For many couples infidelity can be the final nail in the coffin for their relationship, in fact researchers who have studied 160 different cultures have found it is one of the most common reasons that heterosexual couples break up.
The research revealed there’s a gender disparity between how men and women view different types of betrayal.
Men usually regard physical infidelity, when the partner has sex with another person, more seriously than women do.
For women, emotional infidelity, when the partner initiates a close relationship with another person, is viewed as more serious.
Interestingly, however, despite differing opinions on the varying types of infidelity, both genders are equally as willing (or unwilling) to forgive their partner.
What’s more, the extent of the forgiveness is actually not related to the type of betrayal committed.
The new findings, published in the Journal of Relationships Research, looked into the different types of infidelity and the factors behind forgiveness.
A research team at at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) analysed the responses of 92 participants, who were quizzed about their feelings towards hypothetical scenarios where their partner had been unfaithful in various ways.
The different examples of cheating ranged from having sex with another person but not falling in love, to falling in love with someone else without having sex.
Results revealed that while men and women viewed certain types of infidelity in different ways, men and women both process their partner’s infidelity in almost identical ways.
“We’re surprised that the differences between the sexes weren’t greater,” says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, from the department of psychology at NTNU.
“The mechanisms underlying forgiveness are more or less identical between genders,” he adds.
Turns out that most of us think it’s unlikely we would forgive our other half’s indiscretions, no matter what form that indiscretion took.
But whether the relationship would be able to survive the betrayal depends on how “threatening” it feels.
“Whether or not the couple breaks up depends primarily on how threatening to the relationship they perceive the infidelity to be,” says first author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychology.
Whether partners stay together post-infidelity also depends on how willing they are to forgive each other, particularly in terms of distancing themselves from the third party involved in the betrayal.
The study authors point out that gender isn’t the only factor impacting how people react to infidelity, with personality and the circumstances also having a role to play.
The blame game
When partners had committed emotional infidelity, the study authors found the degree of blame attributed to the partner was linked to the willingness to forgive.
But when it comes to physical infidelity, blame isn’t considered to be a real factor in the decision about whether to forgive.
“The blame factor doesn’t come into play when the partner is physically unfaithful,” Grøntvedt adds.
And if you think about it, that totally makes sense. If you willingly have sex with another person, it pretty much doesn’t matter whether you feel it’s your fault or not.
Whether your other half chooses to forgive you or not, therefore, really doesn’t depend on you accepting the blame.