Ashley Madison and the psychology of cheating and apologizing

Posted on August 25, 2015

Infidelity is perceived as the ultimate relationship-destroyer, and for good reason. Oftentimes, it is - and certainly, at least some of the time it should be. But that doesn't mean it always has to be. Most people can probably think of at least one couple they know that has not only survived an affair but seems to have come out of the ordeal stronger and more in love than they were before it happened, and the research backs that anecdotal evidence.

But the less-understood part is - why? What factors predict the likelihood that a couple will not only make it through the affair but that they'll actually experience emotional growth because of it?

The answer is simple, but not at all easy. True forgiveness is the only reliable path the research has found to lead to posttraumatic growth, meaning the positive psychological change that sometimes occurs after someone experiences an emotional trauma -- you might think of this as the opposite of posttraumatic stress. And by forgiveness, the researchers don't mean a onetime muttering of "apology accepted" through gritted teeth.

"In this model, forgiveness is an ongoing process that takes time, rather than a distinct event," write Ashley Heintzelman and a team of psychologists at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, in a in a 2014 paper published in the journal Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice. It's hard work, in other words, but it is possible to emerge from the experience stronger than you were before.

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Category(s):Infidelity, Relationships & Marriage

Source material from CNN