What If Your Partner Commits Adultery? *

David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

Valentineís day brings images of love and romance, but what if the romance is between your partner and another person? We have seen much of this in the media recently with famous people like Kathy Lee and Frank Gifford, Elizabeth Hurly and Hugh Grant, and President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. These men are unfaithful for a variety of reasons. However, in these cases, each woman has chosen to "stand by her man." These women are successful, talented and financially self-sufficient. Should they stay with their partners? What factors might influence their decisions?

A 1998 Time/CNN poll indicated that among respondents, 69% personally knew adulterous men, and 60% personally knew adulterous women. Other findings indicate that the majority of American men and women do commit adultery at least once over the course of their lifetime. Thus, these high profile couples offer us an opportunity to clarify our values and think how we would respond, if our spouse was unfaithful.

Both Americans and Europeans engage in adultery. However, unlike our European counterparts, we treat it more seriously. In fact, according to the Time/CNN survey, 85% of us consider adultery to be morally wrong.

We can understand this better, if we look at some characteristics of healthy relationships and how adultery would impact these relationships. In their book, I Never Knew I Had a Choice, Corey & Corey suggest that true love includes "caring about the welfare of one's partner, respecting their dignity, having a sense of responsibility and commitment, as well as fostering mutual empathy and trust." If we view these qualities as essential to the relationship, it is clear why adultery seriously damages true love relationships.

If we feel so badly about unfaithfulness in any committed relationship, why do some spouses stay? They may stay for economic reasons, to preserve the family, or because they just canít imagine their lives without their partner. According to psychologists Carol Gilligan and Jean Baker-Miller, women in our culture are raised to highly value their connection with others. Their ability to form and maintain relationships gives them a sense of personal identity, competence and self-esteem, rather than viewing these qualities in themselves as individuals. With this outlook, losing a relationship is not only a very painfully experience, it is perceived as a loss of self.

Even with the emotional pain, you still can choose whether you want to remain with the unfaithful partner. To help you make a difficult decision, we will list factors that can influence you to remain with your partner. (Although women can also be unfaithful, the factors will only be stated in masculine terms.)

It is better to consider staying with him, if:

On the other hand, you will be better off dissolving the relationship, if:

Once trust is broken,
it is difficult to regain.

Typically, your decision will not be clear-cut. Even if you remain together, donít expect your relationship to be the same. If trust is ever regained, it will be a slow and difficult process. Are you both willing to expend the effort required to patch up the relationship?

However difficult the decision is Ė it is your decision. Do you believe your relationship is worth preserving, or do you think your dignity, honor and sense of personal integrity are more important?

* Adapted from Ingrid Griegerís "Adultery: Should She Stand By Her Man?" This is one of the "hot topics" discussed on the Psychstudy web page of Wadsworth Publishers (November, 1998).

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