Forgiveness or breakup: Sex differences in responses to a partner's infidelity

Todd K. Schakelford, David M. Buss, Kevin Bennett

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143 Scopus citations
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Infidelities-sexual, emotional, or both-afflict many long-term romantic relationships. When a person discovers a partner's betrayal, a major decision faced is to forgive the partner and remain together or to terminate the relationship. Because men and women have confronted different adaptive problems over evolutionary history associated with different forms of infidelity, we hypothesised the existence of sex differences in which aspects of infidelity would affect the likelihood of forgiveness or breakup. We tested this hypothesis using forced-choice dilemmas in which participants (N = 256) indicated how difficult it would be to forgive the partner and how likely they would be to break up with the partner, depending on the nature of the infidelity. Results support the hypothesis that men, relative to women: (a) find it more difficult to forgive a sexual infidelity than an emotional infidelity; and (b) are more likely to terminate a current relationship following a partner's sexual infidelity than an emotional infidelity. The Discussion provides directions for future work on the determinants of breakup and the psychology of forgiveness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-307
Number of pages9
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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