Research consistently finds that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 married persons in the United States has committed infidelity . Rates of infidelity in dating relationships are even higher. Why are so many people cheating? Surprisingly little research has explored the motivations behind infidelity; fortunately, however, a new study published in the Journal of Sex Research offers some valuable insight .
In this study, 495 adults (average age of 20) were recruited through a university and online to complete a 77-item questionnaire about their motivations for engaging in infidelity. The items were drawn from past research on cheating, as well as research on people’s motivations for having sex more broadly.
Based on people’s responses to the items on this questionnaire, researchers extracted eight broader themes that characterize motivations for infidelity. These themes were:
1.) Anger. This included cheating out of a desire to get back at a partner who had cheated or was suspected of having done so. It also included the desire to get back at a partner who had done something else upsetting (something that wasn't an act of infidelity).
2.) Sexual desire. This included a desire to try certain sex acts that one's partner wasn’t interested in, a desire for more frequent sex, as well as confusion about one’s sexual orientation.
3.) Lack of love. This included uncertainty about being with the “right” person, falling out of love with a partner, and growing bored with the relationship.
4.) Neglect. This included not spending enough time with one’s partner, frequent conflict or trouble in the relationship, as well as feeling that one’s partner had been neglectful.
5.) Lack of commitment. This included not having communicated about relationship rules and labels, not wanting to get too close to someone, and wanting to have children with somebody else.
6.) Situational factors. This included being on vacation, being drunk, being friends with other people who had affairs, and feeling like you couldn’t resist a person who was making moves on you.
7.) Esteem. This included wanting to assert one’s independence, boost one’s self-esteem, a desire to reignite the spark with one’s primary partner, as well as a desire to prove to a partner that others find you attractive.
8.) Variety. This included wanting more variety in sexual partners, being confident that one’s partner wouldn’t find out about the affair, and wanting to take advantages of sexual opportunities before marriage.
The specific reasons people endorsed for cheating were related to several factors, including their personality, gender, and attachment style—there were some interesting findings here that I’ll consider in more detail in a future post.
It’s important to keep in mind that this research was not based on a representative sample. Therefore, it is possible that older adults and other groups that were underrepresented in this study might have different cheating motives. Also, although participants were given a lengthy list of infidelity motivations, it did not necessarily include all possible factors that might lead someone to cheat.
That said, this research is informative because it provides evidence that people’s reasons for cheating are many and varied, which means that relationship therapists would do well to avoid taking a “one size fits all” approach when dealing with cases of infidelity.
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 Luo, A., Cartun, M. A., & Snider, A. G. (2010). Assessing extradyadic behavior: A review, a new measure, and two new models. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 155-163.
 Selterman, D., Garcia, J. R., & Tsapelas, I. (2017). Motivations for extradyadic infidelity revisited. Journal of Sex Research.
Image Source: 123RF/mukhina1
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