There are few things as destructive to a Massachusetts monogamous marriage as cheating. It’s one of the quickest ways to erode trust, leave one partner feeling betrayed, and throw every other aspect of the relationship into question. Yet, according to a 2004 study from the University of Chicago, 25 percent of married men admit to having had at least one extramarital affair. That’s why researchers set out to find the root of this common relationship problem, publishing their own findings in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. They determined that four qualities in particular tend to lead to infidelity in relationships—and what they found may surprise you.
The study included a sample of 561 women and 222 men who reported being in a monogamous dating relationship for an average of 35 months. They were asked to complete several surveys including three previously established self-reporting measures called the Extradyadic Behavior Inventory, Attitudes Toward Infidelity Scale, and Investment Model Scale. These probed their attitudes toward infidelity, their own relationship, and their personal dating histories to find patterns that might shed some light on their motives for remaining faithful or straying.
Overall, the researchers found that men were more likely than women to engage in physical acts of cheating and online communications that they viewed as cheating. Both men and women who had a history of cheating in other relationships were more likely to cheat in their present relationship.
But besides their genders and personal histories with infidelity, four things stood out to the researchers as indicative of whether a person might step out on their partner—all having to do with how they perceived cheating and the relationship itself.
1 They’re not fully satisfied in their relationship.
While not everyone who cheats is unhappy with their partner, the researchers found that those who cheated tended to report lower relationship satisfaction than those who didn’t.
A separate study published in the journal Individual Differences Research explains, “Dissatisfaction in the primary relationship increases the desire for involvement in extradyadic relationships.” The study’s authors explain that there is “a negative correlation between marital satisfaction and infidelity to be true for all types of extradyadic involvement,” including sexual and emotional infidelity, as well as a combination of the two.
2 They have some positive associations with affairs.
While most people in monogamous relationships report believing that cheating is wrong or harmful, the researchers found that study subjects who harbored more positive attitudes and associations with cheating were more likely to be unfaithful. Those individuals might simultaneously view cheating as exciting, freeing, or romantic, contributing to their internal justifications for the behavior.
3 They have other potential partners available to them.
The researchers found that those individuals who had a high-quality pool of alternative partners were more likely to cheat. Studies suggest that this could be true for a few reasons.
First, it may be an issue of willpower: those who are approached with a particularly attractive alternative are more likely to stray.
Second, someone with a high-quality pool of potential partners is likely considered widely attractive themselves. One recent Harvard study found that individuals with above-average attractiveness “are more frequently the target of poaching attempts” and are “more likely to engage in relationship threatening behaviors.” They concluded that “being physically attractive is not without its relational liabilities.”
4 They aren’t fully committed to their relationship.
Finally, the researchers found that the perceived level of commitment in the relationship tended to help predict whether or not someone was likely to cheat. Those with lower commitment levels found themselves straying at higher rates.
Thankfully, this is one issue you can address within the relationship to lessen your chances of a problem. Making sure you and your partner are on the same page about your level of commitment will help you avoid landing in an “asymmetrically committed relationship,” in which the less committed partner is able to dictate the terms and is more likely to cheat. And if you suspect your partner is having an affair, check out
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