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10 Predictors of Infidelity and Gender Differences: Why Do Partners Cheat?

images-492While men and women’s sexual behaviors seem to blur on TV and movies, most researchers and professionals who treat couples agree that key differences persist.

In a recent study of predictors of infidelity in couple relationships, for example, findings indicate men and women overall follow the stereotypes. Men who cheat do so wanting more sex, variety and frequency, whereas women are driven by needs for emotional connection and nonsexual affection.

According to author and expert in the area of infidelity, Michelle Langley in Living in Limbo: What Women Really Mean When They Say, “I’m Not Happy” the estimated rates of women who have had intimate encounters with someone outside their marriage is between 14 and 40 percent. Langley states that, “… there are signs that [women are] catching up with the guys.”

While the rates of infidelity were not significantly different, 23 percent for men and 19 percent for women, Drs. Mark, Janssen and Milhausen also found the factors that drive men and women to cheat differ greatly. Predictors for men in the study, for example, were related to performance anxiety and visually stimulating triggers. In contrast, relationship factors, such as emotional intimacy, partnership, feeling ignored, craving closeness or affection, etc., carried significantly more weight for women.

Overall the reasons women cheat seem more related to unfulfilled expectations or a perceived failure to develop a deeper emotional connection with their partner. In contrast, author and sex addiction expert Robert Weiss states in an article on why men cheat that when it comes to sex, “men tend to be most aroused by a visual succession of body parts and sexual acts” where as women are “aroused by sexualized and romanticized emotional connections between people more than body parts.”

According to Weiss, men also have a “greater psychological capacity overall to engage in objectified, even anonymous sexual experiences … devoid of any relationship or personal connection,” which explains why men turn to pornography and strip clubs — venues that allow them to sexually objectify women and sex as body parts. In contrast, women were more likely to objectify relationships, if anything at all.

This speaks to the question of whether men’s propensity to engage in sexual acts devoid of personal or emotional connection is a “biological” drive — or (more likely) a product of culture and socialization. Harsh definitions for “masculinity,” and taboos for men to express emotions of vulnerability, such as pain or hurt, or emotions of empathy, caring, compassion.

Though the causal effect of testosterone levels on sex and aggression is noted for males in studies of animals, most psychological research is wary of making causal statements because human behaviors are incomparably complex. This makes it necessary to consider personality, past experience and contextual variables. The impact of socialization is significant. Cultural definitions that make it taboo for men to engage in “love stuff” to prove they are “real” men, as well as early childhood sexual abuse and other forms of premature exposure to sexual stimuli, shape behaviors in enduring ways.

For human beings, beliefs are the most potent drivers of behaviors, ask any successful marketing company. Or, ask cellular biologist Dr. Bruce Liption. According to his research, published in a best selling book, The Biology of Belief, perception (beliefs) not only influence human behavior, they literally produce structural changes to the brain or new genes.

The human capacity for imagination is a force like no other. What we focus on, and what captures and creates pictures in our minds, is behavior shaping energy that galvanizes and directs inner firing and wiring of neurons within us to, literally, produce the outcomes that shape our lives and future.

Once thrifty Americans prior to the 50s, for example, were turned into shopping junkies within a few decades, by profit driven mass media and marketing campaigns. Their power to shape human behaviors by manipulating our beliefs is proven.

Perhaps the most egregious impact on sexual behaviors of men and women are porn industries. The influence of porn is evident today in more aspects of our society (fashion, entertainment, art, etc.). They have not only succeeded in profitting from selling sex (primarily to men), to become multi-billion dollar industry that dominates all others  — to include the combined revenues of Amazon, Google, Microsot, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and Earthlink — they have also shaped our beliefs, men’s in particular, regarding sex, and what it means to be a man, or a woman, in a relationship.

Though there is much overlap, there are at least 10 predictors of infidelity:

1. History of sexual abuse in childhood.

Early childhood sexual abuse and related trauma, left untreated, can lead to an array of intimacy disorders and addictions, to include sexual promiscuity, sex and love addiction. Studies show individuals with a history of childhood sexual abuse are at higher risk of engaging in sexually risky behaviors, according to a study by Drs. Solleen Dilorio, Tyler Hartwell and Nellie Hansen published in the American Journal of Public Health. The findings also showed the likelihood was significantly higher for men than women.

2. History of promiscuity.

Contrary to the myth, partners who’ve had many partners have a harder, not easier, time remaining monogamous. They are significantly more at risk of straying than those with little or no prior sexual experience. Infidelity is a futile attempt to fulfill one’s own unmet needs for love and affection, self-worth and esteem, by something or someone outside of ourselves. In truth, happiness and fulfillment are first and foremost an inside job. Looking outside of ourselves for some thing or person to make us happy is a set for an addiction. In a healthy relationship, each responsibly tends to their own emotional and mental health and healing, growth and happiness, as a prerequisite to doing their part to form a healthy relationship.

3. Sex and love addiction.

Yes it is possible to heal from sex and love addiction, however, it is not likely without a strong commitment to do so, and that means a lot of effort. And the most important step for the a cheating partner to recognize their behavior is damaging to themselves, their partner and their couple relationship. It is not easy to let go of beliefs that make sex and love addiction one of the most potent drugs. According to some studies, it lights up the brain more than heroin. Arousal addictions also seem to fall along gender lines; men are more prone to sex addiction, and women to love addiction. Though most researchers are wary of making causal connections between testosterone and sexual behaviors, there is a consensus that men are more easily stimulated by visual images, whereas women are stimulated by acts of caring, such as partnering or helping with a chore or the children.

4. Same-sex friends who cheat.

Having friends that cheat is a predictor, even in cases where the friend does not openly encourage the behavior, a certain group-think occurs that gives legitimacy to cheating. Men have also been socialized to believe certain myths, such as that sleeping around is proof of male “virility” or that cheating and lying to women is “proof” of a male dominance and superiority. They may even enjoy the feel-good rush of outsmarting a woman that, to them, is perceived to be bossy. Unfortunately the human brain loves games, and cannot distinguish between healthy feel-goods or toxic ones that harm and cause needless suffering.

5. Hooked on lying as a defense.

Partners with a tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation are at greater risk of cheating. For them, infidelity is an indirect way to express their anger, and  growing resentment, to a partner. This makes deception and the thrill of cheating irresistible. It’s a quick-fix way of numbing the pain of powerlessness, and cheating and lies gives them an illusion of power. Deception, lies and secrecy gives them a false-sense of power. as they have a low tolerance for pain and discomfort, and faulty thinking patterns of blame and stewing in resentment inside. Coupled with a low tolerance for the natural tensions of a couple relationship, conflict avoiders are at risk of getting hooked on deceit, lies, the trill of secret affairs, and the like. It is their own reluctance to take action, express themselves, learn to handle their own and partner’s upsetting emotions that causes them much suffering.

6. Believe the lies they tell (themselves and others).

For some partners, cheating is a means of coping with the natural stresses of forming a relationship. They tell themselves no one will find out, even though they eventually start to leave a trail as their drive to get “their fix” increases. Cheating allows them to express the anger and growing resentment they feel toward their partner without having to confront them directly and risk upsetting or angering them. Sadly, it allows them to believe the one-sided story (lies…) in which they put all blame on their partner. This makes them feel justified to do what they do (cheat and lie), to get the love or sex or happiness they perceive their partner has failed to give them. Meanwhile, their partner is often in the dark, unaware and often very unhappy to be with a partner that withdraws from necessary interactions. Infidelity often starts as a “glorified gossip session” in which a cheating partner finally shares “the case” they have built against their partner, and feels another person “gets” them. This makes them feel not only completely justified, but also “unconditionally loved” inside.

7. Family history.

Infidelity tends to repeat itself in a family where infidelity is one of the patterns that is passed on, and gets reenacted, from one generation to the next. A child with a parent who was unfaithful is significantly more likely to be unfaithful and sleep around on their spouse. The imprint of parents actions is not doubt profound and enduring. Children have a propensity to do, not what parents say, but what they do.

8. Close friendships with opposite sex.

A partner that has one or more friendships with members of the opposite sex, and “thinks” it is okay to be “just friends” with ex-lovers is at high risk of cheating. The temptation to take it to another level when circumstances arise that make sparks happen is ever present, especially considering that, in a normal couple relationship, growing pains and hurts and conflicts are inevitable on a regular basis. A person that is “just a friend” provides an unhealthy “exit” for a partner’s frustration, and, unless there are conscious efforts and protective buffers in place, human beings are wired to take the “path of least resistance” as a default.

9. A needy ego.

A needy or wounded ego demands constant affirmation, and treats a partner like an extension of themselves. They are takers, and feel entitled to take, without giving in return. A needy-ego partner may have a wonderful and loving spouse, yet still feel insecure and unprepared to build healthy intimacy in a relationship. It is much easier to seek quick-fix affirmations in the form of sex from an affair than to engage in essential processes that would create a deeper connection. Individuals with a needy ego refuse to engage in such processes. Male partners in particular remain woefully unprepared for relational processes that require them to feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, as they are perceived to be “unmanly.” Our society continues to socialize men to feel anxious, and to reject or avoid empathy-based communications, to regard them as “emotional craziness” associated with women, not men. For some men, only physical sex is regarded as “manly love.” Infidelity is in this case is about power. It is a quick-fix way to lower anxiety, cultivate an illusion of closeness and illusion, yet stay “in control” and “dominate” as a man.

10. A hurt ego or retaliation.

A partner that feels hurt or used, whether perceived or actual, is at risk of cheating. A betrayed partner, for example, may turn to infidelity at some point to retaliate and hurt their partner in return. Such thought patterns have an instant appeal, and most partners who have been betrayed may entertain them to some degree. Retaliatory infidelity can seem like a quick fix way to heal, however, like junk food, the feel-good feelings are temporary and the aftereffects are costly. This is more likely to happen for couples that did not seek professional help to heal from a past infidelity.

In sum…

Cheating appears to be on the rise for both men and women, and women are catching up. Overall it’s still mostly about sex and performance for men, and the quality of emotional connection in the relationship for women. Listen a little more closely when men and women talk — or the words they sing in songs. It’s still all about closeness, friendship, nonsexual emotional intimacy for women, and sex for men.

Sad to say, both sexes lie to each other, exhibiting a propensity to tell the opposite sex what they want to hear. Men talk up love to get sex from women; women talk up sex to get love from men.

The findings should not be surprising, considering how much men are culturally shamed into “proving” they’re “real” men by rejecting emotions of love and tenderness, as weakness. We demand men show emotional detachment from whatever “women” are interested in (love, relationships, etc.) as proof. It’s a game, a toxic one.

According to infidelity researcher Michelle Langley, men and women are “cheating and relationships are ending” because men and women lack necessary information. In a revealing and insightful book titled, Women’s Infidelity: Living in Limbo What Women Really Mean When They Say ‘I’m Not Happy,’ she brings a must read and needed dialogue to help partners bridge the gap.

To establish healthy sexual relations today, it’s necessary to understand the natural differences men and women bring to their couple relationship, as well as the impact of limiting gender beliefs, past experiences or trauma, and other forces that act subconsciously to shape and mold your behaviors.

 

 

 

10 Predictors of Infidelity and Gender Differences: Why Do Partners Cheat?

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik shows clients how to break free of anxiety, addictions, and other emotional blocks, to awaken radiantly healthy lives and relationships. Dr. Staik is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit www.drstaik.com, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik


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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2018). 10 Predictors of Infidelity and Gender Differences: Why Do Partners Cheat?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2014/08/a-look-at-infidelity-why-do-partners-cheat/

 

Last updated: 14 Nov 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Nov 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.