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A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior underscores the power of situational forces to make someone vulnerable to the possibility of considering romantic alternatives.
“A peer environment that suggests infidelity is acceptable can make people feel drawn to attractive alternatives — and knowing that others are having affairs can make people feel more comfortable when they.” think about having affairs themselves,” says psychologist Gurit Birnbaum, faculty member at the Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology in Israel, lead author of the article and fellow PT blogger.
“Of course, environments where infidelity is prevalent don’t necessarily make people cheat,” says Birnbaum. “Nonetheless, when someone is already vulnerable to betrayal or when opportunities for infidelity arise, these environments can provide the extra push needed to resolve the conflict between following moral values and succumbing to temptation in a way that encourages infidelity.”
To better understand the phenomenon of infidelity, the authors examined whether exposure to stories and instances of infidelity would decrease attachment to the current partner while increasing desire for alternative partners.
In three studies, they exposed romantically involved participants to the cheating behavior of others. Participants’ reactions were then recorded while thinking of or interacting with attractive others.
The study showed that after being exposed to the dishonest acts and cheating behavior of others, participants felt less commitment to their current relationship and expressed a greater desire for alternative partners.
“Environments that encourage a greater prevalence of infidelity can make people more vulnerable to infidelity, if not ‘infect’ it,” says Birnbaum.
Perceiving high standards of dishonesty, therefore, allows people to justify wrongdoing as less immoral, which in turn helps them to eliminate the moral confusion between long-term goals that support moral values and short-term temptations.
However, there are differences in people’s susceptibility to perceiving and acting upon such norms. Previous research has shown that various personality traits, such as neuroticism, narcissism, and attachment insecurities, make people more likely to engage in affairs outside of their committed relationship. Other research suggests that infidelity is predicted by higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of religiosity.
Additionally, some research suggests that about half of married US adults (53% of women and 44% of men, to be exact) have had sex outside of marriage.
Although there was no gender difference in the extent to which men and women showed interest in alternative partners after being exposed to the norms of infidelity, the researchers found that men showed less commitment to their current relationship.
The authors offer the following wisdom for people struggling with the temptation to cheat:
- Couples in monogamous relationships who live in environments where infidelity is acceptable may seek counseling that focuses attention back on the primary partner. Counseling and couples therapy have been shown to be useful in increasing sexual desire and emotional bonding between partners (e.g., motivating efforts to make the partner feel special).
- It is important for people to be aware of the power of situations and the impact they can have on intimate decision making.
- Some individuals find success by using relationship-protecting strategies, such as B. ignoring suitors or perceiving them as less attractive than they actually are.
- It’s also important to be aware of your social influences. Connecting with people in your community who are committed to their partners can help strengthen your own commitment.