The impact of infidelity on the offended spouse: A study of gender differences and coping strategies in a religious population

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Alan Taylor


Infidelity, Spouse, Gender differences, Coping, Religious population

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Infidelity is one of the most common presenting problems for marriage and family therapists yet few studies have documented the severity of the impact of infidelity on the offended spouse. Therapists who specialize in the treatment of infidelity use a trauma paradigm to treat individuals and couples affected by infidelity, yet there has been little research to support the assumption that offended spouses are traumatized after learning about the affair. In this qualitative study each participant describes their spouses infidelity and its aftermath as the most or one of the most traumatic and difficult events of their lifetime. Both men and women perceived the infidelity as an abandonment of them as a marital partner. But women with children living at home perceived it not just an abandonment of them, but also an abandonment of their children.

This study focused specifically on a religious population and found these individuals report that positive religious coping helped most survive the crisis. For most of these people their faith and their church were quite helpful in coping with the aftermath of the crisis of learning about their spouse's infidelity. The greatest exceptions to this were the three Catholic participants. Catholic participants reported their faith to be invaluable in coping with the infidelity, but consistently reported not feeling supported by the Church itself.

Coping responses were similar for men and women. Responses included the importance of friends and family, caring for children, faith and individual professional counseling. However, women with children living at home at the time of the infidelity experienced didn't enter new relationships as did men in the same situation. Men also commented that though traumatic they looked back on the experience as a growth experience. Women saw themselves growing as a result of the infidelity, but wouldn't ever wish this on anyone. This study, though small and preliminary, points out the traumatic, life changing impact of the discovery of infidelity on the offended partner, with more prolonged effects on women.


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