INFIDELITY IN COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS I: A METHODOLOGICAL REVIEW

  • Blow A
  • Hartnett K
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Abstract

Infidelity is perhaps the most complex issue encountered by couple therapists. Although clinical literature, opinion, and speculation on this topic are abundant, research literature is sparse. What little available research exists is, in most cases, neither robust nor helpful to the practicing therapist. This article provides, in both narrative and table format, a comprehensive methodological review of the available research literature on infidelity from 1980 to present. Topics addressed in the narrative include the lack of a consensus on the definition of infidelity; design challenges, such as retrospective research, confidentiality, measures, and variables; and sampling issues, such as diversity and randomization. Throughout the article, we offer suggestions for future research. Three-thousand years ago, a Biblical epic unfolded when King David's affair with Bathsheba lead him to orchestrate her husband's murder. It is intriguing to speculate about the public's response to this scandal at the time and, perhaps, even more fascinating to wonder how a couple therapist might have approached the situation. Curiosity about infidelity and its ramifications certainly exists in contemporary society. For therapists, the interest relates to the challenge of treating couples who are deeply hurt because of the betrayal and secrecy that are almost always associated with infidelity. For the public, the attraction lies more in the sordid details and often bizarre twists of these kinds of relationships; after all, realities of infidelity in public life range from broken hearts to murder to exposures and resignations of high-profile leaders. Atkins, Baucom, and Jacobson (2001) report that " infidelity is a common phenomenon in marriages but is poorly understood " (p. 735). Indeed, in the practice of any couple therapist, it is common for a percentage of couples to present with infidelity-related grievances. Couple therapists are too well aware of the tremendous pain and heartache expressed by clients caught up in the throes of an affair—whether they are the " perpetrator " or the " victim. " Infidelity is undeniably harmful—often devastating—to individuals and relationships, and its repercussions present significant treatment challenges (Whisman, Dixon, & Johnson, 1997). Clearly, the topic of infidelity is one that is of great importance to the practice of therapists—and even more important to the couples affected. Nevertheless, there is a surprising lack of robust and rigorous research on the topic. Make no mistake: There is no shortage of information—many excellent books address the subject, internet sites and chat forums reach out to wounded partners and repentant " perpetrators, " television talk shows and other programs devote airtime to couples struggling in infidelity's aftermath, and tantalizingly written news articles and magazine exposés lure sympathetic and voyeuristic readers. Although there is an inundation of speculation, commiseration, and curiosity surrounding infidelity, the research in this area is extremely diverse in focus, includes many limited research designs, has produced contradictory results, and is, in short, not particularly helpful to the practicing clinician.

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Authors

  • Adrian J Blow

  • Kelley Hartnett

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