You may feel at first like your world is crashing down, but being cheated on and left by your man does have an upside: in the long term, you may fare better than his new love interest, researchers say.
A woman who loses her unfaithful mate to another woman may go through a tough period of grief, mourning, and feelings of betrayal — but she will come out stronger and with an understanding of how to choose a better man the next time around, said Craig Morris, a research associate at Binghamton University and lead author on a study looking at the long-term fallout from relationship breakups.
“Many women report that they eventually acquire higher self-esteem, greater self-awareness, better awareness of cues of possible future infidelity and better awareness of how other women are behaving around ‘their’ mate,” Morris said.
The flip side is that the “other woman” ends up with a man she knows is capable of lying, deception and infidelity, Morris said.
At least 5,705 people from 96 countries participated in the anonymous online survey conducted by Binghamton University and University College London researchers.
The other woman? Stuck with a cheater
Morris and his colleagues haven’t finished analyzing responses of the women with whom the men cheated, but it doesn't bode well for the new couple.
“A cursory look at our data conversely suggests that the relationship with the ‘cheater’ and the ‘other woman’ does not succeed in the long run,” he said.
So ultimately, the woman who was cheated on becomes the “winner,” while the other woman becomes the “loser,” Morris said.
Why the cheater couple's new relationships so often fails is still unclear, said Morris. Maybe the wandering spouse wandered again. Or maybe the woman begins to doubt the partner she knows has strayed before.
Focusing on the long-term effects of a breakup is unusual, said Helen Fisher, senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the newly updated and revised “The Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray."
“I’ve really only thought about what happens in the short term after you’ve been dumped,” Fisher said. “At that point, the brain regions for love, attachment and craving continue working. And the brain regions involved in the perception of physical pain become active.”
After the initial pain of a breakup, things change.
Learning to choose a better mate
The researchers are “suggesting you might come out ahead by this and you can learn from the bumps in the road,” Fisher said. “So next time you might choose better and therefore it can be adaptive. It’s a great move forward to see that there is a long-term adaptive mechanism.”
And that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, Fisher said. “The brain can learn,” she added. “All things considered, we are built to learn from our mistakes — and go on to make different mistakes.”
The study was published in the Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition.