What Is Revenge Cheating?

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What Is Revenge Cheating?

Revenge cheating in romantic relationships happens when one partner is trying to get back at another partner, typically as a response to the other partner's infidelity.

A study published in the North American Journal of Psychology says that infidelity is the most common type of deception in romantic relationships, and it's most likely to occur when one person is less committed to the relationship. That same study even found that around 68% of women and 75% of men would admit to some form of sexual cheating.

But why exactly do people cheat and what exactly does that mean? One study followed 85 undergraduate students and found that most of the participants said they revenge cheated in hopes of bringing about their desired change in their partner. This, to them, meant that their partner exhibited a greater understanding of how much they were hurting. That said, most of the instances of revenge cheating were classified by the study as "mild or moderate," meaning they didn't fully reciprocate the acts of their partner with someone else.

Below, we will look at the differences between emotional and sexual cheating, factors that determine whether or not people end up cheating on their partners, as well as the steps that are necessary for someone trying to work past their partner's infidelity.

Types of Cheating

While this is pretty self-explanatory, what's less obvious is that men and women tend to have different reactions to the different types of cheating:

  • Sexual: This is when one partner has sexual relations with someone outside of their relationship.
  • Emotional: This is when one partner becomes emotionally attached or reliant on someone outside of their relationship.

One study found that men were more likely to be upset by sexual infidelity, whereas women were more likely to be upset by emotional infidelity. The big caveat with this is that it relied heavily on how the partners discovered the infidelity, which could have led to people focusing more on the length of time that an emotional relationship could have been going on when compared to sex.

The Four Factors That Determine Whether or Not People Seek Revenge

All of these factors are perceived by the person that was wronged, and they can vary greatly depending on what exactly happened in the relationship. For example, if someone caught their partner cheating, their willingness to seek revenge might come down to the way in which they found out, if their partner was willing to apologize, and whether or not the cheating was emotional or sexual.

That said, no matter the situation, research shows that people tend to make decisions about whether or not to seek revenge based on these four factors:

  • Cost perception: This is when the person that was cheated on measures what it will cost them personally in terms of mental and emotional effort and compare it with the desired outcome, which could be how much it would hurt their partner.
  • Amount of anger: While the amount of anger that a person feels could be tied to their own emotional reactions, it can also be tied to the amount of betrayal that they feel they experienced.
  • Cultural and religious values: The willingness to seek revenge is influenced by people's views regarding whether or not the desire to seek justice in this way is acceptable in terms of their cultural and religious beliefs.
  • External justice: When determining whether or not to seek revenge, people may think about whether or not their partner will suffer in other ways. These ways could be their partner's own mental health, their partner's relationships with their friends, or even with the person they were cheating with.

How to Forgive Your Partner's Infidelity

In their study, researchers Patrick Gunderson and Joseph Ferrari looked at people's responses to their partner's infidelity. They found that a partner's decision to forgive is motivated by circumstances surrounding the cheating, such as the number of times that it happened and their partner's willingness to apologize and accept responsibility. The likelihood of forgiveness is also greatly impacted by the partners' satisfaction in the relationship prior to their cheating.

The duo describes forgiveness as "a deliberate and active change in attitude motivated by a desire to heal," and this is important because it puts the focus on the wronged partner's perspective rather than the act of cheating itself. They break down the three factors necessary to forgive a partner who has cheated as follows:

  • Cognitive: This requires the person who was cheated on to take look at their partner's perspective with empathy instead of viewing it as malicious or deliberate.
  • Behavioral: This is when the person who was cheated is able to treat their partner with civility and let go of any ideas or fantasies of revenge.
  • Emotional: This requires the person who was cheated on to release negative feelings of hate or resentment in order to experience positive feelings of compassion and understanding.

In order for forgiveness to occur, all three of these components need to be present.

Reasons to Avoid Revenge Cheating

Focusing on your own mental health is always the best answer. One study even found that respondents who participated in types of revenge against their partners experienced anger, anxiety, and remorse.

That same study showed that these feelings were especially prevalent when the person exacting their revenge did so by initiating a new relationship, hurting their partner's reputation, or working to take away their partner's resources.

Being open and honest with your partner about how their behaviors made you feel is definitely the best choice. At some point, you need to determine if you can personally forgive them and move on without holding a grudge, or if you need to end the relationship. Either way, these options will move you forward, whereas seeking out revenge will really just work to cause both you and your partner more emotional strife.

A Word From Verywell

Infidelity is one of the hardest things that a relationship can go through. If you've been cheated on, make sure that you're open and honest with yourself and your partner about your ability to forgive. Regardless of whether or not there's a future in the relationship, remember that your partner's cheating has more to do with them than with anything you did.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gunderson, P. R., & Ferrari, J. R. (2008). Forgiveness of sexual cheating in romantic relationships: Effects of discovery method, frequency of offense, and presence of apologyNorth American Journal of Psychology, 10(1), 1–14.

  2. Boon, S. D., Alibhai, A. M., & Deveau, V. L. (2009). Payback: The parameters of revenge in romantic relationshipsJournal of Social and Personal Relationships26(6–7), 747–768. doi:10.1177%2F0265407509347926

  3. Kato T. Gender differences in response to infidelity types and rival attractivenessSexual and Relationship Therapy. 2019:1-17. doi:10.1080/14681994.2019.1639657

  4. Schumann, K., & Ross, M. (2010). The Benefits, Costs, and Paradox of RevengeSocial and Personality Psychology Compass4(12), 1193–1205.

  5. Yoshimura, S. (2007). Goals and emotional outcomes of revenge activities in interpersonal relationships24(1), 87–98. doi:10.1177%2F0265407507072592

By Brittany Loggins
Brittany is a health and lifestyle writer and former staffer at TODAY on NBC and CBS News. She's also contributed to dozens of magazines.