And how to make the temptation to “go left” stop being so great.
People can cheat on each other for a variety of reasons, and even mutual love and complete satisfaction with their relationship does not protect against infidelity, says Professor of Psychology at Reichman University (Israel) Gurit Birnbaum. And very often the infidelity is spontaneous, unplanned: such an opportunity arises, and a person for some reason – he was too tired, too drunk, too distracted – simply do not have enough resources to resist temptation.
That said, adds Birnbaum’s co-author, Harri Reis, a psychologist at the University of Rochester (USA), different reasons underlie male and female cheating. A man is more likely to cheat if he feels sexually unsatisfied and a woman is more likely to cheat if she feels emotionally unsatisfied.
It is well known that in conflict situations it is useful to get into the other person’s point of view, to look at things through their eyes and thus understand how they feel.
Birnbaum and Reiss, whose article was published in the Journal of Sex Research, decided to test whether the method works in a romantic relationship, whether empathy (the ability to feel the pain of another) can help resist the temptation to cheat. It turned out that it did.
The researchers conducted three experiments involving 408 men and women between the ages of 20 and 47 who had been in a monogamous relationship for at least four months. During the experiments, the participants had to evaluate attractive strangers, think about them and even get to know them.
In doing so, psychologists persistently invited participants (but not all of them, a randomly selected half of them) to reflect on what things looked like in the eyes of their partner. In addition, all participants were regularly questioned about how interested they were in their new acquaintances, how committed they were to their current relationship, whether they fantasised about possible infidelity and so on.
In the end, it was found that fear of hurting a loved one and ruining a relationship with them does help to reduce the risk of cheating – sexual and romantic interest in attractive strangers drops, and feelings of commitment to their lover and desire for sex increase.
Although this strategy cannot completely prevent cheating, it helps to control one’s impulses and gives a more balanced view of the situation, Birnbaum and Reis note.