Dr. Ahlishia Shipley: New Study Predicts Who is Most Likely to Cheat in Relationships



Couple sitting up in bed, both looking away   Original Filename: couple.jpgBy Ahlishia Shipley, Ph.D, CFLE

Who knows what factors really cause cheating? Is it her family history? Could it be his age? Maybe it’s their communication. Well, the science behind cheating may be getting better. A recently published study  examined the predictors of ‘extradyadic s*exual involvement,’ better known as cheating, among unmarried, opposite sex couples and revealed some surprising and, perhaps, not so surprising findings.

Unmarried couples were chosen to explore this topic for two main reasons – 1)  we already have a great deal of research focusing on cheating among married couples, but not as much about those couples who haven’t tied the knot and 2) because more and more people are delaying or even foregoing marriage and staying in these serious relationships longer.

This study is important because it built on previous research by looking at unmarried individuals in relationships with a nationally representative sample of adults aged 18-35. The longitudinal design used also allowed the research team to collect self-reports of cheating over time rather than just estimating susceptibility to it.

The researchers tested several variables that included involved-partner factors such as demographic characteristics, s*xual history, and mental health, as well as relationship-related factors including communication, s*xual dynamics, and aspects of commitment.

And which variables held the most predictive power???

Taken together, the demographic variables tested had less to do with cheating compared to relationship variables. Specifically, gender, age, education, religiosity, parental divorce, and having children were not associated with stepping out of a relationship. It’s important to note that males were no more likely than females to cheat. However, the individuals in the study that reported problematic alcohol use, having more prior s*xual partners, and having unmarried parents were more likely to cheat.

Overall, relationship quality revealed the most about who would ultimately cheat. So maybe this finding is not much of a surprise. The specific relationship-related factors were:

  • lower relationship satisfaction
  • higher levels of negative communication
  • history of physical aggression in the relationship
  • dissimilar plans for marriage
  • lower commitment to partner
  • suspicion of partner having s*x with someone else
  • partner has actually had s*x with someone else

In contrast, the frequency of s*x reported in the relationship and if the individual partner was satisfied with their s*x life were not factors associated with cheating. Living together was not a significant factor either.

All in all, relationship quality said the most about who would cheat over time in unmarried couples. If you are looking for ways to strengthen the quality of your relationship, consider couple enrichment activities, such as relationship education programs or counseling.

Couple Enrichment Resources:


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