Are Some People More Likely to Cheat on Their Partners Than Others?
Is there a personality type for cheaters? Is there more than one type?
What do you call a cat that commits infidelity? A cheetah.
Cheetahs are extremely non-monogamous. They cheat on each other all the time. Even though we think of ourselves as rational animals, morally above infidelity, the truth is that we humans cheat on each other all the time too.
Sad but true, it’s an unfortunate fact of life.
There are a ton of sayings about infidelity and cheaters.
“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”
“Cheating and lying aren’t struggles — they’re reasons to break up.”
Being cheated on is a living hell. It’s a nightmare you don’t wish on your worst enemy.
But are there certain personality types that are more likely to cheat? Is there a way we can detect the risk of infidelity before falling madly in love with someone we believe is right for us?
First, let’s dive into the reasons people cheat, and then we’ll dig into some research to see what we can uncover.
The Four Horsemen of Infidelity
It’s important to note that infidelity can be the cause of relationship problems, the consequence of relationship problems, or both. Sometimes, relationship difficulties manifest in infidelity, other times, people cheat and the issues come later; so there is nothing you can do to seal off your relationship from infidelity 100%.
But there are things you can do to better your odds of not getting cheated on.
There are four main reasons people cheat. Of course, there are many more, but time and again, researchers find the same four reasons at the top throughout the scientific literature:
Emotional neglect. Hands down, this is where women are more likely to cheat than men. Women who feel like they aren’t being heard, loved, or cared about are far more likely to stray than women who feel like their partners are supportive of them, their lives, hopes, dreams, and well-being.
Sexual dissatisfaction. Alright, guys, your turn. This is the reason guys tend to cite for their infidelity excursions. Having a dissatisfying sex life is the biggest driver of male adultery. Many men say they cheated because sex was absent in their primary relationship.
Straight-up boredom. Boredom can happen to any relationship. You’re hardwired to become comfy in long-term relationships, whether you’re a man or woman, and sex becomes routine. The longer the relationship, the greater the chances that one or more partners will commit infidelity.
Self-esteem woes. A lot of people cheat because they don’t feel good about themselves. Feeling like someone else desires them makes them feel whole inside. These people, sadly, often spend their lives chasing fleeting instances of external happiness. It’s a cycle of misery, ecstasy, and back to despair again.
These are the four horsemen of sexual infidelity, and it’s wise to be on guard to make sure you and your partner(s) don’t sink into any of these states.
The Dark Triad
A recent study by Laura Ferreiros and Miguel Clemente found that men who scored higher on “the dark triad” traits (unsympathetic, manipulative, and violent) are at a higher risk of committing infidelity.
Results of the study showed that 24.7% of people had cheated on their partners. Of those who admitted to infidelity, 40.8% of them cheated more than once, and generally scored higher on the dark triad traits.
Avoiding the dreadfulness of infidelity might be as simple as not picking a violent, uncaring, manipulative partner, though I know that’s easier said than done.
Personality & Behaviors
A 2011 study by Kristen P Mark et al. dug into the personality types and behaviors that might be more prone to extra-relationship excursions. Over one-fifth of the participants, 22%, had cheated on their current partners. This represented 23.2% of men and 19.2% of women.
Using questionnaires, the researchers looked at the traits that have been most consistently associated with infidelity (or fidelity).
Those are typically religious affiliation, education, income, relationship type, sexual satisfaction, and sexual compatibility.
Previous studies found that married women were less likely to cheat than unmarried women, suggesting that a greater degree of commitment offered protection against infidelity in women (but not men).
Six studies conducted between 2000 and 2010 showed that religious affiliation also played a role in infidelity, with non-religious people being more likely to cheat than religious people.
Relationship quality was another factor analyzed, as people who are unhappy in their relationships tend to cheat more often than those who are satisfied (obvious, but not always true).
A 2000 study by Judith Treas found that people with higher sex drives are more likely to cheat than people with lower sex drives (duh).
While the results of the 2011 study did not confirm religious affiliation or marital status as a predictor of infidelity, they found some interesting things.
Lower relationship happiness was associated with infidelity in both sexes, with 72% of men reporting lower relationship happiness compared to 47% of men who cheated but did not report any relationship problems.
Of the women, 62% were unhappy with their relationships, while 40% of women who cheated were happy with theirs.
Note: keeping your partner happy can make you less likely to be cheated on.
Then there’s compatibility. How often are you having sex? And do you want the same kinds of sex?
63% of men who cheated reported sexual incompatibility, while 46% did not. Similarly, 51% of women who cheated reported sexual incompatibility, while 29% did not.
Note: sexual compatibility, in both frequency and kind, play a role in cheating.
Then there’s sexual excitation and inhibition. It should come as no surprise that people who get more sexually excited and have fewer sexual hang-ups or roadblocks tend to cheat more often. This just makes sense, as having a desire for sex is basically a prerequisite for infidelity.
Men were more likely to engage in infidelity and other sexually regretful behaviors when in an extremely good or extremely bad mood, so moody men may be more likely to cheat and then try to justify it later.
For men, the lingering threat of performance concerns (not being a good lover, erectile dysfunction, etc.) caused them to feel sexually inhibited, which in turn made them less likely to cheat.
For women, the same was true, only instead of performance concerns, women were more worried about performance consequences (STDs, unwanted pregnancy, etc.), which inhibited their sexuality and made them less predisposed to infidelity.
But both men and women who scored low on inhibition due to performance concerns or consequences were more likely to cheat. The less you fear the consequences of extra-marital sex, the more likely you are to engage in it.
No differences were found among the races or ethnicities.
This study highlights the importance of sexual personality in someone’s willingness to engage in infidelity. They say you can’t turn a ho into a housewife, and trying to tame a classic “bad boy” type usually winds up breaking hearts.
Taking these findings to heart, we find that the people who are more sexually open are more likely to want more sex. Perhaps that’s why we see movements toward ethical non-monogamy, as people with higher sex drives and less fear for the consequences are coming around to the idea that maybe we should just be open and honest about our desires for different types of sex.
It also highlights a rather uncomfortable fact about infidelity in humans: that people generally often cheat simply because they have the opportunity to do so.
Other research has shown that an education disparity plays a role in cheating, as people with more education than their partners are more likely to cheat. The same holds true with income and other indicators of social status.
The takeaway from this: some people will cheat just because they can, and I sense that those other factors, relationship quality, and compatibility in terms of sexual personality, play a role in determining who will cheat when the opportunity presents itself.
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