Depending on the parameters and expectations you and your partner have set, there can be different beliefs about "cheating" in a relationship. For many, however, a monogamous situation wherein each partner is completely faithful to one another, is the ideal. They want to trust that a significant other won't stray, even if they find themselves attracted to someone else. But despite such commitment, infidelity can often still occur. While there is not always a concrete answer as to why someone wanders, a new study suggests that if your partner is exposed to one thing in particular, it could make them more likely to cheat. Read on to find out what new data suggests, and how it could affect your relationship.
We're all impacted by social norms.
Human beings are inherently social. Even if you're more introverted than extroverted, you are still affected by those around you, and their actions can also impact how you think and feel.
"Culture is shaped by social norms, even in microcosms such as friend groups," Brianne Billups Hughes, licensed marriage and family therapist and sex therapist, explains. These are the practices or behaviors you see exhibited by others, which then appear acceptable or "normal" to you. According to Boston University School of Public Health, this concept is the main focus of social norms theory, which evaluates "peer influence, and the role it plays in individual decision-making around behaviors."
As a kid, you might've experienced this if your friends were doing something and you felt inclined to follow along, even if you knew your parents wouldn't approve. When you inevitably got caught, they would ask the rhetorical question, "If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?" It may seem trivial now, but this analogy can be used to illustrate how we're affected by our peers in adulthood—even when it comes to cheating.
Your friends may have more influence on your relationship than you'd like.
Those who are in committed, monogamous relationships often use strategies to mitigate their attraction to other partners or their temptations, Gurit Birnbaum, PhD, professor of psychology at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, wrote in an article for PsyPost. These include ignoring those they find attractive or "perceiving them as less desirable than they are."
However, a new study found that when people see others around them cheating, they aren't as inclined to use "relationship-protective strategies."
Published in Archives of Sexual Behavior on Aug. 17, the study actually asked if infidelity is "contagious"—and the short answer is, yes it is. According to study findings, seeing other people cheat reduced study participants' commitment to their current relationship, as well as their desire to resist temptation.
"These findings suggest that environments that foster a greater prevalence of infidelity lessen the motivation to protect the bond with the current partner, possibly setting the stage for unleashing the desire for alternative partners," Birnbaum, who is also the lead study author, explained in the PsyPost article. "Such environments may make people more vulnerable to, if not outright 'infect' them with, infidelity."
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The study used three tests to evaluate cheating likelihood.
Within the overall study, investigators conducted three separate studies, or tests, where participants were exposed to cheating behavior exhibited by others.
As part of the first test, study participants were shown research findings that reported either high or low rates of infidelity. After, they were asked to write the first sexual fantasy they could think of. These were then evaluated and "rated for levels of desire" towards both current and different partners.
For the second test, researchers used more "objective" measures to evaluate how exposure applies to different forms of cheating. To do so, participants either read stories about romantic cheating or academic cheating (like on a test). After reading the statements, they were asked to rate the attractiveness of a stranger and decide whether they could be a potential partner.
As part of the final test, investigators wanted to see if exposure to cheating would also increase their attempts to do so via flirting. Participants read survey results about high rates of cheating romantically or academically, and were then interviewed by an "attractive" person online. Afterwards, participants sent a message to the interviewer, which wars evaluated by independent judges, who rated participants' efforts "to interact with them again." Participants also rated how sexually desirable they found the interviewer and their commitment to their current partner.
Some experts say that cheating is prompted by other issues.
Birnbaum notes that while immersion in environments where cheating is prevalent seems to indicate "justification for abandoning long-term priorities of relationship maintenance," it doesn't automatically turn people into cheaters.
"Infidelity is almost always the result of a weakened intimacy bond between a committed pair or married couple," she explains. "Romantic bonds are strongest when partners consistently turn toward one another for their emotional and sexual intimacy needs. If the bond between the pair weakens, and each is no longer turning toward the other for an intimate connection, it leaves the parties susceptible to forming a connection with someone outside of the primary relationship or marriage."
DiMatteo challenges the study findings by adding that cheating also occurs in friend groups where you're surrounding by "devoted, loyal, and faithful pairs" because it is actually driven by a couples' attachment bond.
On the flip side, Birnbaum does state that if your partner is already thinking about straying, certain environments can act as "the extra push needed to resolve the conflict between following moral values and succumbing to short-term temptations in a way that promotes infidelity."