UMKC study: Forgiveness can overcome infidelity

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Family Law on Thursday, May 1, 2014.

A recent study from the University of Missouri-Kansas City offers hope for married couples considering divorce because of a spouse’s infidelity — if the spouse who remained faithful to the marriage can find it in himself or herself to forgive the other.

Marital infidelity is a common cause of family law disputes for the straightforward reason that it strikes at the heart of why the couple committed to marry in the first place. It also inflicts a deeply personal emotional wound that can make forgiveness of the cheating spouse difficult. But aside from improving the prospects of salvaging the marriage, the university study also found that the ability to truly forgive a cheating spouse may also contain a second, deeper benefit: the marriage can actually become stronger.

This seemingly counter-intuitive side effect actually has a scientific name: post-traumatic growth, or PTG. The researchers behind the study describe PTG as a process of “intrapersonal” struggle, which suggests that — unlike an interpersonal experience shared by two or more people — like the forgiveness itself, the process of strengthening of the relationship comes from within the wronged spouse.

In fact, the study concluded that striving for forgiveness is the key factor to saving a relationship threatened by cheating. It is more powerful than the passage of time, the expression of commitment or the search for satisfaction with the relationship. Forgiveness is, effectively, the foundation on which not only recovery of a marriage, but the strengthening of it may be realized.

Forgiveness is not, of course, a panacea that will always work to save a marriage threatened by infidelity. Spousal infidelity may be symptomatic of other factors undercutting the relationship, and in cases of serial cheating it may be better for the wronged spouse to explore family law options instead of gambling on whether serial forgiveness will work.

But for couples considering marital dissolution based on a single instance of cheating, the study offers evidence that working toward forgiveness may be a way not only to avoid divorce, but even to improve the marriage itself.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Study Says Forgiveness Matters Most When Overcoming Infidelity,” Taryn Hillin, April 24, 2014

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