Does 'Revenge Cheating' Work?

And to the extent that it helps someone turn the tables on an unfaithful partner, revenge cheating may offer some perspective on the damage that can be caused to a relationship through infidelity.

"I think that the advantage — if you could put it this way — of retaliatory infidelity is that it has the potential to help the initially unfaithful person gain some empathy for the pain created by the sense of betrayal, and helps put some perspective on what might be lost otherwise," said Dave Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

But in most cases, relationship experts said revenge cheating is a dangerous gamble that usually does far more harm than good.

"Pretty much not much net positive can occur," said Everett L. Worthington Jr., professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of the book "Dimensions of Forgiveness: Psychological Research & Theological Perspectives."

"Basically, if my spouse hurts me and I hurt the spouse back in the same way, it tells the spouse, 'Your indiscretions will be met in kind,'" Worthington said. "That can make the spouses more careful not to tread on each other's toes. While that might seem positive, it is only positive in a limited sense."

Mending the Rift

Despite the fact that they may not be the best remedy for a damaged relationship, the pain and betrayal that goes along with being cheated on often makes retaliatory infidelity an attractive prospect.

But psychological experts say a more long-term approach, based on forgiveness, is the best bet for preserving the relationship.

"It takes coming clean completely with what has happened — no more secrets; taking full responsibility for one's affair — no blaming the partner; and a firm agreement on fidelity in the future," Doherty said.

"Many couples also need marital therapy to work through the grief and anger and to learn how to use this as a way to renew the relationship. Lots of couples recover."

Judging from their public confrontation of their past relationship problems, Olds said it appears that the Patersons may have come to this crucial reckoning.

"They seem to be saying, 'We each did it, we each made mistakes, and now we're moving on,'" she said.

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