By Ken J. Rotenberg1 and Pamela Qualter2
From the beginning of time, people have experienced the two faces of romantic relationships: Trust and jealousy. Both the Old Testament and the Bible refer to those as evidenced by the commandment of “not coveting thy neighbours’ wife” and prescriptions that selfish jealousy destroys the love in marriage (Galatians, 5:20). Research demonstrates that people strongly believe that the success of romantic relationships depends on each partner being trustworthy and establishing a trusting relationship (Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, & Giles, 1999). Nevertheless, can people truly be trustworthy in romantic relationships? Is jealousy always inevitable and undesirable? The research shows that trust and jealousy play powerful roles in romantic relationships, but the theories and findings are complex. This blog addresses this topic and provides guidance regarding an important, if not the most important, part of our lives – our romantic relationships.
As in other Trust Matters posts, the BDT interpersonal trust framework will serve as a guide. According to the BDT, trust is composed of three bases (reliability, emotional, and honesty) by three domains: cognitive/affective (i.e., trust beliefs), behavior-dependent trust, and behavior-enacting trust (i.e., trustworthiness). Those are further qualified by the two dimensions of trust: specificity and familiarity. Finally, trust is part of dyadic reciprocal processes that result in common social histories. Jealousy is regarded in this blog as a person’s feelings, thoughts and behavior in response to potential threat to a romantic relationship by a real or imagined rival (Rotenberg, Shewchuk, & Kimberley, 2001). This includes the threat to sexual fidelity (i.e., sexual exclusivity) and emotional fidelity (i.e., affection exclusivity).
Trust Beliefs – From the Cradle? According to Attachment Theory (e.g., Bowlby, 1969) infants develop a secure as opposed to insecure quality of attachment from reliable nurturance experiences with their caregiver, primarily their mother. The quality of attachment during infancy is believed to provide the cognitive basis for the romantic attachment styles during adulthood (see Hazan & Shaver, 1987). Although this proposition is controversial, the quality of adults’ romantic attachment styles appear to have consequences for their romantic relationships. According to attachment classifications, persons with a secure attachment romantic style are inclined to endorse a willingness to become close and trust others whereas persons with an anxious (insecure) attachment romantic style tend to both approach and avoid close relationships. Finally, persons with an avoidant (insecure) romantic attachment style tend to avoid close relationships and mistrust romantic partners. Studies show that individuals with a secure romantic style have the most enduring romantic relationships and adults and an anxious romantic attachment style have the shortest romantic relationships (Feeney & Noller, 1990; Kirkpatrick & Davis, 1994). Kirkpatrick and Davis (1994) found, though, that there were stable relationships for couples in which women had an anxious attachment style and men had an avoidant romantic attachment style. According to the researchers, those couples had stable relationships because they conformed to conventional sex roles (i.e., anxious feminine women and detached masculine men).
Trust is a crucial component of security and contributes to the quality of romantic relationships. Persons who have a secure romantic attachment style are inclined to (a) trust their romantic partners (e.g., Mikulincer, 1998), (b) be trusted by their romantic partners (Collins & Read, 1990), (c) maintain trust over the course of romantic relationships (Keelan, Dion, & Dion, 1994) and (d) cope positvely with violations of trust such as talking about those violations with a romantic partner (Mikuliner, 1998).
What precisely is trust in romantic relationships? According to the BDT interpersonal trust framework (Randall et al., 2010) trust beliefs in a romantic partner are a person’s expectations (and feelings) that the romantic partner demonstrates reliability (promise keeping), emotional trust (e.g., accepting and maintaining confidential of disclosures), and honesty. It includes a person’s behavior-dependent trust (e.g., jealousy) which is their willingness to depend on romantic partners to demonstrate those types of behaviors. Also, it includes trustworthiness, which is the extent to which a person engages in those behaviors in interactions with their romantic partner. A similar model is presented by Remple and colleagues (e.g., Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna 1985) which posits that trust in romantic relationships is composed of (a) predictability comprising expectations of stable dispositions from past interaction; (b) dependability comprising the willingness to put oneself at risk by intimate disclosure, reliance on another's promises, and (c) faith comprising feelings of confidence and security in the caring responses of the partner and the strength of the relationship. According to the research those forms of trust emerge (in that order) as romantic relationships develop. These researchers have found that romantic partners who are high in trusting are inclined to make causal statements about their romantic partners both publically and privately that were consistently positive (Rempel, Ross, & Holmes, 2001).
Jealousy! The theory and research addressing jealousy is quite varied. Our model (Rotenberg, Shewchuk & Kimberley, 2001) emphasises that there are three basic jealousy situations: (1) unilateral contact involving non-intimate interactions between a rival and a romantic partner (e.g., talking), (2) bilateral in which there is face-face interaction between a rival and romantic partner such as the formation of friendship, and (3) mutual contact in which there is intimate contact between a rival and a romantic partner (e.g, kissing). We have found that a person’s jealousy to those different situations is linked to their sense of powerlessness and loneliness. People who tend to be lonely and experience powerlessness are particularly jealous in response to unilateral contact and are distinctly low in jealousy to response mutual contact. Broadly, the findings suggest that people who are not lonely and have a sense of empowerment are disinclined to experience jealousy when the threat to their romantic relationship is minimal but are inclined to experience jealousy when the threat to their romantic relationship is substantive and justifiable.
Trustworthiness in romantic relationships. The book, The Normal Bar (Northrup, Schwartz, & Witte, 2013), presents an extensive survey of romantic relationships including a poll of over 100,000 people and over 1 million data points. The survey showed that 33% of men and 19% of women admitted to being unfaithful ranging from one-night stands to frequent liaisons. People reported that lack of sexual satisfaction, the availability of opposite-sex friends/ex partners, and extended solitary business trips were causes of sexual infidelity. Similarly, Mark, Janssen, and Milhausen (2001) found that 23.2% of men and 19.2% of women reported that they cheated during their romantic relationship. These researchers found that infidelity was associated with experiencing unhappiness in the relationship and low compatibility with partner and sexual dissatisfaction with partner for men only. Infidelity was associated with various aspects of sexuality including a person’s motivation for sexual excitation.
What can romantic partners do? The rates of reported infidelity are not very comforting for people who want a long-term monogamous romantic relationship. Also, because those are self-reports of rather socially undesirable behavior (albeit gathered anonymously), it is possible that the survey findings underestimate the actual rates of infidelity. What can romantic partners do? Let us highlight that many relationships and marriages survive infidelity (see Northrup, Schwartz, & Witte, 2013) so such events do not necessarily spell the end of a romantic relationship. Regarding detecting detection of deceptions regarding infidelity, adults’ are not very good at detecting deception from another’s communication and rarely exceed chance. There are some cues that reveal whether a person is deceiving and those may be useful to use to detect whether he or she is engaging in infidelity. Consideration of the extent to which a person’s communication is consistent with other forms of information may be useful (see http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/matter-trust/201401/grandmother-what...)
Still, detection does not prevent infidelity from occurring. According to the BDT interpersonal trust framework, trust is a reciprocal process in which partners in dyadic relationships reciprocate trust beliefs, behavior-dependent trust, and trustworthiness that result in a common social history. In effect, trusting relationships are built by continued exchanges over time. In that vein, it would seem wise that romantic partners build such trusting relationships and thus decrease the likelihood of infidelity.
Guided by our model (Rotenberg, Shewchuk & Kimberley, 2001), we recommend adopting an empowered approach when reacting to jealousy evocating situations. Specifically, it would be wise to not be inclined to react by jealousy to unilateral contact situations but react by jealousy to mutual contact situations. For example, if your lover receives two valentines without mutuality and without other evidence of other romantic links then do not panic – that would sign of desperation and powerlessness. If the Valentine is reciprocated (mutual) and perhaps accompanied by flowers, chocolates and texts expressing the Valentine sender’s pleasure for previous encounters, then it is reasonable to be concerned. If you have built a trusting relationships then seek out resolutions to the violations of trust (see Mikulincer, 1998). This may depend on the faith you have in the relationship including your belief about the caring nature of your partner and strength of the relationship (see Rempel, Holmes, & Zanna, 1985). This is not intended to say that all relationships in which infidelity occurs can be mended. Indeed, dissolution of the relationship is one viable option. Nevertheless, when an attempt at a resolution is made, a person may feel confident that he or she has engaged in the most honest (i.e., most trustworthy) action: one that could minimize his or her feeling of regret in the future.
Affiliations and Acknowledgment
1 Professor Ken J. Rotenberg, School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Newcastle -Under-Lyme, Staffordshire, UK, ST5 5BH, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Dr. Pamela Qualter, Reader in Developmental Psychology, School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK, PR1 2HE, email: PQualter@uclan.ac.uk
The authors thank Professor James Hartley (Keele University) for his assistance in writing this blog.
GALATIANS 5:20-21 (According to the English Standard Version by Alexander Strauch 2011).
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