Attitudes Toward Infidelity

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Infidelity and Relationships

One of the most detrimental behaviors to the survival of a relationship is cheating. Infidelity is a violation of trust and may damage the commitment romantic partners have made to one another. Sharpe, Walter, and Goren (2013) note that “Infidelity is a serious relationship issue, as it not only reflects instability within the primary relationship, but also may have intense negative consequences for both individuals in the dyad” (p. 644). The act of cheating creates tension between partners and may destroy the relationship.

The perception that a partner may be cheating is also extremely detrimental. If there is suspicion, it often creates a rift between the pair. Therefore, it is important to know how people view cheating and what behaviors people believe violate the terms of a committed relationship. 

Those who have been cheated on in the past may be more suspicious of their partners, as they are often worried that the past may repeat itself. However, it doesn’t mean that they are also more likely to negatively judge individuals they are not romantically entangled with. Sharpe et al. (2013) conducted a study to explore how gender, previous cheating experience, and the gender of vignette characters would influence participants’ attitudes towards extradyadic behaviors. The researchers studied 320 undergraduates from a college in the Southwestern United States and found that both men and women who had cheated on their partners in the past rated hypothetical vignette characters, who were the same gender as they were, as more forgivable than a character of the opposite gender who had cheated.

Specifically, men who had cheated were both the most accepting and forgiving of males, and women who had cheated were more accepting and forgiving of the female character. The researchers hypothesized that their result lends evidence to the idea that those with cheating experience express gender-biased favorable attitudes toward infidelity to alleviate potential cognitive dissonance. Essentially, a person who has cheated will need to excuse the very same behavior in another individual similar to him/herself. If not, the cheater would experience tension as a result of judging others for actions he/she has engaged in.

A Descriptive Study

A descriptive study was conducted in my lab to examine people’s attitudes toward infidelity. For this particular study, 773 participants were recruited using a snowball sampling technique. The majority of the sample was female (77.7%), and between the ages of 18 to 34 (73.9%). 

Cheating Behaviors

From the sample of 773 participants, 66.9% reported that they never cheated on a romantic partner, while 33.1% had. Of those who answered yes, a majority (79.7%) reported that they had cheated 1 to 4 times. Regarding their reasons for cheating, 71.9% said that it was because they were not emotionally satisfied in the relationship, 40.6% reported that they were not sexually satisfied, and 8.2% reported that they were not financially satisfied by their partners. The other 23.4% selected “other,” and three common themes emerged; immaturity, opportunity value, and knowledge that the relationship was ending. Relating to the theme of immaturity, many participants noted that they were too young to take the relationship in which they cheated on their partners seriously. Regarding opportunity value, many stated that the option to have sex with another attractive person presented itself. Finally, many participants indicated that they cheated because they already knew that their current relationship was not going to continue for a considerably longer amount of time.

Reversing the situation, 53.7% of the sample had reported being cheated on by a romantic partner and 46.3% had reported never having been cheated on. Of those who had experienced infidelity, 78.4% had knowledge that they had been cheated on approximately 1 to 4 times. Most (63.2%) were not told the reason why their partners had cheated.

Attitudes Toward Cheating

Participants were also given the Perceptions of Dating Infidelity Scale (PDIS; Wilson, Mattingly, Clark, Weidler, & Bequette, 2011). This measure assessed the subjects’ attitudes toward different behaviors that may constitute cheating. Sample behaviors include dancing with someone other than your partner, dating someone other than your partner, etc.

The data were analyzed to determine if there was a difference between individuals who had cheated on their partners and those who had not, in terms of their views of these behaviors. Interestingly, there was no difference. Those who had and had not cheated viewed the behaviors in a similar manner. This finding contradicts previous research which has shown that those who have cheated on their partners in the past also have more permissive attitudes towards cheating (Drake & McCabe, 2000).

There was, however, a significant difference between those who had been cheated on by a partner and those who had not. Those who had been cheated on before were much more likely to view their partner’s behaviors with others as cheating. Therefore, it seems as if the past can influence our present beliefs as we fear that it may repeat itself.

Examining infidelity and which behaviors constitute cheating can help couples better understand what will and will not be tolerated by one another when in a relationship. It can also potentially encourage a conversation of how to behave in social situations with others.


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