How men and women forgive infidelity

Newswise – Infidelity is one of the most common reasons straight couples break up. Researchers who examined 160 different cultures find that this is true worldwide.

However, men and women view different types of infidelity differently.

Men usually consider physical infidelity – when the partner has sex with another person – more seriously than women.

Women consider emotional infidelity – when the partner starts a close relationship with another person – more serious.

Although men and women experience different types of infidelity differently, they are roughly equally ready to forgive their partner. And the new knowledge shows that the degree of forgiveness is not related to the type of infidelity.

“We are surprised that the differences between the sexes were not greater. The mechanisms underlying forgiveness are more or less identical between the sexes,” says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of the Institute of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Technology (NTNU).

He co-authored a new article in the Journal of Relationships Research. The article looks at infidelity and the mechanisms behind forgiveness.

A research group at NTNU recruited 92 couples for the study. These couples independently completed a questionnaire about problems described in hypothetical scenarios in which the partner had been unfaithful in various ways.

One scenario describes how the partner has sex with another person but does not fall in love.

In the other scenario, the partner falls in love with another person but does not have sex.

How willing are people to forgive their partner? It turns out that both men and women process their partner’s infidelity almost identically.

Most people, regardless of gender or type of infidelity, find it unlikely that they will forgive their partner’s infidelity.

“Whether the couple breaks up or not depends primarily on how threatening the relationship is, which they perceive as infidelity,” says lead author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Psychology.

The more threatening the infidelity feels, the worse it is for the relationship.

Whether partners believe that the relationship can continue also depends on how willing they are to forgive each other, especially to avoid distancing themselves from their partner.

Of course, there are also great individual differences within each gender. People react differently to infidelity depending on their personality and circumstances.

“Many people may think that couples who have a strong relationship are more tolerant of infidelity, but that was not indicated in our study,” says Professor Mons Bendixen of the NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

Another aspect plays a role in emotional infidelity in which no sex has taken place. To what extent can the unfaithful partner be held responsible for what happened?

If you willingly have sex with another person, it doesn’t matter whether you feel like it’s your fault.

“The level of guilt attributed to the partner was related to forgiveness,” says Bendixen.

The relationship is at greater risk when the partner bears much of the responsibility for getting into an intimate relationship with someone else.

“The guilt factor doesn’t come into play when the partner is physically unfaithful,” says Grøntvedt.

If you are voluntarily having sex with someone other than your partner, it is more or less irrelevant whether you think it was mainly your fault or not. Possible forgiveness does not depend on accepting guilt.


Source: Separation probability after hypothetical sexual or emotional infidelity: Perceived threat, guilt and forgiveness. Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and Mons Bendixen.

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