An International Affair: Exploring Infidelity across the Globe

How diverse cultures react to infidelity and the method that can help

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How diverse cultures react to infidelity and the method that can help

How diverse cultures react to infidelity and the method that can help

international infidelity

Co-authored with Erin Dierickx LMFTA

Infidelity impacts roughly 1 in 3 couples in the United States alone (Spring, 2020). Western media often depicts affairs as taboo and morally egregious, typically incurring societal scorn. However, this social phenomenon is culturally influenced, whereas international couples may view and respond to infidelity differently. 

Although non-Western cultures may face equally high infidelity prevalence rates, they may also be more inclined to remain together. For example, one study revealed that China had higher rates of sexual infidelity than both the U.S. and France, but these couples were less likely to divorce (Zhang et al., 2012). 

The Differences around the World

Ultimately, cultural values can influence the way people perceive infidelity in Western versus non-Western countries. Some examples include but are not limited to:

Western ValuesNon-Western Values
Individualism (strong sense of autonomy) Collectivism (strong sense of community)
Being successfulRemaining modest
Adopting changeMaintaining tradition
Focus on the futureFocus on the past
Assertiveness (being direct)Indirectness 

Many sources guide these values such as religion, cultural background, historical experiences, and ecosystemic factors, like socioeconomic status (Penn, 1997). Knowing the importance of these values, Gottman Method Couples Therapy considers each couple’s unique cultural contexts throughout treatment. 

Gottman Method Couples Therapy Internationally

Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a research-driven approach that consistently demonstrates effectiveness in addressing various presenting issues, including managing conflict, expecting a baby, lessening situational violence within couples’ relationships, and betrayal (read more about this research here). 

Numerous studies also explored the effectiveness of the Gottman Method around the world. For example, scholars showed that this couples therapy approach not only effectively reduced irrational beliefs about communication among Iranian couples, but couples were also less likely to divorce and they demonstrated enhanced verbal and non-verbal communication skills—with positive effects lasting four to six years later (Rajaei et al., 2019). In another study, Gottman Method Couples Therapy also improved marital adjustment and intimacy issues with Iranian couples (Davoodvandi et al., 2018). 

Gottman Method for Treating Infidelity 

Couples build their relationships on the pillars of trust and commitment. If trust is not present or if it has been broken due to past hurts or betrayals, this is where treatment would start to encourage relationship success. Betrayals can take many forms including sexual or emotional affairs, absenteeism, lying, and broken promises (Gottman & Silver, 2013). Gottman Method Couples Therapy incorporates tools to promote dialogue, develop a deeper connection and build the trust necessary for a relationship to thrive, particularly after betrayal. In fact, due to the dire need to support couples experiencing infidelity, the Gottmans developed a specialized approach within the Gottman Method to address the effects of a betrayal on couples’ relationships.       

The Road to Recovery Following an Affair 

Following the discovery of an affair, relationships face considerable hurt and pain. Trust is fractured, and the attachment security of the relationship is jeopardized. This is true for couples in committed relationships across the globe suffering from infidelity. For this reason, Drs. John and Julie Gottman take a more culturally generalizable view of infidelity, defining affairs as “Either a clandestine emotional or sexual liaison with someone other than the partner that violates…vows of sexual or romantic exclusivity. The liaison poses a threat to the primary love relationship” (Gottman & Gottman, 2017, p. 95). 

Despite the emotional hardship that infidelity brings upon a relationship, affair recovery is possible! 

The Gottmans (2017) developed the Trust Revival Method, a three-phase approach uniquely suited to help relationships recover from an affair. In fact, this intervention demonstrated a 75% success rate in an initial uncontrolled trial, treating couples following an affair (Gottman & Silver, 2013). 

These 3 phases are Atone, Attune, and Attach:

  • Atone: In this first phase, expression of remorse and complete transparency are crucial to successfully moving toward emotional repair. In addition, the partner who had an affair must be willing to initially sit with the pain of the hurt partner(s) for healing to begin. 
  • Attune: The attune phase concentrates on processing the emotional wound caused by the affair and setting the blueprint for the “new relationship.” Attunement also addresses healthy conflict management skills, which ensure that all partners feel heard. 
  • Attach: After addressing the main challenges in the atone and attune phases, relationships can move to the attach phase. Here, rebuilding emotional and physical intimacy becomes the priority.  Couples learn ways to integrate new shared meanings and rituals of connection. 

Although infidelity causes considerable hurt, an affair does not have to mean the end of your relationship! Certified Gottman Therapists receive extensive training in the Trust Revival Method and work alongside couples to help them repair trust and move forward following an affair’s discovery.  

Has your relationship experienced a sexual, emotional, or cyber-based affair? The Gottman Institute is currently conducting an international research study on affair recovery and would love to include couples from non-U.S. countries. This study is a collaboration between Drs. John and Julie Gottman, The Gottman Institute, Taylor Irvine, and Dr. Paul Peluso of Florida Atlantic University, as well as participating couples and therapists. If you are an international couple in a committed relationship and have experienced an affair, learn more about how to participate in the study here.

References

Davoodvandi, M., Navabi Nejad, S., & Farzad, V. (2018). Examining the effectiveness of Gottman Couple Therapy on improving marital adjustment and couples’ intimacy.

Iranian journal of psychiatry, 13(2), 135–141.

Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2017). Treating Affairs and Trauma (TAT). Clinical manual. The 

Gottman Institute. 

Gottman, J.M., & Silver, N. (2013). What makes love last?: How to build trust and avoid 

betrayal. Simon & Schuster. 

Penn, C. D., Hernández, S. L., & Bermúdez, J. M. (1997). Using a cross-cultural perspective to 

understand infidelity in couples therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy, 25(2), 169–185. https://doi.org/10.1080/01926189708251064

Rajaei, A., Daneshpour, M., & Robertson, J. (2019). The effectiveness of couples therapy based 

on the Gottman method among Iranian couples with conflicts: A quasi-experimental study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 18(3), 223–240. https://doi.org/10.1080/15332691.2019.1567174

Spring, J. A. (2020). After the affair: Healing the pain and rebuilding trust when a 

partner has been unfaithful (3rd ed.). HarperCollins.

Zhang, N., Parish, W. L., Huang, Y., & Pan, S. (2012). Sexual infidelity in China: prevalence 

and gender-specific correlates. Archives of sexual behavior, 41(4), 861–873. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-9930-x

Taylor Irvine, M.Ed., Ed.S., LMHC, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and counseling doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University. Her primary research interests are studying couples and infidelity. She is currently collaborating with The Gottman Institute and Dr. Paul Peluso on an international study to validate the Gottman Method for couples recovering from an affair.