Is it possible to know if someone is a cheater?

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Only 5% of people think infidelity is acceptable, but 25% of men and 15% of women will still have an affair whilst they are married. This doesn’t even touch on emotional infidelity, which raises these numbers significantly. Some studies have shown that 40% of marriages will experience cheating.

So, is it possible to spot a cheater? Potentially, but not in the conventional ways people assume. Excess testosterone or not enough ego-boosting from the other partner are old wives tales. There are some much more scientific reasons for infidelity in marriage.

Spotting a potential cheater

It’s impossible to pin down a single reason why someone cheats on their spouse, and the symptoms of an affair can be very subtle. However, research has shown that there are some causes that emerge time and time again. These reasons include lack of affection, the feeling that they are powerful and won’t get caught and more simply that someone attractive makes a pass at them at the wrong moment.

As with the reasons for infidelity, the types of person inclined to cheat are also varied. It doesn’t just boil down to the fact that someone is an idiot or can’t control their actions. Researchers have found that the basis of infidelity in marriage goes deep down, and that some types of people are more likely to cheat. Men are more likely to be unfaithful, but these traits apply to women as well. They include those with a history of psychological conditions, divorce or sexual abuse; those who need excitement; those who are not religious.

It is not just the type of person that precludes cheating, but also the quality of the marriage. If it lacks warmth and closeness, if the sexual aspect is neglected, and if it is conflict ridden then infidelity is more likely.  However, these conditions do not mean a spouse will definitely have an affair – people aren’t destined to cheat, and in fact rarely intend to do so.

The turning point

Cheaters will often end up on the path to an affair without being conscious of it. They will often justify their actions by rationalising: ‘We just had a drink together, like friends do’, or ‘Yes we kissed, but it was just a drunken moment’.

It is possible that their partner will sense something is up, but will bury this feeling because it has given their spouse a spring in their step. Alternatively they could be worried confrontation will lead to the marriage breaking down. By doing this, the spouse actually enables the cheater to continue their behaviour. Some researchers believe that infidelity is caused by the behaviour of both people in a marriage. One example is if one spouse craves intimacy, flirts with another person to fulfil this and then the other spouse withholds intimacy as a result. This often enforces the pattern.

Cheaters often say that the turning point that comes when an innocent relationship becomes something more usually happens when they are unhappy, drunk or under pressure. This moment is often about more than just lustful impulses though. It will also often happen after an altercation with their spouse, or the spouse refusing to seek help in the marriage. This behaviour will leave the cheater feeling sensitive and unhappy about their marriage. Any marriage taken for granted could be susceptible to infidelity.

The length of the affair

The average affair lasts around six months according to one study; but they can last anywhere from one hour to many years. Although infidelity within marriages is a topic close to many people’s hearts, there is only one scientific report on why cheating continues. It concluded that women are more includes to continue affairs if they feel loving towards the extra marital person.

Even though unfaithful spouses continue affairs, they will still often say they are racked with guilt and hope their marriage will succeed. This contradiction is often because they are worried the ‘other person’ will reveal the affair. If the other spouse suspects infidelity, they may become distant in the marriage, pushing the cheater away. Additionally, the person outside of the marriage may have real feelings for the spouse and will try hard to prolong the affair.

And as there are currently no serious scientific studies to explain why affairs happen, the fact is that ascribing one single reason as to why cheaters do what they do is not possible.

Is there an answer?

It is easy to cast aspersions about someone else’s marriage when we aren’t involved but in truth infidelity is a complex thing. It can damage a relationship, turning something that is salvageable into something destined to fail. It also causes hurt to those in the marriage and their family around them.

But, despite all this, there are ways to make cheating less likely within your relationship:

•    Know the difference between the relationship between you and your spouse, and that you have with friends.
•    Stay connected within your marriage, working to keep it warm and vitalised
•    If you feel the way you and your partner treat each other has changed, try to address this before the situation becomes impossible
•    Remember, marriage doesn’t protect you from feelings of lust toward other people, you just have to learn to keep those feelings in check

Part of the answer is awareness. Know when your marriage is struggling, and know the situations where you may be tempted to cheat – such as when you are drunk or feeling particularly unhappy. Conversely, if you think your spouse may be considering straying, address the issue. If necessary, get professional help or see a counsellor – it will probably be tough at first, but if it improves your marriage it will be worth it.

The content of the article was based on a comprehensive review of the research on extramarital involvement done by Allen, Atkins, Baucom, Snyder, Gordon, and Glass which appeared in the journal of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, volume 12 in the summer of 2005 on pages 100-130. On page 106, they review 15 articles that have investigated the relationship between religiosity and attitudes on extramarital involvement or reporting extramarital involvement. Of these, one article found that those who report no religious affiliation also report higher rates of extramarital involvement, four articles found that higher levels of attending religious services and religiosity negatively related to having less permissive attitudes towards extramarital affairs, eight articles found that higher religiosity related to fewer reports of engaging in extramarital involvement, and two articles found no relationship between religiosity and extramarital involvement. In sum, there are 13 articles that have found a negative relationship between extramarital involvement and religiosity, two that have not found this relationship, and no articles have found a positive relationship between extramarital involvement and religiosity.

If you wish to look at the source literature for these statements, please see the citations listed below (links to the article are listed when available most articles and books are available at a local university of college library).

Allen, E. S., Atkins, D. C., Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D. K., Gordon, K. C., & Glass S. P. (2005). Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Contextual Factors in Engaging in and Responding to Extramarital Involvement. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 12, 100-130.

Greeley, A. (1994). Marital infidelity. Society, 31, 9–13. http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-156714_ITM

Cochran, J. K., & Beeghley, L. (1991). The influence of religion on attitudes toward nonmarital sexuality: A preliminary assessment of reference group theory. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 30, 45–62.

Kraaykamp, G. (2002). Trends and countertrends in sexual permissiveness: Three decades of attitude change in the Netherlands 1965–1995. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 225–239. http://www.jstor.org/pss/3599790

Scheepers, P., Te Grotenhuis, M., & Van Der Slik, F. (2002). Education, religiosity, and moral attitudes: Explaining cross-national effect differences. Sociology of Religion, 63, 157–177. http://www.jstor.org/pss/3712563

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