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To Forgive or to Leave: Is a Happy Life Possible After an Infidelity?

26.08.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

At the beginning of a relationship, we rarely think about the fact that someday we will have to solve the question: how to forgive an infidelity? When feelings are at their peak, cheating seems unbelievable. But, unfortunately, such situations happen with many couples.
Pain. Resentment. Fury. This is the first thing a person feels when he/she learns about the betrayal of a loved one. Consciousness refuses to accept a new reality. But when the first wave of a storm of emotions subsides, a person faces a choice how to live on. In this article, we will talk about where the boundaries between the concepts of infidelity and betrayal go, which makes men and women follow the temptations, whether it is possible to forgive an infidelity and what to do if it repeats over and over again.


  1. What can be considered an infidelity?
  2. Infidelity and betrayal: is there a difference?
  3. Reasons for infidelity
  4. 5 questions to figure out whether to forgive the infidelity of a loved one
  5. How to survive an infidelity and continue to live
  6. Revenge will not help
  7. How to let it go and forgive without self-cheating 
  8. Hacking the system: we solve the problem of constant infidelity

What can be considered an infidelity?

what is considered treason
First, let’s try to understand the concept of infidelity. Someone sees it only in regular intimate relationships outside of a permanent relationship with a partner. Someone will say that it cannot be where there is no marriage. For someone, frivolous correspondence or even a prolonged conversation with an attractive colleague after a corporate party will be considered an infidelity. Different points of view on the fact of betrayal can even be within a couple. What seems to one partner to be completely innocent behavior sometimes hurts another.
Why is it so difficult to determine the boundaries of infidelity? One of the reasons for this can be considered the development of civil society and law. Quite recently, by historical standards, infidelity was recognized as a crime in European countries. According to the Civil Code of Napoleon, the wife’s infidelity gave her husband grounds for divorce. Male infidelity was considered such only if the husband brought his lover into the house. The difference in relation to female and male adultery was associated with consanguinity and inheritance procedure. A man who doubts his wife’s loyalty could not be sure that his property would be inherited by his own child. [1]
In modern secular states, the law does not regulate issues of marital fidelity, giving citizens the right to independently decide what they consider to be a good reason for divorce. The emancipation and increasing contribution of women to family welfare removed the urgency of the question of inheritance. Marriage is no longer the only socially approved opportunity to lead an intimate life. The advent of gadgets gives more options for secret flirting outside the couple. This led to the fact that today every couple interprets the concepts of infidelity and betrayal for themselves. However, it often happens that such issues are simply not discussed in a couple. At the dawn of falling in love, there is a feeling of unconditional unity of opinion on all issues, and it may seem that close relationships by default imply loyalty.
Perhaps the only interpretation of the concept of infidelity, which does not cause contradictions as related to the actual action, is a sexual intimacy of a married person with a person outside of the marriage. In other cases, a betrayal can be considered a violation of obligations in relation to the partner established in mutual agreements.

Infidelity and betrayal: is there a difference?

Much depends on what the relationships between partners are based on. For some, relationships are a profitable project from the point of view of economic coexistence (it is convenient to rent housing together, share costs on products), and a family is a project on raising children and accumulating property.

A political scientist and business coach Irina Khakamada, speaking in an interview on the YouTube channel “Tender Editor” about her relationship with her fourth spouse, openly admitted that each can calmly cheat. The partners agreed on this at the dawn of the relationship.

“We have a partner marriage: he is free, and so am I. But we exist together, because we both enjoy it”, Irina said. [2]

We can conclude that infidelity can both be a betrayal and not if the partners deliberately discussed this possibility. But this example is rather an exception to the generally accepted paradigm of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Another approach to understanding betrayal is related to an internal sense of attachment to a partner. The issue of attachment is key to our sense of self and our sense of security. And security is everyone’s basic need. For our well-being, we all need a reliable and secure attachment. Flirtation, long-lasting correspondence, an affair – all that threatens the security. Therefore, many painfully perceive the loss of an emotional connection with a partner, which inevitably follows any connection with a person outside the couple, and regard it as a betrayal.

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Reasons for infidelity

relationship after infidelity

“Can I forgive my boyfriend’s infidelity? Misha and I have been together already for 1 year. Recently, everything was fine until friends told me that after work he went to the café almost every day with his colleague. And he told me that there was more business at work, and he was forced to come home very late. When I directly asked him what kind of relationship they had, he asked me a counter-question: “You and I are not married, what right do you have to ask about this?” I was completely lost and did not know what should I say in return. Today it turned out that things were not limited to going to the café only. It’s too painful for me”.

– Angelina, 28 

The situation faced by Angelina is familiar to many. Of course, not all men are ready to express their positions so openly as her partner Mikhail. But a denial of responsibility and relationships with occasional partners during a period of prolonged cohabitation, unfortunately, becomes a trend. In society, the joint living of a man and a woman without official registration of marriage is already considered an entirely acceptable form of relationship (46% of Russians, and 56% of unmarried people consider this normal).
At the same time, 85% of men living in a civil marriage consider themselves single, and only 8% of women consider themselves unmarried. [3] However, for many, officially registered relations do not become an obstacle to external relations. Why is this happening?

Why do men cheat?

“I cheat because I do not want to miss my chance. Nature has rewarded me with extraordinary masculine power; one wife is not enough for me. Who knows how much is left for me to be a real man? Maybe tomorrow I will not need all this, maybe in a week or ten years, if I’m lucky. While I have the strength, I will do to the maximum, and then will have a rest in my cool matrimonial bed. The wife knows, of course, she does not like it. But I think she has no particular torment on “forgiving husband’s infidelity”. She has everything: house, money, car, I provided her all this, I give gifts that she wants. She is very dependent on me. She knows that if she begins to fight with me, I will find a replacement for her very quickly – there are more than enough candidates for her place”.

– Victor, 42 

In our society there is a stereotype that “all men cheat”. This simple “commandment” in many families, where forgiveness of infidelity of a husband is considered a natural norm, is passed down the female line from generation to generation. And there are reasons for this: long decades of post-war demographic imbalance forced some women to hold on to husbands, protect them and forgive infidelities, and some – to  become lovers. The structure of life, the well-being and safety of the family depended on the man. The existence of this stereotype seems to relieve men of the responsibility for misconduct, forcing them to submissively surrender to the polygamous nature. But cheating is a choice. Each choice has reasons and motives.
We will give some typical examples, but there certainly can be more.

1. The ability to increase self-esteem

Even the most confident men sometimes need to find a confirmation of their masculinity and attractiveness. In a relationship on the side, a man feels a surge of vitality, receives a lot of compliments about his masculinity, reliability and attentiveness. It is possible that at the same time his behavior in relation to the new passion is not very different from that in his marriage. But the spouse already takes it for granted, ceasing to value and pay attention to that.
2. Thirst for an adventure.

Sometimes a man needs to feel the risk of exposure, provoking bursts of adrenaline. Such behavior manifests itself in conditions of tight control by the spouse. The man perceives this as a challenge to his ingenuity and resourcefulness and inwardly triumphs when he succeeds in a “glorious affair”.

3. Infidelity as an antidepressant

Everyone is in need for a stress relief. But a man is less likely to admit psychological problems. In an attempt to cheer himself up and break out of the daily work-home routine, he would rather begin to lead a secret life than seek a help of a specialist.

4. The ability to try on a different role

As a rule, such a desire also arises in conditions of total control in the family. It’s more difficult for a man to accept others’ rules, it’s easier to dictate his own. And he finds a place where he can establish them – next to another woman. Infidelity becomes a form of expression of freedom.
5. The crisis of the middle age or “there is no fool to the old fool”

Awareness of the old age approaching is frightening not only for women, but also for men. A man after 40 can have an affair with a young girl in order to relive the whirlwind of emotions that he experienced 20 years ago. Next to her, it seems to him that so much is still possible in life, and his energy is endless.

Why do women cheat?

why women cheat

“My husband is a biochemist, very passionate about his work, practically never being at home. We met at the institute. I literally listened to his every word and thought that I was the happiest one, because he chose me. Now we have two children, both already adults. We are still interested to be together: we travel a lot, discuss books, watch arthouse movies. But he is intellectual, my feelings are not interesting to him, he is also silent about his own.

My first lover appeared shortly after the birth of my eldest son. I wanted to feel loved again, and my husband was completely absorbed in his research project. Then I realized that I could get attention from other men, which I lack from my husband. Does my spouse know about my double life? I do not know. I think it doesn’t interest him”.

– Lyudmila, 49 

The motives of female and male adultery are somewhat similar. A woman is pushed onto a curved path by the loss of mutual interest between partners, a feeling of dissatisfaction, or resentment. We describe a few typical situations, but in specific cases, everything can be much more complicated and confusing.
1. Indifference of the spouse

After several joint years of life in a relationship, romanticism is becoming less and less, attempts of courtship are coming to naught. For a man, this seems logical and legitimate, because he has already realized his hunter’s instinct. But a woman can stop feeling desirable and may go where she will be given attention again.
2. Tiredness of routine

Each day becomes a series of repeated situations: breakfast on the run, work, household chores and taking care of children, quick dinner, sofa, TV, sleep. In such cases, they say that “the love boat is broken at everyday’s routine”. A woman decides to cheat in order to make her life diverse.

3. Jealous husband

Constant outbreaks of jealousy, total control and improper suspicions on the part of the spouse do not foster more interest in him. On the contrary, in a woman who did not even think about adultery, a reverse reaction may occur. She begins to look for an opportunity to “justify” the accusations imposed on her, acting on the principle “you invented it – I’ll do it”. Such a desire can be both intentional and unconscious.

4. Physical dissatisfaction

The physiology of a woman is such that it is more difficult for her to reach the highest point of pleasure in an intimacy than for a man. The question becomes more acute if the partner is not the most sophisticated lover, behaves selfishly in bed and does not show much attention to his lady.

5. A way to avenge offense

Everyone tends to be angry and resentful of a partner. Continuous, even small, grievances can develop into mutual dissatisfaction. This is a direct way for a woman to go looking for happiness and understanding elsewhere. “You never listen to what I say”, she says, and finds solace in the arms of her lover, ready to listen to her and support her.The reason for a betrayal in marriage by both a woman and a man can be a crisis of relations after 5-7 years of marriage. Spouses suddenly begin to feel like strangers, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to find common topics for conversation, there is no satisfaction in bed. But they do not file for divorce for the sake of children or for some other reasons. In this situation, betrayal may seem the easiest and most logical way to end a relationship that has exhausted itself. Sometimes such logic may arise even unconsciously.

5 questions to figure out whether to forgive the infidelity of a loved one

is it worth forgiving betrayal

“A banal story happened to me: I was the last to know about my husband’s infidelity. It turned out that his relationship on the side has been going on for 2 years. He says that he was not going to leave the family, he wanted to end the relationship before I find out about that He asks not to file for a divorce, but to help deal with this situation. Is it worth forgiving a husband’s infidelity?”

– Margarita, 25 

The question of whether to forgive infidelity, everyone who had to deal with such a situation, decides for himself/herself in an own way. Someone cannot allow any thought of continuing the relationship after such a disaster. Someone decides to forgive the infidelity and save the family. If you are faced with an infidelity by a partner, no stranger will be able to give unambiguous advice and guarantees for a happy continuation of the story. In this situation, it is important to take care of yourself and honestly answer the following questions.

1.What feelings do you have for your partner?

Infidelity always highlights couple’s shaky “health”, for which both partners are responsible. Think about the reasons that led you to this event. Do you really love and feel the pain of losing contact with your loved one? Or are you more worried about wounded pride? Is it possible that you have lost mutual feelings, and in these circumstances, the partner only made the first move to play the final game? 

2. What happens if you do this?

Infidelity divides the life of the couple into “before” and “after”. Perhaps you have examples of how friends and acquaintances who have forgiven infidelity are living. Think about how your life together will change, what rules you will set for each other. If there are children in the family, think about how the decision will affect them. But do not accept it, thinking only about the well-being of children. Happy, though divorced, parents are needed for children rather than unhappy, but living under one roof.

3. What happens if you do not?

Think about how you continue living outside of relationships. At this stage, many fears may arise, because much, if not all, will have to be changed. But fears should not become the determining factor in the decision. Try to see the opportunities that new life will open for you.

4. Are you able to forgive?

Life after the infidelity is a new distorted reality. Be prepared for the fact that in the first year, and possibly for many years, flashbacks will follow you. From time to time you will feel the same anger and despair as in the minute when you just learned about the infidelity. Anything could be the reason: the headline of a magazine, a book or a movie in which a speech about extramarital affairs suddenly comes up. You will begin to scroll in your head all that you have experienced. All bodily sensations, as well as the anger and pain that you experienced at the time of the sad discovery, will instantly return to you.
This reaction is understandable: your psyche is trying to recover, which provokes sudden intrusions of unpleasant memories. The question is whether you have the courage and self-control not to remind the partner about this event and not to hold him in the grip of guilt.

5. Is the partner capable of evaluating the depth of your action?

An important point in finding answers to questions about how to forgive infidelity and live on. Think about whether a partner needs your sacrifice? Does he/she repent of his/her action or pushes you to a decision, perhaps the most difficult and serious in your life? Can this happen again?
Read also the advice of a psychologist on how to forgive a husband’s infidelity.

How to survive infidelity and continue to live

“Recently I learned from my wife that she cheated on me with some guy for three months. Now she says that their relationship has already ended, and she is disgusted for herself and her act. I realized that she loves me and our child. How to forgive the infidelity of my wife?”

– Vladislav, 35 

A clinical psychologist Janice Abrams Spring is the author of the book “After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful” has been advising couples in crisis for over thirty years. She believes that it is possible to survive the infidelity and stay together, but on the circumstance that everyone is ready to honestly look at himself/herserlf and the partner and acquire the skills that will be required to see himself/herself in the fog of the crisis. [4]
In the process of overcoming the crisis of relationships, Janice sees three stages.. 

Stage one: bring feelings back to normal

When the betrayal is revealed, a hurricane of emotions picks up both: the injured partner is tormented by a sense of injustice and loss, the unfaithful one suffers the torment of choice and experiences a conflict of passions. It will take time for the senses to subside and cool.

Stage two: decide: reunite or separate

Both partners need to resolve the controversial issue of leaving or staying. Having worked out all the options, everyone should make a deliberate decision based on individual circumstances and needs.

Stage three: restore relations or recover
If partners decide to reunite, it will take months, if not years, to restore trust and closeness to the relationship. Separately, the path does not promise to be easy as well. But having found harmony with oneself, everyone will be able to recover from the consequences of infidelity. [4]

Revenge will not help

In the heat of emotions and in the hope of a quick relief from pain, you may want to take revenge: have an adultery in response with a random guy or girl, give the partner an act of publicity, raise shame among friends and relatives, spoil things, car, equipment, etc. These methods will help temporarily throw out anger and resentment, but, most likely, exclude the ability to maintain and restore relations.

How to let it go and forgive without self-cheating

What to do if you recovered from the first shock associated with the partner’s infidelity, but time passes and the pain does not go away? You are afraid that you can never forget, forgive betrayal to a loved one, and that the relationship will never be as good and calm as it once was. You doubt that you made the right choice by deciding to continue the relationship. Try to adopt the advice of a family psychologist and psychotherapist Andrew J. Marshall on how to forgive infidelity without deceiving yourself. [6]

Accept your feelings

Do not blame yourself for not being able to magically leave memories in the past and live on, as if nothing of the kind had happened. Perhaps cheating was the biggest shock in your life. There is nothing surprising in the fact that the pain keeps returning, and you still can’t come to terms with what happened.

Work on your thoughts

Many feelings arise as a result of obsessive thoughts. People tend to believe everything that an inner voice broadcasts, as the ultimate truth. But often the unconscious connects events from different life periods to provide us with irrefutable evidence that the situation is catastrophic. Keep a diary or consult a psychologist – this will help you understand your thoughts and feelings. 

Think what memories of infidelity give you

Memoirs of infidelity come back for a reason. Most likely, they are trying to tell you that some issues in the relationship have remained unresolved. For example, your sex life has become less bright or you have less time to devote to joint leisure. As long as you continue to ignore these signals, the unconscious will send them again and again.

Do not expect the impossible from a partner

It may seem fair that after the forgiveness of cheating in gratitude for this, you will receive many times more attention, the partner will change and become a different person. But do not overestimate. Try to accept in your partner not only strengths, but also disadvantages.

Do not demand the impossible from yourself

At some point you may be overwhelmed by shame for being cheated on you. You will conclude that you are not good enough, since this happened. You will feel awkward for outbursts of anger. As a result, you will try to become perfect for the partner in everything. Of course, it is worth aiming to become the best version of yourself. But the right to flaws should also be reserved. [6]

What to do in order the situation would not happen again

People who cheat often say that in a relationship with a lover, they are looking for those emotions and feelings that they can no longer get in a marriage. Therefore, from time to time, a “revision” of relations should be carried out: talk heart to heart, be honest with each other, discussing spiritual and intimacy matters. Set the boundaries of what is permitted, agree on what forms of communication with the opposite sex are unacceptable, since they pose a threat to well-being in your couple.
Try not to discuss what happened with strangers and not to return to this episode in communication with your other half. And do not be stingy in your feelings: take care, attention, often point out what you like about your partner, for which you value him/her.

Hacking the system: we solve the problem of constant infidelity

why do we change

The tendency to constant infidelity can be not just the partner’s irresponsibility, but a psychological problem. And the point here is not in the contradictions within the couple, but in a stable model of behavior. In such situations, the solution to the problem is facilitated by a deep and focused work with attitudes that push the partner to infidelity.

The problem of pathological adultery can be solved with the help of the  the 7Spsy behavior modification technique. This is a patented method based on the theories of the founders of behavioral psychology. Using this method, you can change the learned model of behavior and come to a conscious understanding that all needs can be met in marriage without destroying the family. The work is carried out under the guidance of a psychologist remotely and individually, without the presence of the second partner.
The specialist will do everything that depends on him/her to help change the system of attitudes. The successful result of the course depends on the desire of one partner to change and the willingness of the second to support the loved one.

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  1. Regulirovanie brachno-semejnyh otnoshenij po Kodeksu Napoleona 1804 g. (https://students-library.com/library/read/71088-regulirovanie-bracno-semejnyh-otnosenij-po-kodeksu-napoleona-1804g).
  2. «On svoboden, ya tozhe». Irina Hakamada rasskazala, chto u nih s muzhem «otkrytyj brak» i oni davno dogovorilis, chto mogut drug drugu izmenyat (https://rep.ru/articles/11622-on-svoboden-ya-tozhe-irina-hakamada-rasskazala-chto-u-nih-s-chetvertim-muzhem-otkritij-brak-i-oni-davno-dogovorilis-chto-mogut-drug-drugu-izmenyat/).
  3. Brak i sozhitelstvo: stavim znak tozhdestva? (https://wciom.ru/index.php).
  4. Perezhit izmenu: menya presleduyut fleshbeki (http://www.psychologies.ru/articles/perejit-izmenu-menya-presleduyut-fleshbeki/).
  5. Spring D. A., «Posle izmeny. Kak zalechit bol i vozrodit doverie, kogda partner vam izmenil», Centrpoligraf, 2014 g.
  6. Perezhit izmenu: pyat spasitelnyh priemov (http://www.psychologies.ru/standpoint/perejit-izmenu-pyat-spasitelnyih-tehnik/).