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Oh you done really did it now Kristen Stewart. You are the Brutus (et tu girlfriend?). The Benedict Arnold. The traitor who traded it all in. What compelled you to cheat on your brooding, snowy skin, delectable English pastry of a man? First blow was publicly playing in hot pants and stripper hair with your devilishly handsome director, but then—the coup de grâce came when you spit out a public apology like your indiscretions were as deserving of recognition as Roosevelt’s Date of Infamy speech. Your infidelity will decidedly not live in infamy. Any hopes for exoneration proved to be fruitless if the giant U-haul carrying Pattinson’s possessions from the couple’s home is any indication. In short, what the frontal lobes was K-Stew thinking?

The concept of cheating is a hot needle stitching innumerable male and female canvases. Research shows that those who betray their partners grossly underestimate their own transgressions, inclined to think they have a strong case for betrayal and that, if their significant other finds out, the relationship can actually be improved by the lessons learned. Pattinson might make the argument that the perpetrator’s silver-lining-judgment is flawed.

Reasons for deception are vast. But research conducted across cultures strongly demonstrates the impact of Parental Investment Theory. This theory takes as its launching pad the primal instincts men exhibit to maximize reproductive fitness and the chance of increasing their genetic line by mating with as many women as possible. Swiftly spreading the seed, however, might also lead to paternity uncertainty—the kiss of death for any genetic line. In fact, nearly two percent of men in the U.S. are unknowingly raising another man’s child. This is one reason men might be significantly more insecure about physical infidelity than emotional infidelity—and one reason Pattinson couldn’t forgive his disingenuous lady for her gaffe. In contrast, women, according to the theory, need men who are committed and providing fathers, and are thus more likely to care when a man cheats emotionally. Studies show that women are more inclined to forgive a man for a sexual indiscretion as opposed to an emotional dalliance with another woman.

Since we know Kristen didn’t cheat to extend her progeny or maximize reproductive potential, why sacrifice love, reputation, and a juggernaut franchise sure to be beset by an awkward and baffling press tour in the coming months? One reason for the swindle might be a common relationship vaporizer—boredom.

It wasn’t a surprise when the two stars joined forces after working so closely together. The tendency to fall for someone due to physical closeness, or propinquity, is one of the strongest origins of relationships. We tend to form bonds with those who are physically near us because proximity begets familiarity and familiarity fosters attraction by way of the mere exposure effect.

Think of a song you once detested. Did Nelly’s “Hot in Here” come to mind first? Because, if so, you are executing this exercise correctly. The first time you heard the song you probably wanted to plug your ears with a rubber bowling ball—but the more you unwillingly heard it, despite trying to fight the urge, the more you probably ended up listening to it voluntarily, like alone in your car on long pensive drives—and you may even have started to like it. You now try to conceal your enjoyment by whispering every lyric at your neighbor’s son’s bar mitzvah. Such is the power and prominence of the mere exposure effect. In fact, this phenomenon exerts such a commanding influence over us that we tend to automatically like people whose faces we recognize, even if we’ve never met the person! Propinquity is what allows the mere exposure effect to occur and burgeon—and both processes explain why people who see each other every day in work or school grow to like each other, even if the attraction wasn’t initially present.

After the initial we like each other! stage of a relationship, neurotransmitters return to baseline levels and couples must engage in new activities to keep things feeling fresh. Filming a series of films and traveling the world together might prompt a tremendous release of reward-activating neurotransmitters at first, but these feelings hit a monotony ceiling after time. Researchers studying close relationships have found that couples who find ways to stay active together, like traveling, outdoor activities, trying new restaurants, etc., report greater levels of satisfaction than couples who engage in the same old routines. It’s important to challenge each other, catch each other off guard, and ultimately grow.

Though it can be argued that K-Stew and Rob were engaging in arousing activities like attending film premieres and eating shrimp cocktail on yachts cruising the Aegean, even these things can become old news once they start to feel routine. Add monotony to an imbalance in effort—whereby one partner feels like he or she is putting more into the relationship than the other—and dissolution might be inevitable. Those who choose to cheat rather than break up with their partner lie for a variety of reasons: Some, as aforementioned, believe their transgression has merit and will be forgiven, while others are only interested in experimenting for a hot minute so they can satisfy the what-if and then return to their unknowing partner.

It remains to be seen whether forgiveness is in Stewart’s distant future, or whether Ryan Adams will indulge me with a Carrie Underwood follow-up song titled “Before She Cheats.” But one piece of advice couples can take away from celebrity fall-outs is that, in order to prevent monotony, keep the mere-exposure effect and attraction wheel in cycle by engaging in arousing and challenging activities together. In this case, if every couple bungee jumped off a bridge, would you, too? The answer should be easy.

References

Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 78, 273-284.

Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Western, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological Science, 3, 251-255.

Levy, K. N., & Kelly, K. M. (2010). Sex Differences in Jealousy: A Contribution from Attachment Theory. Psychological Science, 168-173.

Miller, R. S., & Perlman, D. (2009). Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Stillwell, A. M., & Baumeister, R. F. (1997). The construction of victim and perpetrator memories: Accuracy and distortion in role-based accounts. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1157-1172.

Zajonc, R. B. (2001). Mere exposure: A gateway to the subliminal. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 224-228. 

About the Author

Kristine Keller, M.A.

Kristine Keller, M.A., graduated from New York University with a Masters in Psychology. 

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