In the movie Unfaithful, Diane Lane’s character seems to have it all: a nice house, kids, and a hunky husband to boot (played by Richard Gere). Yet, following a chance encounter with an attractive younger man, she finds herself being, well, unfaithful. Why would she risk all of the nice things in her life by cheating? There are several reasons why she would take such a risk. It could be something about her (her personality or self-esteem), something about her relationship (not satisfying or unfulfilling), or something about the situation (she just had the chance). However, infidelity or cheating could also result from, at least partially, underlying biological and hormonal influences.
Entries in cheating/infidelity (39)
We can learn a lot about what makes for happy, long-lasting romantic relationships by studying the various reasons why relationships fail. Though there isn’t a surefire algorithm that takes into account every possible factor that predicts how a relationship will evolve, research does give us insight into the characteristics and circumstances that help partners “stick” together – or not. One obvious reason why people break up is infidelity, or cheating. This “grim reaper” of relationships has attracted the attention of researchers who aim to identify tendencies that put partners at risk for getting into “sticky situations” outside of their current relationship.
Commitment, the big “C-word” in relationships, is defined as feeling connected to your partner, wanting your relationship to succeed, and thinking about your long-term future together. Although there are downsides to commitment (see here for an example), commitment is associated with lots of good outcomes...
Most people generally believe that they are moral and good and that cheating on a partner is wrong. So how do cheaters live with themselves after their infidelity? Understanding how they reconcile their indiscretions with their beliefs about themselves can help us figure out why “good people cheat.”
Dissonance theory1 predicts that when individuals’ thoughts and behaviors are inconsistent, something has to give. Have you ever wondered why anyone would be a smoker these days, given what we know about the link between “cancer sticks” and cancer? A smoker knows that smoking causes cancer, but might rationalize it by saying “I don’t smoke very much” or “My grandma smoked two packs a day and lived to be 90 years old!” By coming up with these rationalizations, people are able to preserve the impression that their behaviors and attitudes are consistent.
Similarly, cheaters might minimize the significance of their infidelity as a way to cope with knowing they did something wrong. The authors of a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships2 propose that cheaters feel bad about their indiscretions but try to feel better by reframing their past infidelities as uncharacteristic or an out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
Would you have sex with a robot? If your partner did, would you consider it to be cheating? According to this article on Smithsonianmag.com, 9% of people would shag a cyborg, and 42% say that robot sex counts as cheating.
Check our our articles on what counts as cheating here and here. Sadly, we don't have any articles about having sex with robots to share with you; the closest we could find is this post by SofR contributor Dr. Justin Lehmiller on his excellent site.
Is it okay for people to be attracted to others while in a committed relationship? Is it normal? Someone told me "if you're in a relationship and attracted to someone else, then there is something missing in your relationship and you shouldn't be committed in the first place." Is that true? I've always thought that attraction is normal and unavoidable, and crushes are harmless if not acted on. So, is it normal to have a crush on someone who isn't your significant other?
A: Your question raises several different issues worth considering, so let’s take them one at a time:
1) Is being “attracted to others while in a committed relationship… normal and unavoidable?”
Actually, yes, there is reason to think that being attracted to others is unavoidable. When we look at another person our brain very quickly processes the visual information our eyes see, and we nearly instantaneously make a judgment concerning the other person’s attractiveness.
Although I can’t claim to have personal experience avoiding “getting caught,” here’s some advice to those of you engaging in extramarital (or extra-relationship) affairs. (If you want to know if your partner is cheating, see here and here for what does and doesn’t count as cheating.) It doesn’t surprise me that people have affairs (my research suggests that 24-51% of men and women cheat on relationship partners1). It does surprise me that these affairs seem to reduce the cheaters’ number of functioning brain cells.
So, those of you out there cheating on your partners, here’s a list of the Top 10 Things You Should Avoid Doing If You Don't Want To Get Caught. (I’ve based each on real cheating scenarios. Check your own knowledge of celebrity cheaters below.)
In order to determine whether your partner is cheating, you first have to define what “cheating” means to you. On the surface, this doesn’t seem difficult—cheating is cheating, right? It’s one of those things that you just know it when you see it (or hear about it from a friend that saw your partner doing it). Well, let’s see just how absolute cheating is. Is having sexual intercourse with someone other than your partner cheating? YES! Maybe this game is easy. (Though it wouldn't be cheating if your partner said it was okay) What if your partner has conversations with someone at work, but doesn’t tell you? Hmm. What if you have a crush where you fantasize about someone else when you’re with your partner? Is flirting cheating? What about going to a strip club? What about Hooters? What about accepting a friend invitation from an ex-partner on Facebook? What about sexting?
What do sex columnist Dan Savage and politician Newt Gingrich have in common? Probably not a lot, but they have both been in the media recently in regards to open relationships.
In a recent article in the New York Times, sex columnist Dan Savage discussed the benefits of a monogamish relationship – one where partners are committed to each other but free to occasionally pursue sex partners outside of the primary relationship. He believes that opening up a relationship in this way can promote honest communication and prevent actual “infidelity.”
There seems to be a widely shared belief that anyone involved in an "open" relationship is infected with all sorts of STDs. The assumption seems to be that if you aren't monogamous, you're a promiscuous disease spreader, right? Not so fast. The reality is actually far more complex than this, and the risks of “open” and “closed” relationships may not be as different as they are assumed to be.
Not that you need reminding, but nearly 15 years ago then-President Bill Clinton was immersed in a saucy sex scandal. The affair was the topic of many water cooler talks. People wondered how the American President, the leader of the free world, did not know whether he cheated or not? Well, it turns out that identifying what “counts” as cheating is more complicated than it seems.
Quick, in 10 seconds think of as many celebrities as you can who have allegedly been caught cheating. Go! Tiger Woods, Jude Law, Bill Clinton, Dave Letterman, Kobe Bryant, Eliot Spitzer, LeAnn Rimes, Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton some more, Jon Edwards, that guy Sandra Bullock was married to, Brett Favre, and now Kristen Stewart. Why is this so easy? Either you have an extraordinary knowledge of celebrities' love lives, or it really is a common phenomenon. So, why do they do it? Is it really Robert Pattinson's fault? Nope. They do it because they can.
We're big fans of Dan Ariely. His new book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-- Especially Ourselves, focuses on many ways that people lie, cheat, or are otherwise dishonest in their lives. We are honored that he's offered to share an excerpt from his new book with ScienceOfRelationships.com. Enjoy!
Of course, no book about cheating would be complete if it didn’t contain something about adultery and the kinds of complex and intricate subterfuges that extramarital relationships inspire. After all, in the popular vernacular, cheating is practically synonymous with infidelity.
In fact, infidelity can be considered one of the main sources of the world’s most dramatic entertainment. If modern-day adulterers such as Liz Taylor, Prince Charles, Tiger Woods, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others hadn’t cheated on their spouses, the tabloid magazine and various entertainment news outlets would probably go belly-up (so to speak).
In terms of the fudge factor theory, infidelity is most likely the prototypical illustration of all the characteristics of dishonesty that we have been talking about. To start with, it is the poster child (or at least one of them) of a behavior that does not stem from a cost-benefit analysis. I also suspect that the tendency toward infidelity depends to a great extent on being able to justify it to ourselves. Starting with one small action (maybe a kiss) is another force that can lead to deeper kinds of involvement over time. Being away from the usual day-to-day routine, for example on a tour or a set, where the social rules are not as clear, can further enhance the ability to self-justify infidelity. And creative people, such as actors, artists, and politicians—all known for a tendency to be unfaithful—are likely to be more adept at spinning stories about why it’s all right or even desirable for them to behave that way. And similar to other types of dishonesty, infidelity is influenced by the actions of those around us. Someone who has a lot of friends and family who have had affairs will likely be influenced by that exposure. With all of this complexity, nuance, and social importance, you might wonder why there isn’t a chapter in this book about infidelity and why this rather fascinating topic is relegated to one small section. The problem is data. I generally like to stick to conclusions I can draw from experiments and data. Conducting experiments on infidelity would be nearly impossible, and the data by their very nature are difficult to estimate. This means that for now we are left to speculate—and only speculate—about infidelity.
You can get The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-- Especially Ourselves here, and check out Dr. Ariely's blog here. His other books include Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic.
All group-living nonhuman primates, such as chimpanzees and the lesser known bonobos, are polygamous. Perhaps not coincidentally, researchers have documented infidelity in every human culture. Yet, most evolutionary biologists agree that monogamy is natural to humans and that it has evolved to assure the survival of our species through guaranteed paternal child support. In other words, without monogamy there is no guarantee a guy would stick around to invest in his offspring. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, authors of Sex at Dawn,1 argue that a driving force behind this assured “male parental investment” is the certainty that it’s the particular male’s genes that are passed on to any offspring in which he invests. A monogamous bond insures a man will not accidentally support another man’s child, while it simultaneously assures the female that her male partner will not share resources with another woman’s offspring.
If monogamy is so natural, however, then why is it that cultures need to sanction monogamy?
My boyfriend and I of a very long time broke up two days ago, and I'm at a total loss of where to go from here. We had an amazing relationship with very little problems or issues, and I honestly thought that this could be my future husband. But about a month ago we were going through a rough patch and I made what is unquestionably the biggest mistake of my life and kissed another man. This man has no emotional meaning to me and it was a one-time occurrence.
I debated for weeks if I should tell him but I decided not to knowing he would break up with me and knowing it would never happen again. The man I kissed though had other plans and told others after I told him how important it was to keep between us because it had been a mistake. My boyfriend of course found out and asked me if had anything to tell him, and I confessed right then knowing he had found out. I told him how sorry I was and that there was absolutely no excuse for what I’d done. I told him the whole situation and that I only love him. I told him I wanted to work through it and earn his trust and forgiveness back but he broke up with me stating "I want to be with you but I have to break up with you".
So we haven't spoken in two days and here is my question for you. Do I let him go because I love him, or do I fight for him because I love him? I am 100% committed to fixing it and want him back but should I just set him free? He says he still loves me but should respect himself enough to break up with me. I have no idea what to do, but I know he's the one and I'm so lost. Please help!!
Editor's note: A reader recently asked for our thoughts about the history of marriage across time. This is a topic that Dr. Lorne Campbell tackled in our book, The Science of Relationships: Answers to Your Questions about Dating, Marriage, and Family, so we've included an excerpt below.
The answer to this question is not straightforward. Research does suggest that although a lot of people are not monogamous, the majority of people do remain faithful to their partners. Any answer to the question, therefore, must address the conditions that make it more likely for some people to cheat on their partners but others to keep their zippers securely fastened.
If someone cheats on their partner (boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife) should they tell their partner? I have had this debate with many friends and we can never come to an agreement. Some say the right thing to do is to be honest and fess up. Others use the argument "ignorance is bliss" and that as long as they never repeat the offense the damage is better left untold. What do you think?
One way of approaching this question is to gauge how the partner would feel if he or she found out about the offense.
A reader recently submitted the following question:
I have been in the best relationship of my life for the past 6 months with a woman who caused me to believe in love at first sight. Everything has been perfect and she is exactly what I had always dreamed to find in someone, but deep inside I thought I would never meet a person like her. With everything being so great, I was shocked when she had told me that she cheated on a boyfriend whom she was with for two years. I would have never guessed she would be the person to do something like that. However, there are factors involved which I believe could have caused her to commit this act. First off, her boyfriend at the time told her he liked her best friend, secondly she was entering college where she would be introduced to a completely new world since she had lived in the same small town her entire life, another factor is that her boyfriend did not pay attention to her or show any sign of affection, and lastly she cheated on a night when she was at a party with a friend who ended up dating her after she ended the relationship. With all of this information, I want to know if I can trust her to not cheat on me. I have never loved anyone as much as her and I know she feels the exact same way, but at the same time I wouldn't have thought she would cheat. She is a very sweet caring person who is always smiling and laughing. Also she had never told anyone else about the scenario before, and was crying the whole time she told me. Should I worry about this, or listen to her and trust that she was less confident and took the wrong route in ending her relationship?
Thanks for your question. Overall, it sounds like your relationship is going really well, especially if she was comfortable enough to tell you about her past indiscretion. There are a lot of possible explanations for your girlfriend’s past cheating...
Relationship researchers Drs. Benjamin Karney and Thomas Bradbury discuss infidelity (from the PSB series This Emotional Life). Read more about definitions of infidelity here.
Infidelity-- cheating, being unfaithful, or what researchers would describe as “couple members’ violations of relationship norms regarding exclusivity”-- clearly can cause negative emotions such as feelings of betrayal, hurt, and jealousy. With spring break (at American colleges and universities) just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to discuss how relationship commitment affects the likelihood of infidelity when partners are geographically separated and tempted by the fruit of another.