Sobering Statistics of Infidelity
A recent review of the literature indicated that women are now as likely to cheat on their partners as men are (Fincham & May, 2017). Research statistics also suggest that one in five partners will cheat on a spouse at some point over the course of a lifetime, although the typical “one year prior rate” is around 2-4%.
Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?
And if you cheated in a prior relationship, you’re even more likely to cheat in subsequent relationships. And if you’ve been cheated on before, you’re likely to be cheated on again — and a lot more likely to suspect a partner of cheating than those who have not been in a prior relationship marred by infidelity. And as most of us want to blame our own shortcomings on our parents, research does confirm that if we grew up in a home where infidelity occurred between our parents, we were twice as likely to be unfaithful to our own exclusive partners in adulthood.
Do Personality Traits Predict Infidelity?
It would be great if we could judge a person’s risk of unfaithfulness to us before we already had fallen for them. There are a few studies that have attempted to determine if certain personality traits are more common among the sexually unfaithful than others (Allen & Walter, 2018). It turns out that neuroticism, which is marked by excessive sadness, moodiness, and emotional instability, is positively associated with overall sexual dissatisfaction in relationships, negative emotions, and sexual dysfunction. Being high in this trait doesn’t predict a person will cheat. However, partners of people high in neuroticism are actually more likely to cheat. This may be that a partner high in neuroticism may have a hard time being present and engaged with their partners and be less invested in meeting a partner’s sexual needs.
Extroversion, which basically is higher sociability, assertiveness, and emotional expressiveness, is an indicator that a person is likely to be more sexually active and more willing to take sexual risks. Highly extroverted people are also more likely to cheat on their partners; not only that, but partners of extroverts are also more likely to cheat. What goes around may, indeed, come around.
Agreeableness, which is all about kindness, altruism, and pro-social behaviors, is a trait that most people would be glad to find in their partners. In fact, research suggests that sexual infidelity is less common among those who are high on agreeableness. It’s what thoughtful and committed partners sign up for, one expects, and they are happy to oblige their commitment to fidelity.
Stay the Course or Throw in the Towel?
While infidelity remains a leading cause for relational break-ups, the decision to stick it out when a partner has wandered is a uniquely individual decision. Religious beliefs are often a reason for sticking it out while religious beliefs about adultery are also a reason for walking away. Relational power and the associated benefits of the relationship also strongly influence a wronged partner’s decision to stay or go. If children are involved and a partner is willing to give up the “side partner,” or is willing to “try” and give up the extra-familial relationship, a partner may believe it is clearly worth the work of patching up the relationship.
The popular question that is most often asked about relationship breakdowns is applicable here, “Is the relationship worth the work?” Answering this question is not always easy due to the multiple factors that must be weighed in the decision — including both emotional and material resource investments prior to and potentially upcoming in the future.
Regardless of gender, most of us want to feel acknowledged, appreciated, cherished, and respected by our partners. Whether you choose monogamy or consensual non-monogamy, the key to healthy relationships remains the same: honest and open communication. Being able to talk out differences and express complicated emotions predict greater overall relationship success. Sharing your expectations is the only way to ensure that your partner understands who you are and what your needs actually are. If you’ve got zero tolerance for cheating, then make that clear from the outset. Healthy relationships are based on mutual understanding, respect, and open communication. Facilitate these in order to ensure the greatest likelihood of a satisfying relationship — for you and your partner.
Allen, M. S., & Walter, E. E. (2018). Linking Big Five personality traits to sexuality and sexual health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 10, 1081-1110.
Fincham, F. D., & May, R. W. (2017). Infidelity in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 70-74.