Relational transgression

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Relational transgressions occur when people violate implicit or explicit relational rules. These transgressions include a wide variety of behaviors. The boundaries of relational transgressions are permeable. Betrayal for example, is often used as a synonym for a relational transgression. In some instances, betrayal can be defined as a rule violation that is traumatic to a relationship, and in other instances as destructive conflict or reference to infidelity.

Relational transgressions are a part of any relationship. In each instance, partners must weigh the severity of the transgression against how much they value the relationship. In some cases, trust can be so severely damaged that repair strategies are fruitless. With each transgression both transgressor and victim assume risks.[1] The transgressor's efforts at reconciliation may be rejected by the victim, which results in loss of face and potentially an avenue of attack by the victim. If the victim offers forgiveness, there is risk that the transgressor may view the forgiveness as a personality trait that may prompt future transgressions (e.g., “I’ll be forgiven by my partner just like every other time”).

These risks aside, promptly engaging in repair strategies helps to ensure the relationship recovers from transgressions. Addressing relational transgressions can be a very painful process. Utilizing repair strategies can have a transformative effect on the relationship through redefining rules and boundaries. An added benefit can be gained through the closeness that can be realized as partners address transgressions. Engaging in relationship talk such as metatalk prompts broader discussions about what each partner desires from the relationship and aligns expectations. Such efforts can mitigate the effects of future transgressions, or even minimize the frequency and severity of transgressions.

Scholars tend to delineate relational transgressions into three categories or approaches. The first approach focuses on the aspect of certain behaviors as a violation of relational norms and rules. The second approach focuses on the interpretive consequences of certain behaviors, particularly the degree to which they hurt the victim, imply disregard for the victim, and imply disregard for the relationship. The third and final approach focuses more specifically on behaviors that constitute infidelity (a common form of relational transgression).[1]

Common forms of relational transgressions include the following: dating others, wanting to date others, having sex with others, deceiving one's partner, flirting with someone else, kissing someone else, keeping secrets, becoming emotionally involved with someone else, and betraying the partner's confidence.[2]