The Forgiveness Connection

Data from a large representative U.S. community sample collected by Allen and Atkins (2012) indicate that more than half of individuals who engage in infidelity end up divorced or separated.

Couples therapy is often a first step when reconciliation is the goal. According to Hall and Fincham (2006) however, it should be understood that forgiveness, not reconciliation, is the goal for couples in therapy for infidelity. Whether a couple decides to remain married or not, forgiveness is the goal. McCullough (1997) and dozens of studies since, all point to forgiveness as having the most significant emotional and physical health benefits to both partners. Both forgiving and being forgiven seem to be important. Though forgiveness is considered to be a crucial stage in the recovery process, it does not require reconciliation. In fact, forgiveness can provide emotional closure for couples who end up divorced. (Gordon & Baucom, 1999). If reconciliation is the desired outcome for the couple, it should be understood that a fairly high level of forgiveness is required in order to reach low–risk levels of for divorce. The higher the level of forgiveness, the higher the likelihood that the marriage can be saved.

Voluntary confession appears to result in the highest likelihood of continuation of the marriage. With the lowest likelihood resulting when the wronged partner discovers the unfaithful partner engaging in infidelity. Hearing about infidelity from a third party, or gaining a confession through a confrontation also result in a reduced likelihood of marital continuation, but not as low as discovering the partner in the act of infidelity (Afifi, Falato, & Weiner, 2001).

Luchies and associates (2012) explored the connection between forgiveness of the wronged partner and agreeableness of the partner who engaged in infidelity. Partners who forgive their spouses have good five-year outcomes on psychological tests of self-respect only when the spouse who cheated demonstrates a fairly high level of agreeableness on tests of personality traits. However, high forgiveness partners whose spouses scored low in agreeableness tended to have diminishing self-respect over the following five-year period.


Allen, E. S., & Atkins, D. C. (2012). The association of divorce and extramarital sex in a representative US sample. Journal of Family Issues, 33(11), 1477-1493.

Hall, J. H., & Fincham, F. D. (2006). Relationship dissolution following infidelity: The roles of attributions and forgiveness. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25(5), 508-522.

Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., McNulty, J. K., & Kumashiro, M. (2010). The doormat effect: when forgiving erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), 734.

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