Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Adultery and emotion
What is the role of emotion in sexual cheating?
Why do people cheat? It is a common question for a common occurrence that has plagued many partners for as long as humankind has existed. There’s no one single reason as to why people betray their partners sexually, emotionally, or often both, as a variety of factors and reasons are behind this. Inner and external, sexual satisfaction, external temptation as well as basic personality traits can all be predictors. This also raises the question, from cheater's point of view, is it possible to take psychological steps to prevent the desire to stray? This is what will be discussed and evaluated, and will give us all some insight into the mind of the cheater.
What is an affair and who is affected by them?
Adultery, infidelity, unloyal, cheating are all words used to describe the same act: betraying a husband, wife or partner on a physical or emotional level involving extramarital relations with a person from outside the relationship or marriage. The act of cheating can be traced back to many ancient sources, with the most well-known being the bible, with attention paid to Jezebel and Delilah and also throughout history, with a prime example of this being King Henry the 8th (Hanson, 2015) and his several dalliances with women who, more often than not, became the next in line to be his bride and the Queen of England before quickly losing their lives at their husband's orders. Then there is the more recent famous affairs such as Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Jesse James, Kristin Steward and Madonna. This illustrates how common affairs are, in today’s society and in the history of the human race.
So exactly how common is this within normal everyday relationships? One study found that 3.6% of respondents in the USA admitted to having had a recent sexual affair (Treas & Giesen, 2000). While this may not seem like a high percentage, previous researchfound that 76% of respondents admitted to engaging in at least one extramarital sexual relationship.
Infidelity can, and often does, have many severe consequences and repercussions. Repercussions such as social stigma, emotional turmoil, financial issues and adverse effects to family are some of the most common and can extend to marital and relationship breakdowns leading to separation, divorce, with asset and custodial battles often ensuing . Emotional trauma is nearly always apparent also with research suggesting that following the outing of an affair both the wronged partner as well as the unfaithful partner experience a variety of different emotions, with the most common emotional reactions being jealousy, decrease in perception of desirability, emotional hurt, anger towards partner, lack of self-worth, vengefulness as well as depressed and suicidal tendences (Skackelford, LeBlanc & Drass, 2000). This level of emotional damage makes rebuilding the relationship very difficult and sometimes impossible with professional relationship and marriage counsellors stating that this type of relationship and/or marital issue is considered one of the most challenging issues to treat within therapy (Brand, Markey, Mills & Hodges, 2007).
This leads to the question, what are some of the causes of infidelity? Emotional factors are the key influencer in determining the likelihood of an affair occurring. Factors that contribute to infidelity include power (control within relationship, powerful personality type, power within the work force), confidence (extrovert/ introvert, physical confidence, mental confidence) as well as social standing (wealth, social standing) (Lammers, Stoker, Jordan, Pollmann & Stapel, 2011). Boredom within the relationship may also be a contributing factor . Some attention will also be paid to mental attributes such as risk-taking, “the grass is always greener” effect , the Big 5 personality traits whilst discussing the emotional factors influencing one's likelihood to stray outside the relationship.
What are the psychological and emotional influences on adultery?
The Big 5 personality traits
Studies have also shown a link between the big 5 personality traits and infidelity (Schmitt, 2004). According to the study, who based their research off Eysenck's theory, people who have an extroverted personality type hold more positive attitudes to the idea of several sexual partners compared to introverts who tend to prefer one. This study also suggests that extraversion is linked to higher levels of promiscuity due to a more active libido compared to those who are more introverted. The same can be said about neuroticism (Schmitt, 2004),it has been suggested that this is due to emotional distress, with seeking out sexual encounters to be a coping mechanism as well as the suggestion that people who score highly on the neuroticism scale being less able to control urges and cravings. Low levels of agreeableness and low levels of conscientiousness also appear to show higher levels of sexual risk-taking and higher chances of seeking sexual encounters from outside the relationship and this can be linked to a high sensation seeking attribute linked to these personality types . It has also been suggested that low conscientious levels and low agreeableness levels lead to psychoticism. Psychoticism is well known for creating permissive sexual attitudes, behaviours and beliefs leading to an increase of sexual encounters, which also may lead to a higher likelihood of increased sexual encounters whilst in a committed relationship (Schmitt, 2004). This study showed high levels of external and internal validity leading the assumption that this data present to be accurate which gives great insight to the effect personality types can have on the likelihood to have an affair.
Power positively correlates with infidelity for several reasons, with the first and foremost reason power increases confidence, and confidence leads to the ability to attract others (namely the opposite sex) (Lammers et al., 2011). The reason for this is that an increase in mental confidence leads to higher level of self-assurance, higher levels of confidence whilst interacting with others as well as an increase of actual attractiveness (power effect). The same study stated that as power increases so does emotional and psychological distance as well as an increase in risk-taking behaviour which also has the potential to result in extra-marital affairs.
Other research has shown that the partner within the relationship holding the most power has perceived less investment within the relationship (Davoudian, 2009). This study also stated that their data shows that the partner who perceives to have less power tends to feel more emotionally invested in the outcome of the relationship (Davoudian, 2009). The partner holding the most power felt less emotionally involved and that it was their decision as to how long the relationship would continue, giving that person a greater feeling of control. Other research has found that, for the couples who stayed together after finding out the other spouse had been unfaithful emotionally or physically (or in many cases both), that there was a switch between which spouse held the greater power within the relationship and the non-unfaithful partner gained an increase in power throughout the relationship (the power related to career or financial aspects naturally does not change) and this aided in the healing and forgiveness process due to the cheating partner feeling guilt and wishing to do whatever necessary to repair the damage that their actions caused (Squires, 2014).
Similar to power, confidence levels are a contributing factor as to the likelihood of one partner being unfaithful. Studies have shown a direct link between high levels of self-confidence and straying away from the relationship (Barta & Kiene, 2005). This appears to be a result of the partner feeling that they are more attractive/intelligent/likeable etc. This can result in them forming the perception that they can attract anyone they find physically attractive and may result in them establishing a secondary sexual relationship. It is important to note that many of the opposite sex find confidence in a potential mate or fling to be rather attractive which can lead to the confident partner finding that they are being approached by the opposite sex on a regular basis, and naturally, opportunity, attraction and attention can often lead to a sexual relationship occurring, even if one of the participants has an existing partner.
Sexual satisfaction and temptation
An expected reason for affairs occurring is sexual satisfaction, or lack thereof within an intimate relationship. Studies have shown that sexual satisfaction within the relationship lead to overall greater satisfaction within the relationship (Ashdown, Hackathorn & Clark, 2011). Add this to additional temptation from outside the relationship and disastermay occur. Studies have shown that temptation can be a big motivator for infidelity . Especially for those with an avoidantly attached personality may be more inclined, as well as less able to resist a temptation presented to them. One study has shown (DeWall, Lambert, Slotter, Pond, Deckman, Finkel, Luchies & Fincham, 2011) exactly this, over eight studies the data has shown that avoidantly attached types show greater interest in meeting prospective partners than what they do within their current relationship, almost like a grass is always greener effect. This study has also shown that avoidantly attached individuals viewed members of the opposite sex more positively than their partners and engaged in more affairs over time than those who were not an avoidantly attached type. This study has shown great indications of the link between avoidant personality type and infidelity to safely predict that this is can be an indicator that this personality type is likely to stray or has previously strayed. Of course many factors can influence this, temptation can occur, and be given into under many different scenarios, such as intoxication. Intoxication has been shown to lead to giving in to temptation and being unfaithful with a great portion of participants reporting infidelity to someone they felt tempted by and attracted to whilst under the influence of alcohol and/or illicit substances (Tedeschi, 2011).
Naturally there are numerous other reasons as to why some people stray,research (Drigotas, Safstrom & Gentilia, 1999) devised a categorical system as to address the reasons behind infidelity. The categories are sexuality, emotional satisfaction, social norms, social context as well as revenge/ hostility. Emotional satisfaction has been reviewed and now these other categories will be briefly reviewed. This article suggests that for some people who stray it can be purely for sexual variation, with some stating that, no matter how happy and satisfied they are within their relationship they enjoy some sexual variance - particularly with having multiple partners. It may be noted that this can be due to a high level of sexual desire. This is further validated by Baumestier, Catanese and Vohs (2001). The social context and social norms can prove to insight infidelity for several reasons; firstly lack of support for the relationship from family and friends has been linked to infidelity as they may influence one's opinion of the other partner through their personal beliefs, same with social or situational factors different social groups, equalling large amounts of time apart can cause issues within the relationship and potentially lead to one partner straying due simply to social opportunity, although again other factors would be present to lead to this (Ciarocco, Echevarria & Lewandowski, 2012). Sometimes people will cheat on their partners as a form of revenge also, this could be due to past indiscretions on their partner's behalf whether it be lying, cheating or other forms of neglect, it may even be because one partner gets annoyed at the other and wants to make them hurt, or even as an after-result of domestic violence the reasons for revenge infidelity and numerous (Archer & Coyne, 2005). This does lead to the question though of the effectiveness of the revenge affair person who will use sexual relations with a third person to hurt their partner, whether it stems from hurt, anger or hatred, this is not a healthy coping mechanism and will more often than not end in a very negative way with either causing great pain to someone they supposedly love and undermining chances of repairing the relationship or encouraging their partner seek a subsequent affair themselves.
Psychological and emotional consequences of infidelity
There are many psychological and emotional consequences, for both the cheater as well as the partner who has been cheated on. These can range from guilt, anxiety, self-loathing, feelings of worthlessness to mild, moderate or severe depression. Some have even recorded suicidal feelings and have attempted or successfully committed suicide (Hall & Fincham, 2009). A subsequent and common emotion felt after the discovery of an affair is jealousy. Many will feel inadequate and wonder why s/he was more desirable than themselves and this will more often than not lead to high levels of jealousy occurring. While this is a normal emotional response it can lead to some pretty nasty outcomes, especially if the wronged spouse chooses to confront the other person in an aggressive way (Shackelford et al., 2000).
For example, Roy Tabalbag was sentenced to jail for the murder of his girlfriend’s lover after he found the two in bed in a hotel. Tabalbag stabbed the other man several times using a chef’s knife resulting in the man’s death. The deceased was due to be married the following month to his fiancée of 12 years, leaving her with all sorts of emotions, ranging from devastation, to betrayed, to utterly heartbroken (Nine news, 2015).
A second example of the harsh consequences can be seen in the tragic outcome of Joanna Smith who committed suicide after discovering her husband’s affair with one of her best friends. Husband, Mr Smith reported that his wife, after discovering the affair had become mentally unstable, very angry and very hurt. After a fight with his wife he awoke some hours later to find she had committed suicide (Savill, 2006). These reports are just two of tens of thousands of infidelities that have ended with disastrous consequences. There are other cases, such as murder of partner and children then suicide committed, in the news on a frequent basis, which further illustrate the emotional damage that can be done when a partner commits infidelity. It is clear that major psychological issues can result from this, there is no doubt whatsoever.
Moving past the affair
While many couples end the relationship after the affair not all do. The following is a real-life case study detailing one couple's journey from betrayal to forgiveness (fake names used):
The case study is a real-life situation of a couple who have been together for seven years. The infidelity occurred halfway through their relationship, and their forgiveness tactics are some of the most common. The key element in addressing the infidelity and moving past this betrayal is communication, honesty, understanding, and time. The hurt partner will often need to know why the other did this to move on, and while that answer may be painful, openness is necessary for forgiveness. It is also vital that both partners address the issues within the relationship and actively pursue ways to fix these problems. Addressing all aspects of the infidelity is also vital in the recovery process, and while it may be a struggle for both partners to move on, it is possible. It comes down to whether that’s what both partners want and that’s really the first question that should be addressed as if one does not want the relationship to continue the only thing being achieved is prolonged emotional trauma for both (Atkins, Eldridge, Baucom & Christensen 2005). This of course is not a guarantee and even with all the best intention of making the relationship work, it will not always end in a positive way. If the couple cannot move past the affair, the relationship will be unhealthy and it may be best for both to go their separate ways.
There are many factors involved in what causes infidelity within a relationship. There are social reasons as to why some may stray, such as social norms, social pressure, as well as intoxication. There are psychological factors, including personality type/disposition, power, confidence and lack of inhibition as well as increased need for sexual satisfaction that may stem from a high sex drive. The emotional factors are also significant such as temptation, in conjunction with lack of self-control, unhappiness as well as boredom within the relationship, and while there is no 100% accurate indicator as to whether or not a person will cheat and seek a secondary sexual partner these factors do help to predict the likelihood of a partner straying from the relationship. This leads to the question, are we all too busy within ourselves to notice that our relationships are failing? Instead of waiting for the worst to happen why are people not addressing and fixing the issues with the person closest to them before the results turn disastrous? It appears that what should be done within our society to minimise this occurring is to communicate with spouses, aim for an honest and healthy relationship and strive to keep improving this so that the chances of spouses seeking another can be minimised through by being happy and satisfied within their home lives.
Ashdown, Hackathorn & Clarke (2011) In and out of the bedroom: sexual satisfaction in the marital relationship Journal of Integrated Social Sciences 2(1) 40-57 www.jiss.org
Barta & Kiene (2005) Motivations for infidelity in heterosexual dating couples: the roles of gender, personality differences and sociosexual orientation Journal of social and personal relationships 22(3) 339-359 DOI: 10.1177/026547505052440
Baumestier, Catanese & Vohs (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Theoretical views, conceptual distinctions and a review of relevant evidence Personality and social psychology review 5(3) 242-273
Ciarocco, Echevarria & Lewandowski (2012) Hungry for love: the influence of self-regulation on infidelity The journal of social psychology 152(1) 61-74 DOI:10.1080/00224545.2011.555435
Davoudian, Teni, "I Cheat Because I Can: Power, Sexism And Approval Of Infidelity" (2014). Dissertations (2009 -). Paper 342.
DeWall, Lambert, Slotter, Pond, Deckman, Finkel, Luchies & Fincham (2011) So far away from ones partner, yet so close to romantic alternatives: Avoidant attachment, Interest in Alternatives & Infidelity Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101(2) 1302-1317 DOI:10.1037/a0025497
Drigotas, Safstrom & Gentilia 1999) An investment model prediction of dating infidelity Journal of personality and social psychology 77(3) 509-524
Hall & Fincham (2009) Psychological distress: Precursor or consequence of dating infidelity? Society for personality and social psychology 143-159 DOI: 10.1177/0146167208327189 http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations_mu/342
Lammers, Stoker, Jordan, Pollmann & Stapel,( 2011) Power increases Infidelity among men and women Association for psychological science 1-7 DOI:10.1177/0956797611416252
Schmitt (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 DOI10.1002/per.520
Shackelford, LeBlanc & Drass, E. (2000). Emotional reactions to infidelity. Cognition & Emotion, 14(5), 643-659.
Squires (2014) Moving beyond betrayal: how mean-making, and power promote forgiveness following infidelity A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
Tedeschi (2011) Gambling your soulmate: Risk-taking and attitudes towards infidelity (Doctoral dissertation, Texas State University-San Marcos).
Treas, Judith and Deirdre Giesen. 2000. “Sexual Infidelity Among Married and Cohabiting Americans,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62: 48–60.
Bahr (2003) Infidelity linked to sexual personality: University of Guelph Study Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2011/08/03/sexual-infidelity-dependent-on-personality_n_913800.html?ir=Australia
Nine News (2015) Fiancée of man killed in love triangle stabbing speaks in court 9news http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/09/10/18/37/fiancee-of-man-killed-in-love-triangle-stabbing-speaks-in-court
Savill (2006) wife killed after husbands affair with best friend The telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1524508/Wife-killed-herself-after-husbands-affair-with-best-friend.html
Extra resources for those affected my infidelity within a relationship