Many things in life require people to decide between two or more options. Some decisions may be small, while others can change your life dramatically. Yet, in the end it’s how you react to your choices that makes all the difference. Recently, our research team read an article written Rosie Shrout and Dan Weigel who research romantic relationships at the University of Nevada, Reno. Their new article “Should I Stay or Should I go?” Understanding the noninvolved partner’s decision-making process following infidelity provides insight to the decision-making process of continuing or leaving an unfaithful relationship. If you have been cheated on this can be devastating emotionally, and can lead to great confusion about the future of your relationship. This topic also relates to blog post we published earlier on this website called If They Cheated Before, Will They Cheat Again?.
Following infidelity a number of different factors can play a role in the decisions an individual chooses to make. According to Shrout and Weigel (2017), “After being cheated on, noninvolved partners might assess whether their social networks (e.g., family, friends) approve of the relationship to determine how they should react.” So, if your social network suggests that you should break off the relationship, you most likely will. As explained in a blog post detailing their findings Shrout and Weigel explain:
“People then look for information that supports the expected advice from their social network. Those whose friends and family think they should continue the relationship are more likely to focus on the information that allows them to stay, such as their partners only cheated this one time or had been drinking. On the other hand, when friends and family think they should leave, people focus on the details that suggest they should break up, such as believing their partners might cheat again.”
When deciding what to do, the noninvolved partner sorts information through a cognitive process. This makes the noninvolved partner debate if this behavior will be repeated and how detrimental it will be to the relationship. Also, trying to uncover if the behavior was intentional and if the partner is at fault, leads the decision-making process to become even more tricky (Hall & Fincham, 2006). Excuses cannot justify a cheater’s behavior, but being honest could save a relationship. When someone cheats, the trust is broken and may not be repaired. Earning back someone’s trust will take some time, but if a couple works together it is not impossible.
Further, these findings illustrate the importance of information selection during noninvolved partners’ decision-making processes (Shrout & Weigel, 2017). The less people that know the better. Relationship information is not meant to be broadcasted on social media or shared with everyone in your circle. To be honest, everyone probably doesn’t want to know about what you are going through. Sure, close family and friends want to guide you and support you during the hard times, but when it becomes a pattern of telling everyone everything it can become exhausting. Not to mention, not having a clear mind to decide what steps you want to take can be dangerous.
The final factor of the decision-making process narrows to forgiveness (Gordon & Baucom, 1999; Hall & Fincham, 2006). A connection between forgiveness and relationships’ dissolution indicates that noninvolved partners who were more receptive to forgive their partners stayed in their relationships. Therefore, those who promoted conflict increased the likelihood of the relationship dissolving. Forgiveness became the key to continuing a successful relationship (Hall & Fincham, 2006). I understand with emotions not being stable it is easy to argue and blow up on your partner. However, as adults, partners should talk maturely and get to the bottom of the problem. Though the reasons may not be justified, it is helpful to understand why the event happened. Talking appropriately will improve results of the relationships and help make adjustments to prevent this behavior from happening again. The answer is never black and white, but in your heart, you will know what decision to make.
Sadly, some research has indicated that a person who cheats in a relationship is three times more likely to be unfaithful in their next relationship (Knopp et al, 2017). Research also indicates that if we have observed our father or our mother being unfaithful in their relationships, this can be impactful in our ability to commit to our own romantic relationships. Although many couples have worked through this difficult relationship issue, it is better to start off a new relationship with guidelines. If you have been cheated on before, discuss this with your partner and let them understand how that experience shaped you. Be honest and transparent with your partner from the beginning, and clearly communicate your expectations. Commitment works best when both partners are dedicated to the success of their relationship.
Moving past infidelity takes time, courage, and commitment. Many couples seek out therapy or join church groups to gain support through these difficult experiences. Let this research not discourage you, but to help remind you to take your relationship seriously. Think about your partner’s feelings, and be open and honest. Follow your heart, but at the same time be thoughtful and intentional in the decisions that you make in your relationship.
- Gordon, K. C., & Baucom, D. H. (1999). A multitheoretical intervention for promoting recovery from extramarital affairs. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 382–399. doi:10.1093/ clipsy.6.4.382
- Hall, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (2006). Relationship dissolution following infidelity: The roles of attributions and forgiveness. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 508–522. doi:10. 1521/jscp.2006.25.5.508
- Knopp, K., Ritchie, L., Rhoades, G. K., Markman, H. J., Stanley, S. M., & Scott, S. (2017). Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 8, 2301-2311.
- Schmidt, A. E., Green, M. S., Sibley, D. S., & Prouty, A. M. (2016). Effects of Parental Infidelity on Adult Children’s Relational Ethics With Their Partners: A Contextual Perspective. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 15, 3, 193-212.
- Shrout, R. M., & Weigel, D. J., (2017). Should I stay or should I go?” Understanding the noninvolved partner’s decision-making process following infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 1-21. doi: 10.1177/0265407517733335