“She didn’t mean to do it; she’s just really insecure right now.”
“He’s not trying to hurt her; he just acts out because he doesn’t realize how much she loves him.”
We’ve probably all heard some well-meaning person spout these kinds of ideas when talking about why someone cheats. And it turns out there might be something to it, at least according to scholars Boģda and Şendil of Turkey.
Infidelity is more likely for people with insecure attachments styles, they claim. Why is this? Well it’s perhaps because those with an insecure attachment style are more likely to be less satisfied in their relationships for a variety of reasons. And it doesn’t stop there. If support from a partner drops off then an insecure person would be more likely than a secure person to seek out someone new to compensate for that. So it seems that being less secure really does make a difference, at least on a basic level.
But what about when we look at more attachment styles? Well Treger and Sprecher wanted to take an in depth look at influences on infidelity and so completed a 14-year study to do just that. They found that there were sex differences for cheating, much of which I’ve talked about before: Men generally thinking physical cheating is more serious and women generally thinking emotional cheating is more serious. Attachments styles play a role here too though they found, or at least some do:
- Men with a preoccupied attachment style were more likely to see sexual infidelity as more upsetting than other men with fearful, secure or avoidant styles.
- With women, those with preoccupied styles were more likely to bothered by emotional infidelity compared to avoidant women (but not secure or fearful).
- Avoidant women were more likely to see sexual infidelity as the most serious compared to preoccupied and fearful women.
These results differ from the traditional male-female/physical-emotional divide when it comes to cheating so it shows that, while that traditional idea does hold up, other factors like attachment styles also play a role.
In fact, Treger and Sprecher also found that differing levels of sociosexuality (how open a person is sexually) also play a role in their attitudes to cheating. Those who were more permissive (people OK with uncommitted sex) found sexual cheating more upsetting versus those who are more restrictive (have a focus on long-term commitment) and consider emotional cheating more serious. However, where sociosexuality is concerned, it better predicts men’s attitudes than women’s.
There’s also another sex difference that Boģda and Şendil highlight regarding those with a tendency toward infidelity – men are more likely to cheat than women. (I said “well duh!” in my head when I wrote that but good to point it out anyway…)
I’m discovering more and more as I research this topic that determining what makes people cheat is a complex business and my research question will not be answered simply!
Boģda, D. K. & Şendil, G. (2012). Investigating infidelity tendency and conflict management based on attachment styles and gender. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences, 11, 205-219.
Treger, S. & Sprecher, S. (2011). The influences of sociosexuality and attachment style of reactions to emotional versus sexual infidelity. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 413-422.