- Post-infidelity reconciliation strategies include stressing relationship value or engaging external mediators.
- Age, gender, and personality traits significantly impact the effectiveness of these forgiveness strategies.
- The research, while insightful, has limitations due to its geographical focus and scope of examination.
People everywhere have a fundamental inclination to form close, lasting relationships, especially romantic (and often monogamous) ones. Unfortunately, the occurrence of infidelity within these connections can be just as widespread.
A recently published study by Menelaos Apostolou and Nikolaos Pediaditakis of the University of Nicosia sheds light on the intricate and varied methods people use to ask for forgiveness after an affair. In addition to analyzing the psychology of strategies for seeking forgiveness, this study also provides insight into the common human behaviors related to adultery and reconciliation.
Using a series of in-depth interviews and open-ended surveys across three studies, the researchers identified a series of common reconciliation strategies which they then confirmed using a computerized survey of 657 Greek-speaking adults. The strategies identified were:
- Participants attempted to win their partners’ forgiveness by telling them how important their relationship is, how much time they have invested in it, that the perpetrator cannot live without their spouse, etc.
- Participants “blamed the victim” by stressing that the infidelity had been caused by the spouse's emotional distancing, neglect, or even accusations of the spouse's infidelity (real or imagined.)
- Participants minimized the importance of infidelity by blaming it on alcohol, that it doesn't mean anything to them, etc.
- Participants attempted to use relatives (including their children) and friends to persuade their spouse to reconcile.
- Participants insisted that “it will never happen again” and that the infidelity was an isolated incident.
- Participants asked their spouse to help “repair” the relationship by seeking counseling from a pastor, marriage counselor, etc.
More than 40 percent of participants in a follow-up sample of 416 people said they were persuaded to forgive their unfaithful partners by at least one of these strategies. This part of the study suggests that these strategies can be highly effective, though their effectiveness is strongly influenced by sex, age, and personality traits, among other aspects.
This study is quite informative because it considers common human interactions and behaviors. It delves into the complex psychology of asking for forgiveness after adultery and touches on the universal human need to repair and preserve close, long-term relationships. In addition to offering a guide for comprehending how people go through the rough seas of adultery, it also serves as a foundation for future research on interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, there are also fundamental limitations to this research, especially since it focuses on adults living in Cyprus. As a result, it fails to examine cross-cultural differences that may fundamentally change relationship factors associated with infidelity. What's more, whether or not a couple reconciled following infidelity often ignores the actual quality and longevity of relationships post-infidelity, not to mention the emotional well-being of both partners and the overall satisfaction within the relationship.
And then there are the long-term implications on family dynamics. If children or extended family are pulled into the forgiveness-seeking process, how does that affect various relationships within the family?
With these caveats in mind, it is still essential to comprehend the psychological foundations of forgiveness and reconciliation following infidelity in a society where relationship dynamics are ever-changing. While infidelity remains a sensitive subject for people whose lives it has affected, further research is still needed into the ways in which other nations, cultures, or even individual personality characteristics impact the strategies used to ask for forgiveness and the capacity to extend it.
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Apostolou, M., & Pediaditakis, N. (2023). Forgiving infidelity: Persuasion tactics for getting a second chance. Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, 17(4), 381–392. https://doi.org/10.1037/ebs0000309