
to her on a plate. I’ve seen a lot of bitter women. I have a sister-in-law
who has been through this and she can’t let that bitterness go. She
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Abrahamson et al. 1509
serves it up to him constantly. You have to make a conscious decision
that you are going to move on past that. You don’t bring it up.(Cheryl)
Changing couple dynamics. Each informant came away from the experience
of infidelity with an awareness of how far he or she had come or how much
they had emotionally developed. Informants were aware that destructive pat-
terns of relating had been replaced by a more constructive and rewarding way
of being in a relationship and understanding each other. They were empow-
ered by learning techniques in improved communication that enhanced their
ability to express themselves appropriately. The impact on the relationship
was a gradual consolidation of trust and intimacy that ultimately affected the
dynamics of the relationship. A nonexclusive male explained how trust was
I had to be accountable for my movements. At first, she didn’t trust me
very well so I would phone to let her know where I was and why
I would be late. She would thank me for my consideration. A bigger
test came when I had to work away for a week at a time and come
home for weekends. At first she was fearful and insecure but after a
while she was more trusting. (Anton)
By avoiding a relationship break-up, the informants felt they had a psy-
chological power as a result of having come through a difficult experience.
The informants felt that having experienced infidelity, they had moved
from being victims to survivors, with a resulting sense of personal authority.
Coming through the healing or grieving process, there was a sense of satis-
faction of achieving success. It was like “growing up” and being an adult at
last. There was a sense of strength and empowerment that emerged in all the
informants. One of informants expressed this new authority as “It wasn’t
theory anymore but reality, knowing that I’m a survivor, not a victim.” One
of the informants pointed out,
We are so glad to have weathered the storm and to be experiencing
calmness and peace like never before. It is much more relaxing and
real for us both and we appreciate each other much more. Our children
are pleased we are back together and we feel it has been helpful for
them to see that relationships can be made better with perseverance.
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1510 Journal of Family Issues 33(11)
Another nonexclusive informant said,
Our relationship has changed because we have changed. We feel we
have come through a huge challenge and survived it, which makes us
feel strong. (Bella)
As relationship boundaries had been violated by the affair, many infor-
mants felt it was necessary to repair the “broken-down walls” of safety. For
couples to rebuild their relationship, they had to fully commit to each other.
One of the informants expressed it like this: “It helped that she made a com-
mitment to me again emotionally before it became sexual again.” Another
informant used a ritual to show their new commitment, followed by an action.
We decided to renew our wedding vows, as we wanted to show our
family that all was forgiven and that we were starting a new chapter in
our relationship. We also had another baby (our fourth boy), which
confirmed our commitment to each other. (Gary)
With the rebuilding of the relationship, power structures shifted in various
ways. To begin with, the exclusive partners had the power to forgive or not
forgive. Also the exclusive partners were able to be more assertive with
requests and decisions, whereas the nonexclusive partners had to be more
accountable and communicative, placing a higher value on their partners. For
example, one of the informants said of her husband:
He is really the needy one now. It’s almost like a role reversal in many
aspects. When you reconcile after infidelity there is a real shift in
power and you have to be really careful how you use that. (Cheryl)
Another nonexclusive male said,
We set some ground rules such as she would control the money with
the signing rights and do the books. I couldn’t just come and go as
I pleased, but had to be accountable for my whereabouts. (Darren)
Despite the role reversal or changing power dynamic, couples reported
feeling more comfortable and relaxed with each other. Power and control
shifted so that money, accountability, holidays, and outings were now decided
by the other partner. However, as trust was reestablished, issues were negoti-
ated in a more democratic way. They were more honest with their needs,
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Abrahamson et al. 1511
instead of being compliant or critical. After an affair, the informants discov-
ered that they had to be more open and real with their feelings. They had to
be “authentic” for their relationships not only to survive but also thrive. The
couples who rebuilt their relationships found that authenticity was rewarding.
They learnt that being genuine meant they did not have to hide their feelings.
They could be more open with each other. One exclusive female said, “I think
I got to know him more after the affair than in the previous seven years of our
marriage. I got to be me, which was really liberating.” The informants lik-
ened the experience of rebuilding their relationship after infidelity to “com-
ing home,” with all the mixed emotions of remembering past times, good or
bad, as well as facing both the stability of a common history and the uncer-
tainty of changes that lay ahead. One of the informants explained that
there seems to be a longing in the human heart to be able to come home
where we are free to be who we really are, however sometimes we are
confined or restricted by living with others. It is a constant balancing
act. (Errol)
Another informant described her experience as follows:
We have entered the best and most tender time of our marriage. It’s
like “coming home” with feelings of acceptance, security, and comfort
knowing you are loved, no matter what! (Bella)
To summarize, there were four key themes that were influential in the
decision to maintain the relationship. These were motivation, acts of kind-
ness, meaning making, and support. Forgiveness and counseling allowed the
couples to repair their relationship. In rebuilding their relationship, a modifi-
cation took place, resulting in a shift in the power dynamic, and there was a
sense of satisfaction at surviving infidelity.
This study sought to address the considerable dearth of qualitative research
on factors that help couples rebuild their relationship after marital infidelity.
One of the few existing qualitative studies has highlighted the practical and
methodological difficulties in recruiting real-world samples to undertake in-
depth studies of this sensitive topic (Bird et al., 2007). We addressed past
shortcomings by recruiting a larger number of participants, including both
exclusive and nonexclusive partners (one participant per couple), and exam-
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1512 Journal of Family Issues 33(11)
ining retrospective accounts of the recovery process once considerable time
and healing had occurred and participants could reflect back on the process
with some distance and perspective.
A particular strength of this research is that it explores through in-depth
interviews the actual lived experiences of informants who had experienced
an affair more than 2 years ago and had remained together. This fills an
important gap in the research literature, since other researchers have tended
to use more indirect methods to elicit information such as vignettes presented
to college students for hypothetical responses (e.g., McAlister et al., 2005). A
comparative study of hypothetical versus actual infidelity found that
responses to hypothetical infidelity were uncorrelated with reactions to actual
infidelity (Harris, 2002). More recent studies have started addressing these
issues but have used very narrow time frames for relationship outcomes after
the affair (Bird et al., 2007; Hall & Fincham, 2009; Shackleford, Besser, &
Goetz, 2008).
Allen et al. (2005) provide a useful framework outlining six stages of the
process in dealing with infidelity. These include predisposing factors that
exist prior to infidelity, followed by approach factors, precipitating factors,
maintenance factors, and disclosure or discovery factors, and end with
response factors. Prior to the affair, our informants cited two main predispos-
ing factors—stressful life events or circumstances (e.g., a family death,
financial pressures, isolation, and performance issues) and dissatisfaction in
the primary relationship (hurt, isolation, and distance from their partner with
a lack of attention and appreciation). Approach factors including having the
opportunity such as independence from partners through work and travel.
Precipitating factors include the use of alcohol, particularly at work functions
or conferences, and having a person who made their availability overt. It was
clear in most cases that it was a combination of these precipitating factors that
led to the affair. Factors that helped maintain the affair included opportunity,
such as having an affair with a colleague. Disclosure of the affair occurred
both through self-disclosure by the nonexclusive partner and through suspi-
cion and discovery by the exclusive partner.
Reviewing Brown’s (2001) typology discussed in an earlier section of the
article, our informants did not describe affairs as a means to avoid conflict or
intimacy or because of sexual addiction. Neither were our informants experi-
encing the “empty nest” syndrome nor were they wanting an “out-the-door”
affair. Pittman and Wagers’s (1995) typology includes four categories, com-
prising accidental infidelity, philandering, romantic affairs, and marital
arrangements. In this study, the informants experienced either accidental infi-
delity (where infidelity has not been planned but occurs spontaneously when
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Abrahamson et al. 1513
an opportunity presents itself) or romantic affairs (when there is an emotional
Prior research has highlighted the emotional and traumatic impact that
discovery of an affair can have on the couple relationship, and particularly
on the exclusive partner. Olson et al. (2002) reported a three-stage process
following disclosure of an affair, starting with an “emotional roller coaster”
and then moving through a “moratorium” phase before “trust building”
takes place. Our results confirm that the impact of infidelity on the exclusive
partner was often unexpected and destructive, leaving them feeling defense-
less, victimized, and confused, in keeping with the findings of Gordon and
Baucom (1999). Initially, participants had chaotic and intensely uncomfort-
able emotions, as they dealt with the cognitive aspect of gathering informa-
tion so that they could reconstruct their understanding of their relationships.
Such reactions may be similar to the emotions felt when people are con-
fronted by any great loss or trauma (Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2008;
Ortman, 2005; Peluso, 2007).
After the initial turmoil following discovery, the informants in our study
described their process as, first, deciding if they were motivated enough to
stay in the relationship. Second, they had to make meaning of what had hap-
pened. Third, they described a process of active effort toward reconciliation,
and fourth, they had to find a way for the relationship to adjust and rebalance
itself as the dyadic dynamic changed and modified throughout the process of
rebuilding trust in the relationship.
Motivation played a key role in the participants’ narratives about the pro-
cess of resolving relational problems and rebuilding their marriage, in line
with other research (Kelly & Halford, 1997; Miller & Rollnick, 2002). Trying
to make meaning has been described in the literature as an arduous process,
often involving “obsessing about details, retreating both physically and emo-
tionally and recruiting the support of others in an effort to make meaning of
the infidelity” (Olson et al., 2002, p. 427). The couples in this study had to
make meaning of what had happened, and they did this primarily by trying to
understand the reasons for the infidelity. Their motivation to stay together
involved them in a process of challenging some cultural barriers against stay-
ing together.
Our findings in relation to the process and role of forgiveness support the
view that this is a gradual process, involving an active motivational compo-
nent, but also that it tended to be a slow, cumulative process that evolved as
they rebuilt trust and intimacy (Allen & Atkins, 2005; Diblasio, 2000). They
engaged in an active process of reconciliation through forgiveness, counseling,
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1514 Journal of Family Issues 33(11)
trust building, and vicarious learning. Modification occurred in the relation-
ship, resulting in a power shift and being more authentic.
The informants in this study did experience the three-stage forgiveness
model as proposed by Gordon et al. (2004), whereby they had to deal with the
impact of infidelity, explore and find meaning, and then move on. However,
although forgiveness has been found to increase the chances of reconciliation
(Hall & Fincham, 2006), forgiveness did not mean forgetting what had hap-
pened for these couples. Rather, it involved remembering, learning from it,
and moving on. In conjunction with forgiveness, building trust played an
important part in the restoration of violated trust. The informants in this study
found that trust had to be earned over time. They changed some of their pat-
terns of relating using authenticity and boundaries, “I” statements, knowing
their love languages, and eventually balancing the power between them.
Modification occurred in the relationship, resulting in a power shift and being
more authentic.
It is of interest that 5 of the 7 couples had received counseling, and all
reported that it was helpful. Furthermore, couples who had not received
counseling considered, in retrospect, that it would have been useful. A valu-
able recent study of 530 couples who received couple therapy found that the
145 couples who reported infidelity were significantly more distressed and
more depressed at the start of therapy compared with the 385 couples who
sought couple therapy for reasons other than infidelity, but both groups made
gains throughout therapy (Atkins, Marin, Lo, Klann, & Hahlweg, 2010). By
6 months posttherapy, the two groups were indistinguishable in relation to
marital distress and depressive symptoms. Such findings, along with our
qualitative data, provide strong support for the value of relationship counsel-
ing following disclosure of infidelity.
Our research revealed two unique concepts that have not previously been
identified through research and that provide valuable insights for counselors
working with couples who wish to rebuild their relationship after an affair.
First, in our study, the nonexclusive partners highlighted the important role of
gestures of kindness and mercy by the exclusive partner that helped turn the
tide in their recovery. The unexpected acts of thoughtfulness and kindness
from the exclusive partners had a profound effect on the nonexclusive part-
ners. Instead of acts of retribution or revenge, a couple of exclusive male part-
ners decided to show kindness, which eventually made a difference in the
healing of their relationships. This finding is supported by the growing positive
psychology literature on the importance of acts of kindness and positive virtues
such as generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, and “nice-
ness” in promoting healthy human relationships (Peterson & Seligman,
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Abrahamson et al. 1515
Second, there was an acknowledgment of the role of vicarious learning in
dealing with infidelity. Most of the informants were able to observe from
others who had been through a similar experience and had either chosen to
end or persist with the relationship and all that it would entail. The infor-
mants were able to remind themselves of how some others had suffered
through choosing not to rebuild their relationships and later come to regret
the decision made in the turbulent time following disclosure of the affair.
This provided a salient lesson for them and helped provide the motivation to
overcome the current difficulties and resistances.
An important finding was the differing experiences of family and social
support for the exclusive and nonexclusive partners. The nonexclusive part-
ners found that there was a lack of empathy toward them for having an
affair, whereas the exclusive partners found they received emotional support
as long as they chose to separate from the nonexclusive partner. It is impor-
tant for counselors working with couples to be aware of this splitting
tendency and consider how to sustain the possibility of support for both
partners while they work with a range of complex feelings and decisions.
Fife, Weeks, and Gambescia (2008) propose an integrative approach to
treating infidelity based on the intersystems model advocated by Weeks et
al. (2003), which is growth oriented and helps the couples build on their
relationships. The finding also suggests that family-based approaches may
be helpful in strengthening the couple’s support structures.
There are a number of limitations of the present study that need to be
acknowledged. Although the methodology of narrative was chosen for this
study to allow freedom for the informants to express their experiences of
infidelity, their narratives were bound by the context of time. It needs to be
acknowledged that, over time, narratives tend to be recreated as events, cir-
cumstances, and people interact in complex ways to reshape the meaning of
their experiences and thus their stories. Different perspectives on the infor-
mants’ experiences may have been gained if interviewed at different stages
of the recovery process and in dialogue with different interviewers. Another
limitation is the small sample of seven volunteer informants. It could be
beneficial for more narratives to be accumulated so that a greater under-
standing of different settings and contexts might be gained, although we did
find a high degree of consistency in the emergent themes for nonexclusive
partners and related to the emotional and physical nonavailability of exclu-
sive participants.
Despite the call for more qualitative research on infidelity (Blow &
Hartnett, 2005b), there are practical problems associated with finding poten-
tial informants. For instance, Bird et al. (2007) failed to recruit any client
participants from the 10 therapists they approached. The reasons for this may
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1516 Journal of Family Issues 33(11)
include therapist gatekeeping, the sensitivity and shame associated with infi-
delity, or the need for privacy. Recruitment difficulty may also be an indica-
tor of an ongoing sense of vulnerability among those who have experienced
an affair. Despite these difficulties, the seven participants in our study seemed
to appreciate the opportunity to explore their experience and valued the
potential for it to assist other couples who seek to recover from infidelity.
The interviews took place with a postaffair time range of 2 to 10 years,
which could alter the construction of informants’ narratives. In this study,
only one of the informants was in a de facto relationship, and the rest were
married. It is plausible that a different set of issues would have emerged with
younger informants and/or by limiting the sample to only those with a recent
experience of infidelity. The self-selection of informants and their motivation
to be interviewed for this study remains unknown. Future research could
sample more broadly and include individuals who decided not to continue
their relationship to provide a better understanding the profile and motivation
of those who rebuilt their relationship and their desire to be part of such
research studies.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or pub-
lication of this article.
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... The pandemic may have made recovering from infidelity more complicated. During that time, the couple's access to healthcare resources and social support, such as their friends and confidants, was more restricted; thus, addressing the emotional injury that an affair caused was much more difficult [104]. Additionally, couples who focused on decreasing their anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic, dealing with financial concerns and spending their mental and emotional energies on struggling to survive during such a difficult time may have been less able to cope with difficulties caused by an affair [105]. ...
... Additionally, while it is common for couples to take a break from each other (either by spending more time apart, or even moving to a different house for a period) after the discovery of an affair, the pandemic made such a break impossible due to strict rules related to social distancing. This may have seriously disturbed the healing time that such a separation provided [104]. ...
... An important component of the recovery process is rebuilding the trust that was lost as a result of the affair. This is, usually, a slow process which requires a concerted effort on the part of both partners, which is often not linear [104]. One of the first steps in rebuilding trust is for the "offending" partner to stop seeing the affair partner, which may require changing where one goes to the gym, shopping, etc. ...
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This is a narrative review addressing the topic of romantic infidelity, its causes and its consequences. Love is commonly a source of much pleasure and fulfillment. However, as this review points out, it can also cause stress, heartache and may even be traumatic in some circumstances. Infidelity, which is relatively common in Western culture, can damage a loving, romantic relationship to the point of its demise. However, by highlighting this phenomenon, its causes and its consequences, we hope to provide useful insight for both researchers and clinicians who may be assisting couples facing these issues. We begin by defining infidelity and illustrating the various ways in which one may become unfaithful to their partner. We explore the personal and relational factors that enhance an individual’s tendency to betray their partner, the various reactions related to a discovered affair and the challenges related to the nosological categorization of infidelity-based trauma, and conclude by reviewing the effects of COVID-19 on unfaithful behavior, as well as clinical implications related to infidelity-based treatment. Ultimately, we hope to provide a road map, for academicians and clinicians alike, of what some couples may experience in their relationships and how can they be helped.
... Forgiveness has been defined as a psychological process which transforms a person's cognitions (Zheng et al., 2015), emotions (Kachadourian et al., 2004), physiology (Larsen et al., 2012), motives (McCullough et al., 2006), behaviour (Billingsley & Losin, 2017), and relationships (Strelan et al., 2017). Not everyone experiences all these changes similarly since forgiveness is rarely a static state (Abrahamson et al., 2012). ...
... There have been relatively few studies exploring the whole process from transgression to forgiveness using in-depth interviews. Some researchers have explored factors influencing forgiveness and unforgiveness processes (Akhtar et al., 2017), children's and adolescents' narrative accounts of forgiveness and unforgiveness (Wainryb et al., 2020), and forgiveness as part of couples' reconciliation process after infidelity (Abrahamson et al., 2012). This study shows how religious and spiritual individuals' relationship and potential struggle with God affects their forgiveness process, which is important for helping them through that process. ...
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Forgiveness has a connection to religion and spirituality. Yet, little is known about how religious and spiritual people actually forgive. The present study investigated how religion and spirituality are used to make sense of forgiveness. The narratives of seven interviewees were chosen for close analysis of their experiences of forgiveness. McAdams’s life story interview method and narrative analysis were applied. Five themes were formulated: (1) forgiveness as Christian duty, (2) forgiveness as God’s miracle, (3) forgiveness through praying, (4) forgiveness through God’s sacrifice, and (5) forgiveness as God’s mercy. The findings indicate that God was important to the interviewees and supported their forgiveness process. Subthemes of revenge and justice suggest that sometimes forgiveness and revenge motives may be intertwined. Forgiveness was a divine process for the participants, and some felt that they would not have been able to forgive without God. Attributing forgiveness to God may serve the forgiveness process.
... These motivations, often stemming from emotional, psychological, and situational sources, provide insight into why individuals may be drawn to dating infidelity (Sweeney & Horwitz, 2001) (Morton & Wehman, 1995). Understanding these motivational factors is crucial for gaining a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics underlying dating infidelity within the context of modern romantic relationships (Abrahamson et al., 2012) (Aron et al., 2013). Here, we explore key motivational factors that contribute to dating infidelity: a) Emotional Fulfillment: The pursuit of emotional intimacy and connection is a significant motivational factor in dating infidelity. ...
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This research delves into the intricate dynamics of dating infidelity within the context of modern romantic relationships. By examining behaviors, motivations, consequences, challenges, and treatment interventions related to dating infidelity, this study offers a comprehensive exploration of this complex phenomenon. The findings reveal a spectrum of behaviors, ranging from emotional connections facilitated by technology to seeking sexual novelty and exploring relationships outside of primary partnerships. Motivational factors, including emotional fulfillment, sexual exploration, and dissatisfaction within the current relationship, emerge as key drivers of dating infidelity. The implications of infidelity extend beyond individuals, impacting relationship well-being and household welfare. Challenges such as communication breakdowns and unrealistic expectations hinder effective relationship dynamics. Treatment interventions, such as couples therapy, communication training, and strategies for rebuilding trust, provide a roadmap for addressing infidelity and promoting healing. This research enriches relationship science by offering insights into the evolving landscape of modern romantic connections and underscores the importance of open dialogue and communication to foster healthier and more resilient relationships.
... En el caso del infiel, la vivencia durante y después de la terapia viene matizada por reconocer sus elecciones personales y responsabilizarse de las consecuencias, como lo descrito por Johnson (2008), producto de lo cual acepta que la reparación del vínculo y la confianza debe involucrar tenacidad, paciencia, sinceridad y comprensión a su pareja. Por su parte, en infidelizados, trascender a ver la infidelidad como un error da paso a que se resalten atributos de la pareja que lo alejan de la mentira y el engaño, motivando el perdón y la reconstrucción de la relación, sin que esta comprensión y decisión de seguir juntos pretenda omitir el dolor causado o naturalizar el evento, sino aprender de lo vivido y avanzar, acorde con lo expresado por Crawley y Grant (2010) y Abrahamson et al. (2012). ...
Objetivo. Reconocer los significados y las vivencias de la infidelidad antes y después del proceso terapéutico. Metodología. Investigación cualitativa, fenomenológica hermenéutica. Se realizaron dos entrevistas semiestructuradas a tres parejas y una participante; triangulación de la información a través de un grupo de discusión con terapeutas. Resultados. La terapia facilitó la transformación de los significados; en infieles al pasar de una “ética del infiel” en tanto minimiza la infidelidad, a una postura crítica de sus actos; en infidelizados, pasó de una postura del blindaje e idealización de la pareja a comprenderla desde la fragilidad humana; ambos logran responsabilizarse, lo que permitió el tránsito de la vivencia inicial enmarcada en dolor y sensación del final de la relación, a la recuperación personal y relacional. Conclusión. La terapia es un escenario que facilita transformar el “abismo” de la infidelidad a una “grieta”, para así construir un presente y futuro más estético para ambos.
... Dropout couples also endorsed the highest rate of pre-treatment separation (23.1%), more than double that of active (5.8%) or completer (8.3%) couples. These findings support prior research that higher rates of relational negativity (Gottman & Krokoff, 1989;Gottman & Levenson, 2002) and lack of commitment (Abrahamson et al., 2012;Joel et al., 2020) predict treatment dropout and eventual relationship demise. ...
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The present study applies a Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) intervention, the Trust Revival Method (TRM), to couples' relationships following an affair, using a randomized control waitlist design. Couples (n= 84) were recruited nationally and internationally and subsequently randomized to either an immediate treatment group or a 3-week waitlist group. A 6-month post-trial follow-up was conducted for couples that completed treatment. The revised Specific Affect Coding System (Coan & Gottman, 2007) was used to code couples' interactions during a 10–15-minute conflict discussion. Significant effects were found when comparing couples' codes against treatment retention and later relationship functioning. Couples also completed various assessments three times during the study, including the 480-question Gottman Connect (GC) assessment tool. Couples on the 3-week waitlist completed one additional pre-treatment assessment before their 3-week wait commenced. Multivariate statistics with appropriate univariate follow-up procedures were employed to determine group differences between the control and experimental groups. Follow-up procedures were also conducted to investigate any differential rates of symptom reduction or treatment success. The researcher used path analysis procedures following Actor Partner Interdependence Model (APIM- Kenny et al., 2020) assumptions to examine the effects of the intervention on overall relationship satisfaction and subsequent affair recovery, revealing significant effects between assessment scores and coded behaviors. Clinical significance testing also showed significant effects in specific relationship domains. The results add to the current research literature, validating GMCT as an effective broad-based couple therapy approach to repair relationships following infidelity. Implications for clinical practice, graduate training, and research are discussed. ISBN: 9798841795896
... Here we should agree completely that monitoring -in isolation -is very unlikely to be sufficient for a couple trying to recover from an affair. For example, Abrahamson et al. (2012) suggest other vital ingredients include changing couple dynamics, understanding the meaning of the experience, forgiveness, and support, e.g., from a therapist. However -and this is an important further clarification -the claim here isn't even that isolation mixed with the kinds of contributing factors Abrahamson mention, is always sufficient for regaining trust in relationships after it is fractured. ...
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It is often taken for granted that monitoring stands in some kind of tension with trusting (e.g., Hieronymi 2008; Wanderer and Townsend 2013; Nguyen forthcoming; McMyler 2011, Castelfranchi and Falcone 2000; Frey 1993; Dasgupta 1988, Litzky et al. 2006) — especially three-place trust (i.e., A trusts B to X), but sometimes also two-place trust (i.e., A trusts B, see, e.g., Baier 1986). Using a case study involving relationship breakdown, repair, and formation, I will argue there are some ways in which monitoring can be conducive to two-place trust, and to instances of three-place trust that are likely to be repeated over time—especially when previously established two-place trust has broken down. The result, I hope, is not any kind of abandoning of the important idea that monitoring can undermine trust, but an appreciation of where the conflict between monitoring and trust doesn’t lie – one from which future work will hopefully be better positioned to illuminate where exactly the conflict is.
Infidelity is a common experience in committed relationships that can lead to significant distress for both partners. While many couples end their relationship following infidelity, a significant portion choose to stay together and attempt reconciliation. In our study, we employed constructivist grounded theory to study the process of healing from infidelity for couples who stay together. Our sample consisted of 16 heterosexual couples who experienced sexual infidelity, chose to stay together, and self-identified as having experienced meaningful healing. Couples had an average age of 27 (range = 19– 46), approximate mean length of relationship at infidelity of 3 years (median = 2 years), and approximate mean time since infidelity of 50 months (median = 24 months). We organize our results into a process model of healing that includes four stages: the revelation of the infidelity, initial reactions, stabilizing the relationship, and revitalizing the relationship. The grounded theory suggests there is a developmental progression of healing as couples jointly work to re-establish their relationship. This process includes assessing the damage, affirming commitment, establishing accountability, seeking reconnection, communicating deeply, re-establishing trust, and moving from initial to deeper forgiveness. Our results also suggest that couples’ shared history, sociocultural factors, and receipt of formal and informal support shaped how they experienced the infidelity and engaged in healing. We discuss key clinical implications of the grounded theory, especially related to the role therapy can play in facilitating healing, the importance of open communication and processing emotions, deepening forgiveness, and the reciprocal process of restoring trust.
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Infidelity in marriage has long been a problem among married men and women in Nigerian society and globally. The study explores traditional and Biblical notions of marital infidelity in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the goal of identifying some of the key reasons and effects of infidelity among Nigeria's Igbo people. For data analysis, the study used a qualitative phenomenological research design and a descriptive approach. Personal interviews were the major source of data collecting, whereas library materials including academic articles, the media and books were the secondary sources utied. According to the research, many spouses in traditional Igbo Cultural Marriage spend time away from each other for farming and other hobbies. Couples were spending more time together than normal during the Covid-19 epidemic. Domestic violence suffered during the pandemic, as a result, may have led to one partner seeking love, care, and support outside of the marriage union, culminating in infidelity. Financial uncertainty, as well as other factors such as unemployment, a lack of social support, and heightened stress, are all factors that contribute to marital infidelity during a pandemic and at other times. The study proposes that both the male and female in a marriage should have correct religious and social attitudes and dispositions in order to have a healthy and prosperous family during times such as the Covid-19 pandemic and at all times.
Infidelity is a relationship betrayal that can lead to multiple negative individual and relational outcomes. Multiple clinicians have developed practice-based models of couple healing from infidelity; however, few of these models have been systematically examined. One such model is Butler et al.’s clinical model, grounded in attachment theory and the concept of relational ambivalence. In the present study, we sought to systematically examine and refine Butler et al.’s model of couple healing from infidelity using deductive qualitative analysis of seven publicly available online blogs written by non-straying partners. Informed by the clinically based model, we generated sensitizing constructs and engaged in open, focused, and theoretical coding. Our results support several key components of the original model, while also suggesting refinements to the concept of ambivalence for straying partners as well as couple-level responses. Our results suggest that a meaningful expansion to the original model is non-straying partners’ efforts to heal individually throughout the entire healing process. We suggest clinical implications and opportunities for future research based on our analysis.
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This study aims at testing the fitness of six proposed structural models to determine the direct and indirect effects of three marital variables in each other: Emotional divorce, marital infidelity, and marital distrust for spouses in the West Bank in Palestine. Also, it aimed at discovering the levels of these marital variables and revealing the effects of gender, economic and educational levels, and marriage duration in the three marital variables. An available sample was used and it consisted of (135) spouses. Out of the six proposed structural models; two structural models were accepted. According to these models; in all cases; emotional divorce is a consequence of marital infidelity and marital distrust and the opposite is not true. Levels of all marital variables were low, Married males were more tended to marital infidelity. Lower economic and educational levels and long marriage duration had negative impacts on some marital variables. Based on the results the study presented a set of recommendations and suggestions.
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Infidelity is a common phenomenon in marriages but is poorly understood. The current study examined variables related to extramarital sex using data from the 1991-1996 General Social Surveys. Predictor variables were entered into a logistic regression with presence of extramarital sex as the dependent variable. Results demonstrated that divorce, education, age when first married, and 2 "opportunity" variables - respondent's income and work status - significantly affected the likelihood of having engaged in infidelity. Also, there were 3 significant interactions related to infidelity: (a) between age and gender, (b) between marital satisfaction and religious behavior, and (c) between past divorce and educational level. Implications of these findings and directions for future research are discussed.
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Personality and marital satisfaction may help to account for the likelihood of marital infidelity. We hypothesized that people with particularly disagreeable spouses (i.e., those low on Agreeableness) and particularly unreliable spouses (i.e., those low on Conscientiousness) will be less satisfied with their marriage, leading them to estimate a higher probability of becoming extramaritally involved in the next year. Two hundred fourteen newlyweds comprising 107 couples completed measures assessing their personality, their marital satisfaction, and their likelihood of infidelity. The results provide some evidence that personality and marital satisfaction may help to account for which marriages are likely to include infidelities and which are likely to remain faithfully intact.
One of the best ways to obtain information is through an interview. While an interview can be rather straightforward, it can also be complicated, challenging, and rewarding to both the interviewer and interviewee. Whether the interview is aimed to find out about a potential job applicant or a person’s problems or experiences, the interviewer attempts to build a story of the person through a conversational exchange that becomes a rich source for evaluation and understanding. ¹.
Is it possible that all of the social sciences could employ a common methodology? If so, what would it be? This article adresses these questions. It takes off from James Coleman’s recent book, The Foundations of Social Theory. Coleman’s social theory is built on the postulate that individuals are rational actors, the same postulate that most of modern economics is built upon. This article critiques the use of this postulate in economics, and thus questions whether it is a useful building block for the methodological foundations of social science research. It proposes an adaptive view of human behavior as an alternative in which preferences are conditioned by past experience. The work of Joseph Schumpeter is discussed as an exemplar of the methodology advocated here.
Randomly selected samples of practicing couple therapists who were members of the American Psychological Association's Division 43 or the Association for Marriage and Family Therapy completed a survey of couple problem areas and therapeutic issues encountered in couple therapy. Therapists rated problem areas in terms of occurrence, treatment difficulty, and damaging impact. A composite of these 3 dimensions suggested that the most important problems were lack of loving feelings, power struggles, communication, extramarital affairs, and unrealistic: expectations. Comparison of the findings with therapist ratings obtained by S. K. Geiss and K. D. O'Leary (1981) suggests considerable stability in presenting problems in couple therapy over the past 15 years. Therapist-generated characteris tics associated with negative outcome were also identified, the most common being partners' inability or unwillingness to change and lack of commitment.
Extramarital involvement (EMI) occurs with high prevalence among couples in clinical and community settings, frequently resulting in considerable distress both to participants and their spouses. The field lacks a synthesized review of this literature. Without such a synthesis, it has been difficult for researchers and clinicians to have an understanding of what is and is not known about EMI. This article reviews the large and scattered EMI literature using a framework that encompasses multiple source domains across the temporal process of engaging in and responding to EMI. In addition, this review delineates conceptual and methodological limitations to previous work in this area and articulates directions for further research.
Extramarital affairs are a widespread problem for coupler and for marital therapists. In this article we conceptualize affairs as interpersonal trauma and propose a multitheoretical approach for addressing characteristic responses to affairs. We also discuss how forgiveness may be a key element in promoting recovery from affairs and outline a three-stage model of forgiveness that has previously been validated by basic research. Next, we describe a marital intervention for recovery from infidelity based on a multitheoretical approach and our three-stage model of forgiveness. The treatment model consists of three stages: an "impact" stage, a "meaning" stage, and a "moving on" stage. Finally, we consider individual differences in affect and development that may moderate responses to affairs and outline additional conceptual and empirical issues directing future research.