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.


  1. Hi Tabbi, very interesting to take a (sort of) personality approach to cheating with the attachment styles. I think this blog has such potential, so I'm going to point out two things that I think would help strengthen it. First, I was interested when you said the researchers "claimed" that infidelity is more likely with insecurity. I wonder if there is a way to clarify that they do or don't have empirical evidence for their claim. Wasn't sure if it's was their opinion or if it was based on a particular study. In that same paragraph, I wasn't sure what you meant by "If support from a partner drops off..." Is there a reason a partner would be less supportive of an insecure other, or? Second, in general I like bullet points just fine. In this case, I think it might be hard for this information to really land on a reader in those bullet points. A bit more explanation about how the attachment styles work might help. I realize this might take you above your word count, so perhaps something to consider for a long blog. Keep up the interesting work!

    1. Thanks for your feedback. I agree that I think I need more information about the different attachment styles in this blog. I put the graphic in to try to explain it but whenever I tried to write it in, it just seemed long and over drawn so I took it out. I like this content but it does seem to deviate from the other information I’ve been looking at so if I chose to have it in my final blog or paper I’ll be sure to flesh it out some more.
      As for the researchers “claiming” information, I used that term so that I wasn’t assuming that their information is fact as I have in previous blogs like the cheating sex differences one. I agree that it does sound a little like they don’t have evidence to back up their points, when they do, so I’ll have to think about other words I could use in future.

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  3. Tabi,

    You have picked a really interesting topic and I have always wondered why someone would cheat. As I read your blog, I questioned why insecure people would even consider cheating. It seems to me, if you are insecure, you would be afraid to go out and find someone to cheat with. However, I do see that insecurity in a relationship would make someone seek security somewhere else. How do you define insecurity for your blog? Is it based on the individual (personal identity) or on the relationship identity? Do you think that insecure individuals cheat because they are seeking an identity?

    As I have read your blogs this semester it occurs to me that culture plays an important role in cheating. You mentioned today that those who are more open sexually view sexual cheating as more detrimental and that those who are more monogamous view emotional cheating as more hurtful. Do you think the cultures that these individuals belong to promote a set of beliefs and values? I was thinking about those who are monogamous. They are in a relationship where the expectation for both of them is that they will be faithful. So your partner having a sexual relationship with someone else is on the back burner of your mind. But you worry about the emotional side of the cheating because that is the part you are insecure about. I experienced this with one of my children and their spouse – she was always insecure that my son might talk to someone else.

  4. I, along with most people, find the topic of infidelity fascinating. It's a meaty subject to dig into. I agree with Reeder about explaining the attachment styles a bit more for the reader. Before you go into the first line stating "Infidelity is caused by insecure attachment styles." You could offer a line or two that discusses how we learn to relate to others through these attachment styles, then get into the insecure one. What are they? How do they form? How were they observed/researched? You might be able to work that information in without having to go far over the word count. Overall, nice job!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Christine! I agree and think that I would include more of that information if I pursue this facet of infidelity further in my research.

  5. Teresa, thanks so much for your comment. I thought the same thing as you did about the insecure attachment styles … why would they be the ones that are more likely to cheat since it seems like insecure people would work even harder to cling to their relationships. But actually I think it partly stems from compensating for the insecurity (this is me now, not the research) and partly because of the reasons someone is insecure. If you look at the table it shows the basic reasons why someone might have a non-secure attachment style and so those reasons might play a role in why someone might be insecure. To be honest, I think this is a very complex issue and to adequately delve into the role personality plays I will need to do a little more research on the topic. I think this is a fascinating aspect however and relates well to my research questions, what really does motivate people to go out and cheat on someone they love? It ties back to what you say, that you don’t understand why someone would do it. Hopefully this provides a slight answer and I’ll keep working on figuring out the rest!

  6. Of course I gotta jump on this blog...

  7. Tabi,

    Cheating, infideliy, lying, deceiving...these are concepts that have been dominating both our lives this semester. I think we are both fully realizing the complexity of those concepts as well. My eyes are more open to the possibilities of what these terms are, as well as closed to the cynicism of fully gripping them as well. The "acting out" theory of cheating is one I personally might buy in certain situations but also I find it the most tacky. The insecurities of mankind will be the cryptonite of our powers eventually. Seeking out comfort, compensation, and confirmation in sex are the antithesis of what the very definition of sex should be. So to cheat to satisfy these quasi needs to me, is juvenile and unhealthy. The idea of sociosexual permissive attitudes viewing sexual cheating as the more hurtful doesn't shock me because sex often has such importance, value, and relevance in their lives. The restrictive, holding more power in the emotional aspects of relationships leads to cheating with emotion, as being seen as the most negative as well.

    1. Mike, I agree there are many similarities and parallel themes that run through our research, they seem to meld well together. I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to find it a tad depressing though, always focusing on these horrible ways that people manage to screw up relationships with people they love! Infidelity is a really interesting topic but sometimes reading this stuff gets me down about how badly people can behave. I figure you must be on the same page somewhat because you’re always talking about how prevalent this stuff is too. At least we’re learning what not to do in our own relationships right?! :)
      I think you hit the nail on the head in describing why permissive people are more likely to be bothered by sexual infidelity. It’s because, like you say, “sex often has such importance, value, and relevance in their lives.” And the same holds true for the opposite side too with restrictive people having a focus on emotional commitment. I also like how you refer to insecurities being the kryptonite of mankind, it does seem like that can be a motivation to do a lot of non-beneficial things in our lives, and this research shows that this is the case with infidelity, which we know can have problematic consequences.