Recent research into infidelity finds that the act of being unfaithful to a spouse or partner isn't black and white. Actually, it's really complicated—and sometimes couples can even come out of an act of infidelity stronger and more bonded than ever. Regardless of how a couple comes out post-infidelity, in the initial days and weeks following the discovery of a partner's unfaithfulness, it's common for the betrayed party to experience terrible plain. And in these moments, their first thought is often revenge.
"The vengeful heart is not always ready to listen to reason," writes relationship expert Esther Perel in her book The State of Affairs. "Sometimes nothing less than inflicting equal pain will suffice. In the age-old tradition of mirror punishment, retaliatory infidelity ranks high among the common strategies of chastisement."
Revenge may be instinctual, but is it actually beneficial to the healing process? Here's what the experts say.
Revenge as a means of quenching hostility.
Evening the score may feel cathartic in the moment, but according to Perel, behavioral scientists have found that acts of revenge typically don't have a great outcome. "Instead of quenching hostility, delivering justice, or bringing closure, revenge can in fact keep the unpleasantness of the offense alive," she writes. "The exultation of self-righteousness is a shallow pleasure that traps us in an obsession with the past. In fact, when we don't have the opportunity to exact penalty, we move on to other things faster."
The consequences of an "I'll show you" mentality.
While it's certainly easy to understand why someone would want an unfaithful partner to feel just as lousy as they do, getting revenge typically backfires. "Revenge is a person’s way of reclaiming their significance in the relationship," explains relationship expert and life coach Jillian Turecki. "It’s an 'I’ll show you' mentality. So anger and adrenaline definitely feed it. In fact, I would say it’s a way of not dealing with the hurt. And yes, regret can happen on the part of the cheater afterward—but not always. In the end, it can actually drive a greater wedge through a relationship and absolve the guilt of the original cheater, which is probably not what the revenger wants!"
Can revenge EVER have a positive outcome?
Turecki doesn't believe revenge ever has a great outcome. One thing you may be able to do healthfully, though, is entertain thoughts of revenge. "Revenge is always done out of hurt, anger, and fear," she says. "It never ever represents someone’s highest self, so what happens is that it usually ends up hurting the revenger more than the receiver of it. I don’t blame the thoughts of revenge—it's totally normal to fantasize about it. But it never satiates in the end. It just drives a greater wedge through a relationship."
As hard as it may be to swallow your pride, plotting revenge is never the answer, even if you don't want the relationship to continue. Instead, nourish your body and soul with regular yoga classes, seek the support of a strong community, and talk to a professional. That's where the real healing will happen.
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