Infidelity is a painful experience of betrayal within any committed relationship. It is one of the most common causes of divorce,[i] and can be devastating both personally and professionally. It destroys families, disrupts careers, and does significant social and reputational damage.
Wouldn't it be great if you could determine ahead of time which potential partners are likely to stray? Sometimes you can.
Indicators of Infidelity: Relational Red Flags
Partners cheat for a variety of reasons, one of which is obvious and observable — interest in available alternatives. Such inclination is often exhibited through the proverbial "wandering eye." Chasing the next conquest, these unrestricted individuals believe that on the dating scene, variety is the spice of life. Accordingly, even when in a relationship, they are on a perpetual search for the next one.
Recognizing early warning signs of this predisposition allows daters seeking commitment to avoid partners predisposed to promiscuity, in order to spend more time building relationships with faithful partners more interested in exclusivity.
What are the signs? Research indicates that red flags signaling the potential for infidelity include incompatible sexual attitudes and values, resistance to intimacy, and interest in meeting relational alternatives.
Cherishing Independence Over Intimacy
For both men and women, the risk of unfaithfulness is tied to our sexual personality characteristics.[ii] Certain personalities are predisposed towards relational straying.
Some people have what is referred to as an unrestricted sociosexual orientation, which leads them to experience lower commitment within romantic relationships, making them more likely to cheat on romantic partners.[iii] Accordingly, these individuals are often in search of attractive new romantic prospects.[iv]
Individuals with dispositional avoidant attachment style are also at risk of infidelity.[v] These people are more likely to give in to the temptation to stray because they are less committed in romantic relationships,[vi] and are seeking to maintain self-reliance and independence.[vii]
Always wondering what is around the corner, even while in a relationship, these partners experience daily desire to meet attractive relational alternatives.[viii] Not surprisingly, over time, they are also more likely to be unfaithful.[ix]
You may be able to spot indications of these personality predictors sooner rather than later, if you know what to look for.
The Motivation Behind the Moves
If you have an eye for a wandering eye, you may be able to spot a partner checking out new prospects, because individuals with avoidant attachment are quick to notice attractive relational alternatives.[x] In public, this can result in inappropriate staring or ogling, which is both observed and objectionable.
In a crowd, however, a wandering eye is harder to detect — or to correctly classify. While social scenes provide promiscuous minglers with a smorgasbord of options, a suspicion that every outgoing partner working a room is trolling for sexual opportunities could produce an unacceptable number of false positives. (Some partners embrace both extraversion and relational exclusivity.) To extend the benefit of the doubt and avoid jumping to conclusions, consider the way people interact with relational alternatives. Ulterior motives are frequently apparent through conversation topics and body language, which often reveal the motive behind the moves.
There is, however, an even easier way to ensure you do not waste your time on a partner with incompatible relational goals: Talking.
Discussing Sexual Standards and Values
Avoidantly attached people hold more tolerant ideas about infidelity.[xi] Following the biblical wisdom, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34), get them talking. This should not take the form of 20 questions or a cross-examination, but casual conversation about relationships in general (not your relationship specifically) may reveal relevant beliefs and views.
Also check social media. Many people consider the Internet to be a safe place to express sexually permissive views, because it is a venue where, regardless of the topic, anyone can find a ready-made group of like-minded enthusiasts.
When should you seek to learn about a prospective partner´s views on relationships? Given that incompatible sexual values and attitudes are related to unfaithfulness for both men and women,[xii] best to have the discussion sooner rather than later.
Informed Decisions Lead to Healthy Relationships
While there will be exceptions to every rule, personality and behavioral traits may indicate an inclination towards infidelity. Perceiving problematic characteristics early on will allow you to avoid making bad relational choices on the front end, avoiding problems down the road.
Wendy Patrick, JD, Ph.D., is a career prosecutor, author, and behavioral expert. She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press) and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House). The opinions expressed in this column are her own.
Learn more at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD
[i] Kristen P. Mark, Erick R. Janssen, and Robin R. Milhausen, “Infidelity in Heterosexual Couples: Demographic, Interpersonal, and Personality-Related Predictors of Extradyadic Sex,” Archives of Sexual Behavior Vol. 40, No. 5 (2011): 971-982 (971).
[ii] Mark et al., “Infidelity in Heterosexual Couples.”
[iii] Brent A. Mattingly, Eddie M. Clark, Daniel J. Weidler, Melinda Bullock, Jana Hackathorn, and Katheryn Blankmeyer, “Sociosexual Orientation, Commitment, and Infidelity: A Mediation Analysis,” Journal of Social Psychology Vol. 151, No 3 (2011): 222-226.
[iv] Mattingly et al., “Sociosexual Orientation, Commitment, and Infidelity,” 223.
[v] C. Nathan DeWall, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Erica B. Slotter, Richard S. Pond, Timothy Deckman, Eli J. Finkel, Laura B. Luchies, and Frank D. Fincham, ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives: Avoidant Attachment, Interest in Alternatives, and Infidelity,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 101, No. 6 (2011): 1302-1316.
[vi] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives.”
[vii] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives,” 1314.
[viii] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives.”
[ix] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives.”
[x] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives,” 1305.
[xi] DeWall et al., ”So Far Away From One´s Partner, Yet So Close to Romantic Alternatives.”
[xii] Mark et al., “Infidelity in Heterosexual Couples,” 977.