Is it ever OK to forgive a cheating spouse?

Whispers of infidelity have followed the first family since a report that Donald Trump paid off an adult film actress to deny their extramarital affair. And now the public is weighing in: Cheating is not necessarily a deal breaker.

On Wednesday, the Marist Institute for Public Opinion released the results of a poll called “Should She Stay or Should She Go?” asking whether Melania Trump should forgive her husband for his alleged affair. Here are the results:

  • 43 percent said the first lady should remain married to her husband and “try to work things out.”
  • 34 percent believe she should divorce him.
  • 23 percent are unsure.

The results were divided by gender: 49 percent of men vote Melania should stick with the president versus 36 percent of women.

Rumors persist that Donald Trump cheated on Melania. (Photo: Getty Images)

Infidelity is a difficult area to study since many who stray usually don’t admit to it. However, here’s what we know:

  • Men are more likely than women to cheat on their spouses (20 percent to 13 percent respectively).
  • Older couples are more likely to cheat than their youthful counterparts.
  • Surprisingly, people with hot sex lives are more likely to cheat because they feel “more positive about sex in general” regardless of the state of their relationships.
  • A person who cheats is three times as likely to do it again in a future relationship, compared with those who have never been unfaithful.

Whether those transgressions can or should be forgiven is individual. “Cheating reveals a deep flaw in a person or a relationship, but it also presents an opportunity to work on a marriage,” Laurie Puhn, lawyer and author of Fight Less, Love More, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “If couples don’t do the work, they carry that pain to the next relationship.”

Betrayal can feel different to each person, but the repair work is the same, whether it’s a one-night stand or a repeated transgression. The first step, says Puhn, is to shelf the concept of forgiveness until the relationship is in a safe space, and that could take years.

“The person who cheated must be willing to take responsibility for his or her actions — not shamefully — but with empathy,” she says, adding that shame places the emphasis back on the cheater, not on the person who feels betrayed. “In a healthy conversation, the cheater hears the turmoil they caused and empathizes with what their partner is experiencing,” she says. “Likewise, the person who was cheated on must be willing to hear how and why the affair occurred, as marriage is built by two people.”

A genuine apology requires two steps: “When a person says ‘I’m sorry for …,’ they should fill in the blank by addressing the illusion of the relationship as seen by their partner,” says Puhn. “Then, there should be a promise of ‘In the future, I will do …,’ and that’s the huge task of discussing all the factors that led to the cheating.”

And though girlfriends are a valuable resource, the person who cheated must provide the bulk of emotional support. “Ironically, the hurt party will heal with the help of the person who hurt them,” says Puhn. “If a couple stays together after infidelity, they must start from scratch and get to know each other authentically. That’s how relationships get stronger.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: 

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