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Relationships

4 Signs That a Relationship Could Be at Risk for Infidelity

Four risk factors interact to increase the risk for infidelity in relationships.

Key points

  • Both anxiously attached individuals and avoidantly attached individuals are more likely to be unfaithful to their partners.
  • Narcissism and sexual narcissism are both linked with an increased likelihood of unfaithfulness.
  • In the current research, being a victim of infidelity was the single strongest predictor of perpetrating an infidelity.
  • Self-serving attributions may make it more difficult to repair a relationship after an infidelity.
fizkes/Shutterstock
Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

Research by Warach et al. (2018), published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, identifies four risk factors which alone and in combination increase the risk for infidelity in romantic relationships. As the authors review, up to 25% of marital relationships and up to 65% of non-marital relationships involve infidelity. Unfaithfulness leads many couples to seek counseling or to divorce, and both actual and suspected infidelity have been linked to harmful physical and mental health outcomes.

In the present study, the researchers collected data from more than 350 (primarily Caucasian) adults ranging in age from 18-75 who were recruited from the US via Amazon’s MTurk. In this sample, both men and women were equally likely to report perpetrating an infidelity, although women were more likely to report being victims of infidelity. The authors confirmed previous research showing that three factors predict infidelity—anxious and avoidant attachment styles, narcissism, and being a victim of a previous infidelity. The authors also found a new factor which is linked to infidelity—the tendency to make self-serving attributions.

Attachment Styles

Attachment styles are typically conceptualized as secure (low in feelings of anxiety and low in avoidance of intimacy) or as insecure (high in anxiety or avoidance or both). The current study confirms previous research which shows that both anxiously attached individuals and avoidantly attached individuals are more likely to be unfaithful to their partners, while individuals who are securely attached are less likely to be unfaithful to their partners. The authors also found that “insecure attachment contributes to … sexual narcissism, which in turn elevate(s) the likelihood that an individual will commit sexual infidelity.” (Read more about the link between the attachment and sexual systems here.)

Narcissism and Sexual Narcissism

Narcissism is characterized by an unrealistic sense of one’s own abilities as well as a lack empathy for others. Sexual narcissists show some of these same propensities including unrealistic opinions regarding their sexual skills and a lack empathy for their sex partners. Warach et al. found that both narcissism and sexual narcissism are linked with an increased likelihood of unfaithfulness. Sexual narcissism is also linked to other negative consequences for romantic relationships.

Previous Infidelity

In the current study, the authors found that being a victim of infidelity was the single strongest predictor of perpetrating an infidelity. The authors believe that this association may signal that individuals are likely to be unfaithful in response to discovering a betrayal in their relationship (“retaliatory infidelity”). The authors also suggest that victims of infidelity may be more likely to betray either current or future partners due to the experience of “betrayal trauma” as victims of infidelity.

Self-Serving Attributions

We make self-serving attributions when we are more likely to internalize credit for our successes but blame others for our failures. The current study is the first to show that individuals who have a stronger tendency to make self-serving attributions are also more likely to be unfaithful to their partners. Self-serving attributions may be particularly damaging to romantic relationships because “a couple’s ability to reconcile following a sexual infidelity requires the offending party to take responsibility for his or her actions” which may be less likely when people externalize blame for their infidelity by making self-serving attributions. The authors also stipulate that people with “disrupted attachment … and sexual narcissism may be especially prone to making such justifications after committing a sexual infidelity, which may in turn disrupt a couple’s ability to reconcile.”

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock

References

Warach, B., Josephs, L., & Gorman, B. S. (2018). Pathways to infidelity: The roles of self-serving bias and betrayal trauma. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(5), 497-512.

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