Tuesday, October 30, 2012

You cheated on your girl/guy? Maybe you’re just insecure …

“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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It’s only cheating if you’re supposed to be monogamous … right?

 If you’re in a committed relationship, how many partners are you allowed to have?

Chances are you answered only one partner is allowed. If so, you fit with the majority of people in our society who agree that humans should be monogamous with only one partner if you’re married or in a dating relationship.
So what does this have to do with cheating you may ask? Well, when someone cheats on their partner, they’re no longer monogamous. So in defining cheating, we’re also defining something outside the bounds of a monogamous relationship. I’m not going to delve into the details of whether or not humans SHOULD be monogamous or not (I’ll leave that to the evolutionary scientists and others like that). However, it’s clear that, although monogamy is the norm in our society, it’s not the only way people chose to live. When I discuss cheating, for the most part I’m discussing it in relation to monogamous relationships. But, cheating can still occur in nonmonogamous – or open – relationships too.
In an article aimed at therapists who may come across clients in open relationships, Kevin Zimmerman outlines the various types of nonmonogamous relationships:
  • Partnered nonmonogamy – “a committed couple that allows for extradyadic sex”
  •  Swinging – “nonmonogamy in a social context”
  • Polyamory – “partners have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving and emotional”
  • Solo polyamory – “nonmonogamous individuals who do not want a primary partner”
  • Polyfidelity – “three or more people who have made a commitment to be in a primary relationship together”
  • Monogamous/nonmonogamous partnership – “one person is monogamous and the other is not”
(Zimmerman, 2012, p. 273)
The key to all of these open relationships is honesty and boundaries, according to Zimmerman. For partners to be successful in a nonmonogamous relationship, they must be honest with their partner about what they want and the actions they partake in outside of the primary relationship. There must also be clear boundaries set and continually negotiated between the partners to make sure neither is unhappy with the situation.
A study of gay male open relationships by Tony Coelho found that rules about what is allowable outside of the primary relationship may vary greatly between couples and deviate from the norm of monogamy. However, as long as they are established and understood by both people then relations – either sexual or emotional – can be allowed and not constitute as cheating.
So in open relationships, much like in traditional relationships, cheating is whatever deviates from the rules about the relationship set down by both partners. In monogamous relationships these rules can be unspoken and are understood based on societal ideas of monogamy. In open relationships they often need to be worked out in a more explicit fashion. We see this level of ambiguity and variation more when it comes to emotional cheating in monogamous relationships too so perhaps those couples, as I’ve previously recommended, could benefit from more explicit rules about what constitutes cheating for both partners.
In my discussion of infidelity I’ll continue to operate under the assumption that cheating is actions of an intimate nature outside of a primary committed relationship. I wanted to look into the idea of open relationships for a brief time however. Given the information that emerged in this blog, I’m now amending my research question to include the more specific explanation of the type of committed relationship I’m researching.
New RQ: What motivates people in committed, monogamous relationships to cheat?

Coelho, T. (2011). Hearts, groins and the intricacies of gay male open relationships: Sexual desire and liberation revisted. Sexualities, 14, 653-688.
Zimmerman, K. J. (2012). Clients in sexually open relationships: Considerations for therapists. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 24, 272-289.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When it comes to cheating, is it really “a small world after all?”

“It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears.
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears,
There’s so much that we share,
That it’s time we’re aware,
It’s small world after all.”
– Theme from Disney’s It’s A Small World
Disney teaches us that, despite living in different spots on the globe, it’s not our differences that divide us, but our shared experiences that unite us. And while this may be the case in some areas and a worthy ideal to uphold, some research shows this is not always the case when it comes to the shared experiences of cheating.
The consequences of cheating can vary based on the individual circumstances – after all, no relationships are exactly the same, so infidelity affects different couples in different ways. However, a big determinant in how a couple responds to one partner’s infidelity is the culture and norms of the society of they live in. Everything, from the TV we watch to the interactions of others around us, can teach us how we should behave in our culture and what is considered acceptable. While culture is not the only factor that determines how people respond to cheating, it is an important one.
Labeling a culture as individualist or collective is a broad, general way to describe the attitudes of most people within a culture. Research shows that the USA is generally considered to be an individualistic culture. China, on the other hand, is generally considered to be a collectivist culture. The difference in the focus of a culture’s people – whether they consider themselves or the group to be of highest importance – signifies the extent to which a culture is individual or collective.
What does that have to do with infidelity? Well, the type of culture a person comes from can affect how they react when their partner cheats on them. One study by researchers from California State University at Fullerton determined that there are certain types of responses to cheating that are typical of Americans, and other types typical of Chinese. Although individual personality factors can play a role too, cultural differences can predict how a person would respond if their partner cheats.
American responders were likely to engage in:
  • Exit responses – where the person would leave or dissolve the relationship when they found out about a partner’s cheating.
  • Anger-voice responses – where the person expresses their own emotions (anger, frustration, hurt, etc.) to their partner, without any goal of solving the problem or resolving the situation.
On the other hand, Chinese responders were likely to engage in:
  • Loyalty responses – where the person reaffirms their commitment to the cheating partner and to the relationship, despite the infidelity.
  • Third-party help responses – where the person did not interact with the cheating partner until they had sought advice from another person outside of the relationship (a family member or friend usually) on how to deal with the situation.
Given these differences, one can infer that couples in the US are more likely to break up after a partner cheats compared to China where they are more likely to stay together.
China is not the only country with collectivist ideals and differences to the US. Another study by American researchers looked at Asian Indians and how their cultural values affected their response to infidelity. Like in China, Indian culture is also highly collectivist with the focus on interdependence and less of a focus on individual happiness. Relationships outside of marriage are less common and most marriages are arranged. Love is not the deciding factor for getting married and is actually discouraged in many circumstances, according to the researchers.
For these reasons, often times it is the male of a relationship who engages in an extramarital affairs and the woman in the marriage is encouraged to be silent about the infidelity or find ways to interest her husband in their marriage.
The power structure and gender dynamics in Indian, Chinese and many other cultures varies; it affects how people respond to infidelity and why they respond in certain ways. Comparing these cultures with the US and how we see infidelity can be helpful in understanding varying attitudes toward infidelity. Also, considering how this research can relate to inter-cultural relationships is also important.
So the take away for today is to think about the cultural influences you and your partner have when it comes to relationships. What is important and unimportant to you both? How do you differ in your expectations when it comes to being faithful in a relationship? And finally, if there is a major transgression in your relationship, like cheating, how can you move past it?

Madathi, J. & Sandhu, D. S. (2008). Infidelity in Asian Indian marriages: Implications for counseling and psychotherapy. The Family Journal, 16, 338-343.
Zhang, R., Ting-Toomey, S., Dorjee, T. & Lee, P. S. (2012). Culture and self-construal as predictors of relational responses to emotional infidelity: China and the United States. Chinese Journal of Communication, 5, 137-159.