Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Infidelity and needs

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Infidelity and needs:
How is need fulfilment related to infidelity?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1: An implication of adultery, or infidelity

Monogamous relationships can often fall victim to infidelity at the hands of one, or both partners. This common issue has negative implications that have the potential to extend extremely far. It is vital to address the roots of this issue: unresolved or unfulfilled needs. There are a range of basic human needs that need to be satisfied in a relationship in order for the relationship to be healthy and strong, failing to meet these needs can often results in one or both of the partners being unfaithful.

This book chapter aims to address the following questions:

  • What are the basic human needs?
  • What happens if these needs are not met?
  • What are the theoretical bases for these needs?
  • What are other factors influencing infidelity?
  • How susceptible am I to being unfaithful?
  • How can infidelity and need related issues be resolved?

Definitions[edit | edit source]

Infidelity: “Infidelity represents a partner’s violation of norms regulating the level of emotional or physical intimacy with people outside the relationship.” (Drigotas & Barta, 2001).

Infidelity can be motivated by a desire for intimacy in a physical or in an emotional sense, a desire for thrill or change, or by the need for attention to relationship dysfunction and unmet needs (Leone, 2013).

Motivation: “Motivation involves goal-directed behaviour.” (Weiten, 2010).

Motivations are what drive the needs and desires that drive or compel people to behave in a certain way (Weiten, 2010).

Need: “A need is any condition within the person that is essential and necessary for life, growth, and well-being.” (Reeves, 2009).

Human needs include physiological needs (sex), psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) and social needs (achievement, intimacy and power).

Needs[edit | edit source]

Hull's drive theory[edit | edit source]

Hull's drive theory, proposed in 1943, stated that drive is a need or a physiological deficit that compels the human to behave in such a way that would compensate for the need.

Behaviour = Drive x Habit

Hull developed a mathematical formula to explain the relationship between behaviour, drive and habit. In this formula, habit (stimulus-response linkages) provides the direction for an action, but not the energy. Drive results from the physiological loss of equilibrium and consequently initiates behaviours that would turn the person to a state of equilibrium or balance. Finally, behaviour is the result of these two factors. It is vital for there to be a drive and a habit in existence for the behaviour to occur, that is, neither drive nor habit could be equal to zero (H=0) (Graham & Weiner, 1996). According to Hull's drive theory, physiological deprivations create biological needs. If these needs fail to be satisfied, a psychological drive can be created (Reeves, 2009). This leads on to the following needs; physiological, psychological and social.

Physiological needs[edit | edit source]

Sex[edit | edit source]

Humans have a definite physiological need for sex. There is a distinct relationship between sexual motivation and behaviour and physiology. Buss and Schmitt (1993) argue that humans have evolved psychological mechanisms that underlie their mating strategies. These strategies could be argued as ones that have evolved in order to fulfill human physiological sexual needs. As would be predicted, women tend to seek males who are older and have financial security. In contrast, men tend to seek attractive, younger females whom they can support (Harrison & Saeed, 1977).

Hormones also play a significant role in human physiological sex needs. Humans produce hormones for a range of purposes, but levels of hormones have positive correlations to sexual arousal (Kalat, 2013), highlighting that hormones, from a physiological perspective merging into needs, are created as a starting point for need fulfillment and that human sexual behaviour is influences by hormones (Reeve, 2009). Figure 2, the traditional sex response cycle highlights the physiological sexual needs in humans. If these needs were not met in a relationship, from a physiological stance, the person may be motivated to pursue this need elsewhere which could mean relations with another individual.

Figure 2: Traditional Sex Response Cycle

Organismic psychological needs[edit | edit source]

Organismic psychological needs provide people with motivation for behaviour (Reeves, 2009). The Self-Determination Theory, the types of motivation are distinguished by the reasons or drives that induce an action or behaviour. The two main distinctions are intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Intrinsic Motivation Extrinsic Motivation
Engaging in an action because it is inherently enjoyable Engaging in something due to its separable outcome

(Ryan & Deci, 2000)

There is a great focus on people's inherent psychological needs; autonomy, competence and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Autonomy[edit | edit source]

Autonomy as a need is the need or desire for freedom to create personal goals and to decide what is and what is not in our interests and worth time (Reeves, 2009). As is the case with all organismic psychological needs, the fulfillment of autonomy is dependent on grasping the meaning of the particular adjustment, therefore internalising the environment that will provide support for this need (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Competence[edit | edit source]

In accordance with the Self-Determination Theory, internalisation is assisted by competence supports and then an adjustment that has been made and internalised may be introjected. Subsequently, this adjustment could leave individuals satisfied of their need of competence (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Failing to meet the need of competence in a relationship could result in the individual feeling inadequate which in turn may result in the engagement of infidelity in order to seek another relationship (whether sexual or emotional) where they may feel competent.

Relatedness[edit | edit source]

In Self-Determination Theory, relatedness is the act of promoting internalisation and creating a sense of belongingness and connectedness to the people or person spreading the particular goal. In fulfilling this need, the individual feels respected and cared for (Ryan & Deci, 2000). This is a vital need for humans, and if in a relationship this need is failing to be met, it may cause in infidelity in order to seek fulfilment of this need.

The aforementioned information on competence and internalisation applied to relatedness too; the internalised adjustment could leave an individual's relatedness need satisfied (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Further issues that link to the need of relatedness are if an individual finds he or she is in a relationship or marriage with someone who is emotionally withdrawn and with whom they cannot connect. In order to atone for relatedness being unfulfilled, they will engage in infidelity (Jeanfreau et al, 2014).

Social needs[edit | edit source]

Need to belong[edit | edit source]

The need to belong is a vital social human need. This need includes frequent, close and enjoyable interactions with other people that occur in a continuous and stable environment. Freud in his theories even asserted this need. This need motivates people to seek it out, and if it is not being sought in their current relationship, potential infidelity rates may increase (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

Intimacy[edit | edit source]

Intimacy plays a huge role in sexual relations, highlighting its importance to be fulfilled as a human need. In physiological needs, sex is the only listed need, however it must not be forgotten that intimacy has physiological connections.

An emotionally and physically rewarding outcome of a sexual experience is needed to enhance intimacy. The importance of sexual satisfaction (that it not involving typical genital related satisfaction) in women stems primarily from intimacy needs. A lack of tenderness, respect, mutuality, communication or sexual pleasure will impede achieving intimacy. While females might not have the same “need" for sex that males do (experience arousal and then resolution, see Figure 2), females will do whatever is necessary to aid engagement in sexual interaction to reap the benefits that are inclusive, but not limited to sexual; bonding, closeness, etc. (Basson, 2001). Refer to figure 3.

Enhanced emotional intimacy is achieved when the outcome is physically and emotionally rewarding. Many women find the outcome of sex physically rewarding even without an orgasm. For men, an orgasm is necessary for satisfaction (Basson, 2001).

Individuals with a high level of attachment anxiety often feel that their intimacy needs are not being fulfilled in their relationship, and use infidelity (sexual relations outside of their relationship or marriage) as a means to attempt to satisfy or fulfil that need (Russell et al, 2013).

Influences[edit | edit source]

Evolution and gender[edit | edit source]

“In civilized life, man is largely, but by no means exclusively, influenced in the choice of his wife by external appearance.”
Charles Darwin
Physical attractiveness influences heterosexual dating, altruism, and importantly, marriage satisfaction (Cunningham, 1986).

Evolution and Darwin's theory of evolution plays a role in sexual behaviour, as can be seen in the above quote. There are distinct differences between males in females in relation to sexual behaviour and preference and the subsequent likelihood to engage in infidelity.

In motivations for infidelity, gender differences highlight that males are more likely to report sexual motivation for infidelity rather than emotional (males are more likely to have a one night stand) and that relationship dissatisfaction has a greater correlation with unfaithful woman than unfaithful men (Drigotas & Barta, 2001). This ties in with Buss and Schmitt's (1993) finding that males are more likely to have short-term sexual motivations than women. A one night stand would be a short-term sexual motivation. Furthermore, males are more likely to be upset over a partner’s sexual infidelity compared with females who are more upset over a partner’s emotional infidelity. This is because of evolutionary reproductive fitness. Due to the nature of human reproduction (that is, fertilisation occurring in the female), males cannot ever be completely certain that it is their child. This causes the male to be more concerned about sexual infidelity, compared to the female who is pregnant for nine months has invested so much into the reproduction. Consequently, female will be more in need of a long-term partner and will be more negatively affected by emotional infidelity, which could suggest rejection (Kato, 2014).

Age[edit | edit source]

Age has an impact on sexual behaviour and infidelity likelihood, especially in regards to biological factors and physiological sexual needs. The sex hormones, androgens and estrogens, begin to decline with age. For example, after 40 (approximately), men’s testosterone levels begin to decline by 1% per year. Females also experience decline in sex hormones with age (Reeve, 2009). Clinicians often report heterosexual men having decreased sexual desire at approximately 50 years of age. However, accompanied with this low sexual desire, males develop more of an awareness to become emotionally “in tune” with his partner. Generally, at this point he will have sexual thoughts regarding his partner, however due to ageing, he does not experience signs of sexual arousal that he did when younger, causing him to question his arousal. Consequently, the male is compelled to question his emotional closeness to his partner (Basson, 2001). This could potentially be a causal factor for the male “mid-life crisis” which often is associated with confusion and infidelity.

Personality[edit | edit source]

Personality traits have a causal link to infidelity in relation to needs. Personality traits can be identifications of an individual's specific, emotional needs (Barta & Keine, 2005).

Schmitt (2003) conducted a wide study (across 10 regions) that examined the Big Five personality factors in relation to infidelity and sexual promiscuity. He found that relationship infidelity was associated with low agreeableness and low conscientiousness and that risky sexual behaviour (associated with infidelity) was unrelated to neuroticism and openness. People who described themselves are more unfaithful had personality traits of lack of trust and empathy (low agreeableness) and traits of disorganization and unreliability (low conscientiousness) (Schmitt, 2003), refer to Table 1. One can see how other similar characteristics listed in the table could also be associated with infidelity. Shackelford et al (2008) were in agreeance with Schmitt, additionally stating that low conscientiousness and low agreeability are associated with impulsivity; another personality trait commonly linked to infidelity.

Table 1. Big Five Personality Factors.

Personality Trait Characteristics (High) Characteristics (Low)
Extraversion Sociable, enthusiastic, high activity levels. Quiet, reserved.
Agreeableness Altruistic, trusting, warm. Cold, untrusting, low empathy, selfish, competitive.
Conscientiousness Deliberate, organised, reliable. Irresponsible, unreliable, disorganised frivolous.
Neuroticism Negative emotions, emotionally unstable, irritable. Stable, calm.
Openness to Experience Creative, curious. Shallow, conventional.

(Haslam, 2007)

Culture[edit | edit source]

Schmitt’s (2003) aforementioned study on personality found that the personality traits that predicted sexual riskiness or infidelity were most prominent in Western cultures and less in nations from Africa, South/South East Asia and East Asia. However, it was found that low levels of agreeable and conscientiousness are still universally associated with relationship infidelity across cultures.

Questionnaire[edit | edit source]

This short questionnaire is designed to test your own susceptibility to committing infidelity in regards to your need fulfilment. Answer yes or no truthfully, try not to look back over the information to see how you are "supposed" to answer these.

1 Do you trust your partner?


2 Do you frequently act upon your impulses?


3 Do you feel you can engage and communicate with your partner?


4 Do you frequently engage in actions or behaviours because you find them to be naturally pleasurable?


5 Do you often feel disconnected from those around you?


6 Do you feel you have freedom to create your owl goals?


7 Are you often disorganised or unreliable?


The answers labelled correct should suggest that your needs in that particular area have been met; your likelihood of being unfaithful is low. The answers labelled wrong should suggest that your needs in that particular area have not been met; your likelihood of being unfaithful is higher.

To use this guide effectively, go back over the sections where your needs may not be met, or where your personality traits suggest a likelihood of being unfaithful. Review these sections to assist you in understanding your needs and how you can lead a more effective life in terms of motivation, needs and decreased infidelity.

Solutions[edit | edit source]

Clinical solutions for unmet needs and consequential infidelity include the expression of each individual's needs in addition to the clinician ensuring the needs of both partners are being acknowledged and fulfilled (Jeanfreau et al, 2014).

Leone (2013) wrote of methods to assist couples post infidelity. She suggested contemporary self psychology as an effective means as a solution for infidelity, once it has occurred. She emphasised the importance of understanding the drives behind the behaviour that occurred, this relates to Hull's drive theory and his formula of Behaviour = Drive x Habit. Understanding the habit and drive it of utmost importance. Leone (2013) highlights the importance of this lies in the clinician developing a sense of empathy for the unfaithful partner and that is assists in the couple coming to terms with the infidelity. Finally, it assists in the couple understanding trauma and loss and understanding the elements that essentially caused the infidelity.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

As has been discussed throughout the chapter, there are a range of factors that can lead to infidelity. These include physiological, psychological and social needs; gender, cultural, evolutionary and age influences, and; personality traits. The most prominent correlations exist between infidelity and unfulfilled needs. Need fulfilment plays a huge role in the risk of infidelity, with factors such as intimacy, sex and relatedness (among others) being vital for the maintenance of a monogamous and healthy relationship.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Barta, W. D., & Kiene, S. M. (2005). Motivations for infidelity in heterosexual dating couples: The roles of gender, personality differences, and sociosexual orientation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22, 339-360. doi: 10.1177/0265407505052440.

Basson, R. (2001). Human Sex-Response Cycles. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 27, 33-43. doi: 10.1080/00926230152035831.

Basson, R. (2001). Using a Different Model for Female Sexual Response to Address Women's Problematic Low Sexual Desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 27, 395-403. doi: 10.1080/713846827.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529.

Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P., (1993). Sexual Strategies Theory: An Evolutionary Perspective on Human Mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204-232.

Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the Physical in Physical Attractiveness: Quasi-Experiments on the Sociobiology of Female Facial Beauty. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 925-935.

Drigotas, S. M., & Barta, W. (2001). The Cheating Heart: Scientific Explorations of Infidelity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 177-180.

Graham, S., & Weiner, B. (1996). Theories and principles of motivation. Cognition and Motivation, 63-84.

Harrison, A. A., & Saeed, L. (1977). Let's Make a Deal: An Analysis of Revelations and Stipulations in Lonely Hearts Advertisements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 2S7-264.

Haslam, N. (2007). Introduction to Personality and Intelligence. London, England: SAGE Publications.

Jeanfreau, M. M., Jurich, A. P., & Mong, M. D. (2014). Risk Factors Associated with Women’s Marital Infidelity. Contemp Fam Ther, 36, 327–332, doi: 10.1007/s10591-014-9309-3.

Kalat, J.W. (2009). Biological Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Kato, T. (2014). A Reconsideration of Sex Differences in Response to Sexual and Emotional Infidelity. Arch Sex Behav, 43, 1281–1288. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0276-4.

Leone, C. (2013). Helping Couples Heal From Infidelity: A Self Psychological, Intersubjective Approach. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 8, 282-308, doi: 10.1080/15551024.2013.796608.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (5th Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Russell, V. M., Baker, L. R., & McNulty, J. K. (2013). Attachment Insecurity and Infidelity in Marriage: Do Studies of Dating Relationships Really Inform Us About Marriage?. Journal of Family Psychology, 27, 242–251. doi: 10.1037/a0032118.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020.

Schmitt, D. P. (2004). The Big Five Related to Risky Sexual Behaviour Across 10 World Regions: Differential Personality Associations of Sexual Promiscuity and Relationship Infidelity. European Journal of Personality, 18, 301–319. doi: 10.1002/per.520.

Shackelford, T. K., Besser, A., & Goetz, A. T. (2008). Personality, Marital Satisfaction, and Probability of Marital Infidelity. Individual Differences Research, 6, 13-25.

Weiten, W. (2010). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.