Moving Beyond Betrayal: How Meaning-Making and Power Promote Forgiveness Following Infidelity

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Squires, Erinn Catherine




The current research sought to better understand how forgiveness may be fostered following infidelity. To do so, participants completed questionnaires assessing meaning-making and forgiveness. In Study 1 (N = 330), results revealed that people who found meaning in their experience of infidelity were more willing to forgive their romantic partner than people who were not able to find meaning. This effect was moderated by relationship status. Meaning only predicted forgiveness for those who remained in the relationship post-infidelity. Study 2 (N = 67) was a conceptual replication of Study 1,
however, participants’ perceived power in their relationship and attributions for the unfaithful behaviour were also assessed as possible mediating mechanisms. Once again, people who remained in the relationship were more forgiving of the infidelity when they found meaning. Attributions for the unfaithful behaviour did not mediate this effect, but as predicted, perceived relationship power did – meaning increased perceived power, which increased forgiveness. To assess the causal direction of the observed effects, I attempted to manipulate meaning (Study 3; N = 104) and relationship power
(Study 4; N = 113). The extent to which participants reported finding meaning and having power within their relationship was positively associated with forgiveness. However, neither of the manipulations was effective. It was determined that meaning and power might not be easily manipulated after someone has experienced infidelity. As such, in Study 5 (N = 225) a hypothetical scenario was used to manipulate meaning and power (i.e., participants who were in a relationship were asked to imagine that their partner committed infidelity). Both manipulations were successful. People in the meaning
found condition reported greater forgiveness than people in the no meaning condition. People in the high power condition expressed greater forgiveness forgive than people in the low power condition. However, meaning and power did not interact to predict forgiveness. Results of the current research suggest that meaning and power are each unique predictors of forgiveness in the aftermath of infidelity. The implications for individual recovery and relationship repair following infidelity, as well as future directions for research are discussed.


Psychology - Social
Psychology - Experimental




Carleton University

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