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Communicative pathways to forgiveness: Investigating adult children's experiences with parental infidelity

Allison R Thorson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

Parental infidelity, just like relational infidelity, is indicative of a relational transgression in the parent-child relationship. The ripple effect of this event on the parent-child relationship is not universal. Whereas some relationships strengthen as a result of the event-specific communication that occurs between parents and their children, other relationships worsen or end. Guided by the conceptual frameworks/theoretical foundations of empathy, attributions, and forgiveness, this study was developed to examine the impact of communication on the forgiveness process for children following the discovery of their parents’ infidelity in order to better understand how these interactions influence variations in individual and relational outcomes. ^ In researching this process, I first examined the relationship between the communication that occurred between parents and their children surrounding parental infidelity with empathy and the attributions adult children made for their parents’ infidelity. Second, I investigated the associations between empathy and the attributions children made for their parents’ infidelity as they are linked with children’s forgiveness of their parent following these events. Last, I examined relational outcomes associated with forgiveness. ^ Participants included 215 adult children who reported that their parents’ relationship involved infidelity. They completed a questionnaire designed to assess the messages communicated to them by their parent regarding this event, the degree to which they empathized with their parent for engaging in infidelity, the attributions they made for the event, the degree to which they forgave their parent for engaging in infidelity (both cognitively and communicatively), their current relationship satisfaction with their parent, and their overall well-being. ^ The results of this study inform readers that the combined efforts parents take to acknowledge that this event occurred and express their regret for engaging in this behavior—whether through their use of complete apologies or forgiveness-seeking strategies—assist children in the process by which they forgive their parent for engaging in infidelity. Three variables—empathy, attribution valence, and cognitive forgiveness—were identified as significant mediators of the process by which forgiveness occurred and resulted in satisfying relationships for parents and their children. ^ The results of this study help us better understand the impact of communication on the forgiveness process and the nature of this phenomenon.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Speech Communication|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Thorson, Allison R, "Communicative pathways to forgiveness: Investigating adult children's experiences with parental infidelity" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3359470.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI3359470

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