Can cheating be forgiven? And what's the worst kind of infidelity?

I didn’t want to attempt to hijack this fascinating thread, so I figured I’d branch off and start my own.

I’ve been following the above thread with a great deal of interest, and my wife and I had a very similar discussion just this past weekend (to my knowledge, neither she nor I have ever been cheated on, and we’ve never cheated on anyone). I noticed that some people in the thread put a lot of emphasis on the physical act of cheating, while others say that emotional affairs are far worse.

What I’m wondering are your opinions on the following two questions:

**1) Do you believe you would be (or have you been) capable of forgiving your significant other upon discovering his or her infidelity? Why or why not?

  1. Do you think that you’d be more hurt by (and less likely to forgive) a purely emotional affair or a purely physical affair? Please explain.**

In my case, I imagine I’d be able to forgive my wife if she decided that she still wanted to be with me. I know her well enough to know that it would take extraordinary circumstances for her to end up in that kind of situation, and that it would never be aimed at hurting me. I know it’s easy for me to say that since I haven’t been in that situation, but I honestly think that would be my reaction.

As to the second question, I would be much more deeply troubled by discovering that my wife was emotionally committed to someone else. That is where I feel our deepest bond is, and I would probably feel incredibly hurt and incompetent if she went to seek that kind of connection with someone else.

So, what say you?

I am confident that I could forgive my husband if he cheated on me, not because it wouldn’t devestate me (it would) but because not having him around would devestate me a lot worse. I know this is atypical for women, but the physical cheating would bother me more–this may be because I get platonic crushes all the time and even though they can be signifigant, I know they don’t detract from what I feel for my husband. I am not saying I would like it, but it’s the actual fucking around that would leave me feeling betrayed.

The type of thing I could not forgive would be if there was a long term ongoing thing. I couldn’t stand the idea that I had been duped for years–it would corrupt every memory of that period, and I don’t think I could get past that, even if I wanted to. I’d be remembering stuff all the time “When we were _____, he was also ____________.” That would kill me.

My wife and I discussed for a long time, long before we opened our marriage. She had been married before, and her husband had cheated on her with a mutual friend. It devastated her, and caused the breakup of the marriage.

It was the break of trust that destroyed the marriage. She said she could have understood the physical attraction, what she couldn’t stand was the lies that went along with the cheating.

Our agreement is that my wife and I both have to agree before we can get involved with another person. Thus far, we’re both EXTREMELY particular about our additions, with all three people invited involved with us for more than three years, and all three know and are friendly with each other.

What’s very odd is when your wife comes up to you and says “Jane is really cute and friendly. You should sleep with her.”


  1. Probably not. I’m just not a very forgiving person. For me, cheating is the ultimate betrayal in a relationship and even if I do somehow get over it (which is unlikely) I would have too much of a hard time trusting her again. It would tear me apart.

  2. Having not experienced either, my guess is physical. An emotional affair is more abstract and I think easier to fall into since there are no specific rules that can be broken. You might find yourself emotionally attached to someone before you even realize it. A physical affair involves a definite, conscious decision. It displays a lack of self-control or a lack of commitment and respect to your SO. Neither of which is tolerable for me.

  1. I probably could forgive. I managed to forgive my best friend for sleeping with my boyfriend-of-long-standing-at-the-time. I didn’t forgive him, but that lack of forgiveness was on other grounds.

  2. Equally hurt. And in both cases, it would be the dishonesty that would do it, as opposed to the actual involvement.

I doubt I could forgive my husband if he cheated. If he was a different kind of guy, the type who would have totally meaningless sex with a woman he didn’t care about I might be able to get around it, but then there would be other reasons to be mad at him (“Why are you screwing women you don’t even know? You could catch something!”), and he wouldn’t be the man I love. But I don’t think he could have sex with someone without forming some kind of emotional attachment to them, he’s the type of guy who falls in love with whoever gives him affection.

My ex-wife cheated on me with a grad school teacher, and when caught confessed that she was in love with him. For three or four weeks after I found out, I still thought it could be worked out. We did have a 2-year-old daughter, so that mitigated it. It certainly would have changed the relationship – I could have forgiven her if she was sad about it (she wasn’t), I would never have completely trusted her again. It’s impossible to say whether I could really have lasted long in a relationship like that. If she had, say, stopped paying the bills and stolen the money for herself, you could take over responsibilty for the finances, and keep an eye on things online without it eating away at you too much. There’s no rational way to take an emotional reading on someone once a week to make sure they’re not falling in love with someone else.

For what it’s worth, I read a letter she was writing to this dude (she had left it on her bed), in which she discussed the possibility of her being pregnant by him, and that was the point that I made an emotional break with her and lost interest in working it out.

I think the letter was an equal dose of both, so it’s hard to say. For some reason, I feel that the emotional betrayal might be ultimately easier to work out. “I feel in love with this guy on the Internet that I never met” gives me more to work with than “I’ve had sex with three other people but feel no emotional attachment to them.” I’m not sure why this is.

I forgot to answer the OPs questions, though I think they are somewhat implied in my answer.

  1. Do you believe you would be (or have you been) capable of forgiving your significant other upon discovering his or her infidelity? Why or why not?

Not my current significant other, because if he cheated it would mean he’s in love with another woman, or that he’s totally different from the type of man I thought I was marrying (he’s not the “casual sex” kind of guy).

  1. Do you think that you’d be more hurt by (and less likely to forgive) a purely emotional affair or a purely physical affair? Please explain.

I would be less likely to be hurt by a purely physical affair. The idea of my husband having sex with a woman he had no feelings for doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as the idea of him developing feelings for another woman.

1) Do you believe you would be (or have you been) capable of forgiving your significant other upon discovering his or her infidelity? Why or why not?

I believe I could forgive him. It depends on how sorry he was, how often it happened, but I think we could work through it. I’d be angry for a long while, though.
I’ve seen relationships work through cheating, and fail because of cheating. I’d be willing to give it a shot.

2) Do you think that you’d be more hurt by (and less likely to forgive) a purely emotional affair or a purely physical affair? Please explain.

I would be hurt equally. Both the physical and emotional aspects of a relationship are vitally important, and if cheating occurred at either one, I’d be devastated either way.

Infeldelity is one of my hot buttons. I dunno why, since no woman has ever cheated on me (that I am aware.) I am not sure that I could forgive. On the flip side, if I have given my word of monogamy, you can count on it 100%

I don’t make the monogamy/exclusivity promise, nor do I accept it from anyone else, so for me & my partner there would be no “violated trust” issue — only whatever fears or angers or whatever might arise from the other person being with someone else.

My own attitude would be “please change the sheets and I’d rather he didn’t wear my bathrobe”. If I accidentally walked in on them, I’d apologize and close the door, go away, and come back later, and would expect similar respect from him and her. Or her and her or whatever.

Her attitude, I know, is different — she’s not remotely poly and says she is OK with the nonexclusivity thing as long as I tell her, but that she does not promise not to be hurt or upset if I do indeed have sex with someone else (or get emotionally/romantically involved with someone else). She might leave the relationship because of it, because that might be something she could not handle and continue to be with me. If she didn’t, though, I’m not sure “forgiveness” is an appropriate word. “Cheating” certainly isn’t.

And yes, knowing that it could hurt her probably has a major dampening effect on any sexual or romantic interests I might have in other people. I could see doing it for reasons of profound passion, but profound it would have to be.

Circumstances vary, but I doubt it. You don’t cheat by accident, and you don’t get to the cheating stage without a long series of betrayals.

If my partner is unhappy with the emotional or physical aspects of our relationship, they have an obligation to tell me. If I, for some reason, refuse to address the problem, they should end the relationship rather than take it as an excuse to betray their promises.

Either is a betrayal, but an emotional involvement would be worse. Cheating with the genitals is one thing, but cheating with the heart, mind and soul is something much, much worse. That I could never forgive.

But physical cheating is bad, too. My response to someone who said that it was just a physical thing would be to say, “So you were willing to betray me and everything our union stands for just to get your rocks off? You were willing to destroy our relationship for something that ‘didn’t mean anything’?”

I’ve never cheated myself. To my knowledge, i’ve never been cheated on.

  1. I used to have a hard-line one-strike-and-your-out attitude to cheating. I’ve somewhat moderated it, to the extent that, if it were a single indiscretion, and i was convinced it would never be repeated, i might be able to get over it.

  2. Neither. As i said above, a single incident i could probably forgive. Any ongoing liaisons, whether purely physical or an actual relationship, would be beyond the pale.

As a recent veteran of the “cheated on club” I can feel that I can give a valid response to this with some definitions.

Significant Other: I’m reading this as a boyfriend/girlfriend situation. In that case:

  2. Pick one, because both of which will show you the door.

As to the “why” part: “relationship”. Hello?

Thank you. 'nuff said. Only I would replace the word “obligation” with “duty”.

Now if the “significant other” is a spouse then I answer the following to the OP’s questions:

  2. Pick one, because both of which will show you the door.

As to the “why” part: “marriage”. Hello?

Wow, dmatsch, lots of ambivalence you’ve got going on there :wink:

I believe that I would be capable of forgiving infidelity, but it depends on the circumstances and how willing he would be to work it out.

Either would be a terrible betrayal of trust, but I think the emotional affair would be worse.

I am doing a lot of research in this area, and I was thinking of posting a thread regarding emotional affairs to clear up some mis-conceptions. The first is that only unhappily married people have affairs - 100% wrong. Most people who end up in emotional affairs were happily married and had no intention whatsoever to cheat. It is a damned subtle and slippery slope from a co-worker that you enjoy having coffee with or an online friend that you like to chat with every day to someone that is threatening your marriage. Those of you who think your partner would never cross the boundaries, think again. They may not even recognize when they cross them, even with the best intentions.

The second misconception is that using the yardstick of secrecy is adequate to prevent extra-marital attachments from forming (in other words, don’t do anything that you couldn’t tell your partner). It’s a good yardstick, but it’s not enough. I have learned that it is much more complicated than that; I have a friend who almost lost her marriage of 15 years when her husband had an emotional affair right in front of her. His defense was always that he wasn’t hiding anything, and that made sense to her, but she was also getting a gut feeling that their friendship was crossing boundaries, and it was.

From what I’m learning, the worst kind of infidelity is the unrepentant, ongoing kind.

It can be forgiven, but why continue the relationship as a SO relationship? Cheating is a symptom, not the cause of a failed relationship.

Some people can forgive anything. Some people can forgive nothing.

The woest kind of infidelity is repetitious infidelity

And that’s what it comes down to for me. I’m a big believer in the “Once-Twice” rule, to wit:

“If he hits you once, he’ll hit you twice.
If she cheats on you once, she’ll cheat on you twice.”

I went through this once in my life, and once was quite enough, thank you very much. No, I would not even try to get over physical infidelity. “Pack your shit, honey, and there’s the door!”

Emotional infidelity . . . well . . . dunno. That’s never happened to me, and I suppose I’d have to wait to see how I’d react.

Here’s the thing about infidelity. If we’re in an open relationship, it’s no problem (in fact, as has been pointed out, that’s not really even infidelity). I’ve been in those relationships, and it hasn’t been a problem. If you’re in an ostensibly monogamous relationship, however, it’s no longer just about the sex. There are trust and respect issues there, as well.

Maybe I just grew up in those small farm/coal cracking towns where such matters are taken much more seriously. People in those towns have been shot to death over this kind of thing. They’ve been brutalized, stabbed, and crippled. This is one of the few lessons that I learned the easy way, by learning from the mistakes of others rather than my own.

Do not get involved with a woman who has a boyfriend, unless you know it’s OK with him and not even then. Do not get into or stay in a relationship with a woman who fucks around behind your back. There is a wheelchair, coffin, or prison sentence waiting for you on the other end. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but the point is that you just don’t know until it happens or until it doesn’t.