Men, Women Define Infidelity Differently: Female Partners More Likely To Condemn Emotional Cheating

It can be difficult to decide what’s considered infidelity in a relationship. Most everyone thinks having sexual contact with someone who is not a significant other is cheating, but what about texting someone and keeping it a secret? How about receiving suggestive photos from someone online? Is an intimate friendship that takes time away from the relationship cheating? You should not only decide this for yourself, but discuss it with your partner as well, because yet another study has confirmed that men and women generally have very different ideas about what cheating really means.

“Knowing what your partner believes to be infidelity could potentially save a relationship if both partners understand each other’s perspective, thus making the topic of different infidelity perceptions worthy of research,” the study, published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, reads.

To determine how gender, among other factors, influenced perceptions of infidelity, researchers had 354 undergraduate students complete an online questionnaire on the topic. Participants ranked different acts from 1 (definitely not infidelity) to 4 (definitely infidelity), including sexual deeds, like kissing or intercourse; emotional actions, like falling in love but not acting on it; and fantasizing, such as going to a strip club or viewing pornography. The survey also included questions meant to determine participants’ personal attributes, assessing things like their fear of rejection and anxiety.

Regarding fear of intimacy and sensitivity to rejection, there was no difference between the genders. Women, however, scored significantly higher than men in communion. This means that on average, the women showed a greater desire to “form and maintain supportive interpersonal relationships.” They were also more likely than men to classify both sexual-based and emotional-based acts as cheating, whereby men more often said only sexual acts constitute infidelity. There were no significant differences between the genders in how they viewed fantasy infidelity.

cheating How much physical contact constitutes cheating? Pixabay Public Domain

The suggestion that women have a broader range of what they consider cheating is supported by previous research.

“This pattern of finding suggests that women are more sensitive than men to possible violations related to infidelity within the confines of a romantic relationship,” the authors write. “Those higher on the communion scale are more sensitive to possible infidelity, possibly as a way of safeguarding their relationship with a significant other.”

The study could help couples therapists educate partners on gender differences in terms of infidelity, and address the idea that partners may have varied feelings on what constitutes actual cheating. After all, if you didn’t even know some people considered watching porn infidelity, you wouldn’t think to ask your partner their opinion.

“An ideal outcome from therapeutic intervention would include greater partner understanding and communication, relationship commitment, and relationship satisfaction,” the study concluded.

Looking forward, the authors suggest that future research delve deeper into the topic, and that it should start with using a more culturally diverse sample — including both straight and gay couples.

Source: Oberle C, Dooley A, Nagurney A. Predicting Perceived Infidelity from Gender and Interpersonal Traits. Sexual and Relationship Therapy. 2016.

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