After infidelity, why do some people choose to stick it out while others leave? A couple of factors may make all the difference, according to relationship experts.
After disgraced former New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal was revealed Sunday, his wife and top Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, announced she would separate from him. This is the third public sexting scandal in Abedin and Weiner’s six-year marriage, following similar incidents in 2013 and 2011.
Abedin issued a statement on Monday announcing the separation and confirming the couple’s commitment to their young son.
Some question how reliable data on infidelity is, since study participants may be hesitant to reveal their extramarital affairs to researchers, but even with that caveat, Abedin is hardly alone. Twenty-one percent of married men and between 10 and 15 percent of married women have cheated on their partner, according to the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago’s independent research arm.
It’s no one’s business what pushed Abedin to finally separate from Weiner, but in a broader sense, what proves to be the last straw for any couple faced with repeated infidelity? Experts say these two questions are at the center of many decisions over whether to stay or go:
Factor #1: Was it a mistake or part of a pattern?
Amber Madison, a therapist and relationships expert, told The Huffington Post that people tend to categorize cheating in two ways: either as a horrible mistake their partner won’t make again, or a habit that they’ll have to put up with to remain with their partner.
“I think everyone has their threshold of what they can put up with in a relationship and how much they are willing to compromise,” said Madison. “At some point the scales tip and whatever pleasure you get from staying with a partner you care about is overwhelmed by the pain they are causing you with their cheating.”
“We see lots of people in relationships where they keep getting cheated on,” Stephanie Brown, an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Stony Brook University School of Medicine told HuffPost. “[A three strikes mentality] may be a general rule of thumb that our brains use subconsciously, where emotionally, [you say] ‘Okay, this is now a threat to me, this is no longer a love partner.’”
That said, focusing only on cheating as the impetus for leaving or staying in a relationship might miss the larger picture.
Factor #2: How is the relationship’s quality outside of infidelity?
Unsurprisingly, the decision to stay or go also hinges on what your relationship looked like before the offending incident, according to Madison.
“If you’re in love with someone who’s a wonderful person on the whole and you otherwise have a positive and happy relationship with them, leaving because of one incident may not feel like the right decision,” Madison said.
“The reality is, there are a million ways someone can betray a relationship and deeply hurt their partner, and yet we draw this line around cheating, saying only that should be relationship ending.”
But if the relationship is not good, that also factors in: If you already feel taken for granted or exploited by your partner, the pain and humiliation of being cheated on might be the incentive you need to finally call it quits.