Women and men see bodily and emotional infidelity otherwise

TRONDHEIM, Norway – Infidelity. This is one of the main reasons couples end up in divorce court. According to researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), roughly the same number of men and women give these indiscretions. However, how the sexes view different types of infidelity varies greatly.

The study shows that men are most upset when their partner is physically intimate with another person. Women, on the other hand, feel most threatened by a deep emotional connection between their partner and another person. This also applies if the relationship does not involve sex.

While both sexes go through similar thought processes to reach a conclusion about their deceiving partner, the level of forgiveness (or lack of it) is roughly the same regardless of whether the injured person is the man or the woman.

“We are surprised that the differences between the sexes were not greater,” says study co-author Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, professor at the Institute of Psychology at NTNU, in a university publication.

Is Human Response to Fraud an Evolutionary Feature?

Although the researchers expected a greater contrast in men’s and women’s response, they believe that some of the clues reside in cultural gender roles and evolutionary psychology passed down from generation to generation.

They point out that until recently men had to deal with their “fatherhood insecurity” in their own minds. Women in traditional gender roles did not have the question of fatherhood over their heads. Instead, they had to determine that the father of their child (s) would stay and continue to care for them. So these women were always on the lookout for rivals who could seduce their companions and threaten their survival.

For the current infidelity study, the NTNU team recruited 92 couples to complete a questionnaire on hypothetical infidelity scenarios. In one scenario, the partner sleeps with someone else but never falls in love with them. In the other scenario, the partner develops an emotional bond with someone else, but does not have sex.

The results show that participants of both sexes found it unlikely that they would forgive cheating on a partner. Researchers add that the thought processes that involve cheating and possible forgiveness are nearly identical for men and women. What makes the difference is the perceived threat to the relationship.

“Whether the couple breaks up or not depends primarily on how threatening the relationship is, which they perceive as infidelity,” says first study author Trond Viggo Grøntvedt.

Can couples still save their relationships?

Whether couples can save their relationship depends on a partner’s willingness to forgive and try to remain close enough to allow healing.

If a person willingly chooses to have sex with another person, it doesn’t matter whether or not they feel guilty. Before the relationship reaches the point of sexual intimacy, there is a gray area. Once the relationship becomes physical, the researchers say the partner is seen as more complicated and guilty.

When the injured partner blames the culprit heavily, the study’s authors say their results suggest that forgiveness may become impossible.

“The guilt factor doesn’t come into play if the partner is physically unfaithful,” says Grøntvedt.

“If you have voluntarily had sex with someone other than your partner, it is more or less irrelevant whether you think it was mainly your fault or not,” adds the NTNU postdoctoral fellow. “Possible forgiveness does not depend on accepting guilt.”

Forgiveness may be hard to find at this point in the relationship, but it may be easier than rekindling lost love. The study shows that regardless of gender and type of infidelity, most people find it unlikely that they will forgive their partner’s betrayal.

The researchers add that there is still plenty of room for individual differences even within each gender. Some people react differently to a cheating partner depending on their personality, experience, and circumstances.

“Many people may think that couples who have strong relationships are more tolerant of infidelity, but that was not indicated in our study,” concludes study co-author Mons Bendixen.

The results are published in the Journal of Relationships Research.

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