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“Should I stay or should I go?” Understanding the noninvolved partner’s decision-making process following infidelity

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Abstract

Two studies were conducted to test a conceptual model that expands upon the roles of attribution and forgiveness after a partner’s infidelity by integrating concepts from social network approval and attribution information selection (AIS) to examine how noninvolved partners in dating relationships decide to stay in or leave their relationships. Using a serial mediation model, we examined whether perceived social network approval was indirectly related to noninvolved partners’ relationship decisions sequentially through AIS, attributions, and forgiveness after a hypothetical infidelity (Study 1) and an actual infidelity (Study 2). In Study 1, 198 participants imagined their partners cheated on them and then were randomly assigned into one of two groups for a social network manipulation. In Study 2, 115 participants whose partners had recently engaged in infidelity reported on their experiences. Both studies supported the serial decision-making model, indicating that perceived social network approval, AIS, attributions, and forgiveness serially impact noninvolved partners’ relationship decisions following infidelity.

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... There are individual differences in how people respond to infidelity. The scorned party may selectively choose information about the infidelity that is either threatening or conciliatory to the relationship (Shrout & Weigel, 2019). In turn, such information can affect how they perceive key elements of the transgression, such as the relative role of internal and external causes, and to what extent the transgressor should be held responsible and blamed for what has happened. ...
... Further, Hall and Fincham (2006) reported that level of internal forgiveness fully accounted for the association between blaming partner and relationship dissolution. The mediating effect of forgiveness on relationship dissolution is also supported in a recent study on the effect of partner blame and forgiveness after either (1) hypothetical sexual infidelity (a vignette describing a scenario), or after (2) actual infidelity (emotional, sexual, or both; Shrout & Weigel, 2019). In line with findings from Hall and Fincham (2006), the individuals who made more internal attributions (blaming the transgressor) also reported less forgiveness and more certainty in ending the relationship following the hypothetical sexual infidelity scenario. ...
... As in the hypothetical scenarios study, a higher proportion of participants who blamed their partner more and who were less forgiving had decided to leave the relationship following the experienced infidelity (but the effect of blame on breakup was accounted for by forgiveness). Despite being hypothetical, the infidelity scenario in Shrout and Weigel (2019) was rated as realistic, and the participants rated the likelihood of breakup following the hypothetical scenario as high. These findings further suggest that the mechanisms that come into play are very similar for hypothetical and actual infidelity. ...
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Infidelity represents a major threat to relationships, often resulting in dissolution of couples. The process from infidelity to potential breakup was studied in 92 couples using questionnaires concerning hypothetical scenarios of sexual and emotional infidelity. Structural equation model analyses using couple data for both infidelity types suggest that the level of perceived threat to the relationship was the main predictor of likelihood of breakup for men and women. Following each type of imagined infidelity, this effect was partly mediated by forgiveness. For emotional infidelity, level of blame was associated with forgiveness and breakup. The effect of blame on breakup was fully mediated by keeping less distance. The mechanisms involved in these processes were highly similar for women and men.
... Some of the negative effects that arise due to infidelity in a family is a decline in mental health directly in the form of anxiety, chronic level jealousy for one partner who is a victim of infidelity [22], stress to depression or indirect impact in the form of self-blame [23], [24]. Infidelity also results in unhappy marriages [25] and lack of clarity in a relationship between husband and wife [17], where the existence of marital ties but both material and immaterial are not fulfilled by couples who should have responsibility. ...
... Regardless of whether a marriage continues or is terminated, forgiveness can help noninvolved partners cope with stress caused by infidelity and its aftermath (Hall & Fincham, 2006), and benefit their physical and mental health (Braithwaite, Fincham, & Lambert, 2009;Gordon & Baucom, 1998;Witvliet & McCullough, 2007). Although great strides have been made in forgiveness research, only a few empirical studies have investigated forgiveness after spousal infidelity in romantic relationships (Hall & Fincham, 2006;Shrout & Weigel, 2017) and in a marital context (for a review, see Pentel, Baucom, Gordon, & Snyder, 2017). In addition, among the small number of studies on forgiveness after spousal infidelity, most of them involve case studies with small sample sizes (e.g., Gordon et al., 2004;Olson et al., 2002). ...
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To examine whether spouses' attributions for events in their marriage are related to their behavior in interaction, spouses were asked to report their marital quality, to make attributions for marital difficulties, and to engage in problem-solving discussions. Study 1 demonstrated that spouses' maladaptive attributions were related to less effective problem-solving behaviors, particularly among wives. Study 2 showed that spouses' maladaptive attributions were related to higher rates of negative behavior and, for wives, to increased tendencies to reciprocate negative partner behavior. In both studies attributions and behavior tended to be more strongly related for distressed than nondistressed wives. These results support social-psychological models that posit that attributions are related to behavior and models of marriage and close relationships that assume that maladaptive attributions contribute to conflict behavior and relationship dysfunction.
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A brief, simple measure of different types of attributions for partner behavior was examined in 3 studies of married couples. Reliability was established by high internal consistency and test-retest correlations. Causal and responsibility attribution scores correlated with marital satisfaction, attributions for marital difficulties, and attributions for actual partner behaviors generated by spouses. Responsibility attributions were related to (a) reported anger in response to stimulus behaviors used in the measure and (b) the amount of anger displayed by wives during a problem-solving interaction with their partner. The extent to which husbands and wives whined during their discussion also correlated with their responsibility attributions. The results address several problems with existing assessments, and their implications for the measurement of attributions in marriage are discussed.
Article
Forgiving is a motivational transformation that inclines people to inhibit relationship-destructive responses and to behave constructively toward someone who has behaved destructively toward them. The authors describe a model of forgiveness based on the hypothesis that people forgive others to the extent that they experience empathy for them. Two studies investigated the empathy model of forgiveness. In Study 1, the authors developed measures of empathy and forgiveness. The authors found evidence consistent with the hypotheses that (a) the relationship between receiving an apology from and forgiving one's offender is a function of increased empathy for the offender and (b) that forgiving is uniquely related to conciliatory behavior and avoidance behavior toward the offending partner. In Study 2, the authors conducted an intervention in which empathy was manipulated to examine the empathy-forgiving relationship more closely. Results generally supported the conceptualization of forgiving as a motivational phenomenon and the empathy-forgiving link.
Intimate relationships, marriages, and families
  • M K Degenova
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Norms about relationships
  • P E Etcheverry
Etcheverry, P. E. (2009). Norms about relationships. In H. T. Reis & S. Sprecher (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human relationships. (Vol. 1., pp. 1165-1168). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
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