How commitment save a relationship after adultery.
Christopher Ryan’s terrific post brought to mind things I’ve written lately on commitment, as well as a very insightful comment to one of my adultery posts by another Psychology Today blogger, Sophia Dembling:
However, what I like about being married… is that it makes unhitching difficult enough that the default is “together.” So anytime we hit a rough patch, we look for ways to stay together, not reasons to break apart, since (among other things) that would be an expensive PIA.
Usually, when we think of commitment, whether formalized in a marriage of some sort or a purely private commitment, we focus on the outward-looking aspects: thou shalt not sleep around, or thou shalt not fall in love with someone else.
But all too often, as Sophia pointed out, we forget that commitment also has an inward-looking aspect — a commitment to our relationship and to our partners, as well as a commitment not to be with other people.
None of us is perfect; we all make mistakes, occasionally huge ones (like cheating). But partners in a committed relationship can take some comfort in knowing that there’s a chance to work it out and learn how to save a relationship after cheating — there’s a certain safety zone, a buffer, some slack available to make mistakes.
We don’t want to encourage mistakes, of course, and there’s always the danger that partners will take advantage of any latitude given to them (as I mentioned near the end of an earlier post). But on the bright side, that buffer can encourage partners to be themselves, to be open, honest, and truthful, without the constant fear that they’ll say the wrong thing and suddenly find themselves locked out of the door with a suitcase of clothes dumped on their heads.
And yes, this even holds for adultery.
As Christopher explained in his post — without excusing or justifying it — adultery does not have to mean the end of a relationship, especially one in which both partners are committed to it and to each other, and they are open and caring with each other.
It’s a mistake, no doubt, a very big and potentially harmful one, and it will mean different things for different relationships (as he also explains). Maybe one couple’s relationship doesn’t allow for a buffer or safety zone large enough to encompass adultery, but another couple’s relationship might.
Furthermore, any given couple will deal with different instances of adultery in different ways, because every case of adultery is different, with its own causes, motivations, and ramifications for that specific couple involved in it, and learning how to save a relationship after cheating will depend on their relationship and the buffer it provides.
But if there’s any chance for the relationship to survive a mistake like cheating, that chance will be found in the strength of their commitment, whatever form that may take.
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