Men and Women Process their Partner’s Infidelity Almost Identically
Mon, April 19, 2021

Men and Women Process their Partner’s Infidelity Almost Identically


Cheating is a scary word. It can shake the foundation of the most secure relationship or marriage and is one of the most common reasons why couples break up. Unfortunately, the number of people committing infidelity has not yet declined. While studies have shown that there is a gender difference as to who cheats more, this is not observed in terms of willingness to forgive. A new study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology researchers found that men and women process their partner’s infidelity almost identically.

The willingness to forgive

Both men and women are equally willing to forgive the cheating partner. However, the degree of forgiveness is not associated with the type of infidelity. Men often view physical infidelity, when their partner have sex with another person, more seriously than women.  On the other hand, women regard emotional infidelity, when their partner initiates a close relationship with another person, as more serious.

Co-author Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair from NTNU’s Department of Psychology told Medical Xpress that they were surprised that the differences between men and women were not greater. To come up with such findings, the team studied 92 couples using questionnaires concerning hypothetical scenarios of emotional and sexual infidelity. One scenario shows that the partner falls in love with another person but does not have sex while the other scenario describes a partner not falling in love with another person but have sex.

When asked how willing they are to forgive their partner, both sexes process the infidelity the same way. Regardless of the type of infidelity or gender, men and women think it is unlikely that they would forgive their partner. Whether or not it would result in the dissolution of their relationship would depend on how threatening to the relationship the perceived cheating to be.

When will it lead to a breakup?

First author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt explains that the more threatening the infidelity the cheating feels to the other person, the worse it would be for their relationship. It also depends on how willing the couple can forgive each other if they want to continue the relationship. Nevertheless, there remain great individual differences within each gender. This is because people react to infidelity differently, based on the circumstances and personality.

Professor Mons Bendixen said that many people may think that couples with strong relationships can better tolerate cheating but this was not observed in their study.

The blame factor

The study also highlighted blame, especially when no sex with another person has taken place. Prof. Bendixen went on to say that the degree of blame attributed to the partner was associated with the wiliness to forgive. The relationship would be at risk of dissolution if the partner is obliged to bear the big part of why one ended up in an intimate relationship with another person. However, this blame factor was not observed when one is physically unfaithful. More or less, it becomes irrelevant whether one thinks it was their fault or not why their partner has sex with another person. The possible forgiveness does not rely on accepting the blame.

Surviving infidelity

Social scientist Lucio Buffalmano, who is a member of the American Psychological Association, said that discovering an affair is not easy. It could be a traumatic event, and to heal properly, the solution is not to detach oneself from his or her partner or to move on without the partner’s help. He details that when a betrayed partner corners the unfaithful partner, the cheater will respond in four different ways. One is denial, which will only make the recovery difficult as it further erodes trust. Second is stonewalling but this refusal to communicate shows that one doesn’t care enough to reply. The cheater may also respond through staggered disclosures that only drag the pain further and lastly, full honesty.



Buffalmano, who was not involved in the NTNU study, believe that full honesty is the “only way to go” to rebuild the trust. Nobody says it is going to be easy but the betrayed partner can make things easier for the unfaithful partners by avoiding name-calling, getting overly aggressive, and saying things that could scar the relationship. It is normal to be angry but launching the worst offenses will push the partner into a more stonewalling and denials, delaying full revelation and possible recovery.

After a clean break with the affair partner, take time to grieve. There’s no need to speed the process to heal properly and this applies to both the cheater and the cheated. Use social support in the form of friends but it may be difficult to involve your family because it may be difficult for them to forgive your partner in case you want to continue the relationship. The next step is to rebuild the intimacy and be all in, which could mean attending therapy together.



Infidelity: statistics

Relationship and dating site HerNorm shares that about 25% of marriages and 40% of unmarried relationships see at least one incident of infidelity. Millennials are also more likely to cheat using a dating app. In a survey of 441 people who are willing to admit their infidelity either to the researchers or to their spouse, 22.1% said they cheated on a relationship but never admitted it to their partner while 24.0% said they cheated on a relationship and admitted it to their partner. Some 76.0% of people who already moved on to other relationships said they admit their past infidelity in front of their new partner.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center revealed a statistic based on the Ashley Madison hack that exposed infidelity into the media. The Ashley Madison site is a social networking service marketed to people who are in a relationship or married. It shows that France cares about cheating the least with only 47% of people considering an extramarital affair morally unacceptable. This was followed by Germany (60%), Japan (60%), Italy (64%), Russia (69%), and China (74%).

Relations can sometimes be complicated. Even after what seemed like a lifetime of marriage, cheating can happen and the sting of it is not easy to take. The recent NTNU study highlights that across different cultures, men and women forgive similarly. The couple may choose to leave the relationship with dignity or stay in it with integrity.