Why do spouses cheat? New research holds some unexpected answers

Mar 11, 2023 03:16 PM IST

A study conducted in Germany finds the aftermath of infidelity divided along lines of gender, and not in the ways one would think. How far back did the couple’s problems go? The answer is a surprising one there too.

A study led by Olga Stavrova, associate professor of social psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, surveyed 947 people in Germany, 609 of whom had cheated on their partner and 338 of whom had been cheated on.

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It analysed the state of each person’s relationship using detailed questionnaires that traced its evolution back over 12 years. (Findings were published in the journal Psychological Science in November.)

The first rather intriguing finding: Among the subjects surveyed by Stavrova and her team, the emotional aftermath for those who cheated appeared to be divided along lines of gender, with women reporting less guilt, and recovering better. The women, on average, even reported feeling better about themselves and their decision over time.

The reason for this, the study posits, is that “Women are more likely to mention relationship dissatisfaction as a reason for their affair. Potentially… the affair may be a wake-up call for their partners, leading to positive behavioral change.” On average, the study found, men reported a sharp decline in life satisfaction and self esteem after the event of infidelity.

In another interesting detail, it turned out that, among both the people who cheated and those who were cheated on, most indicators of relationship well-being had been declining for as much as seven years before the incidents of cheating began. The five indicators measured were relationship satisfaction, intimacy, admiration, dominance (how often a partner gets their way in a disagreement), and conflict (how often the partners were annoyed or angry with each other). Men who cheated, interestingly, reported lower relationship dissatisfaction levels than women who cheated on their partner.

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    Dipanjan Sinha is principal correspondent, weekend features in Mumbai. He has been a journalist for seven years now and worked on the desk, news and features teams

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