Marriage

Top Reasons Spouses Stay Faithful

Research reveals factors that motivate partners to avoid straying.

Posted May 16, 2019 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

Marriage is designed to be a covenant. A sacred relationship of love, trust, and respect. A pairing unlike any other in terms of devotion, and commitment, designed to last a lifetime. 

Unfortunately, many marriages end in divorce—which is never the intention when a couple heads down the aisle to profess their vows till death do they part. So what accounts for these statistics?  

Red Flags and Green Lights

There are many circumstances in a couple´s life that cause the bloom to leave the rose. There are also, however, factors that predispose partners to remain faithful.  Thankfully, both warning signs and positive indicators are usually perceptible early on in a relationship. 

In deciding whether a particular pairing is really a match made in heaven, research reveals some of the factors that make it more likely a marriage will survive, and thrive.  

Motivation for Faithfulness

One of the most devastating events that occur within marriage is infidelity. Most spouses-to-be are justifiably wary of certain traits and characteristics that might predict a wandering eye or the disrespect of marriage vows. But are couples who are considering walking down the aisle together equally attuned to factors that indicate faithfulness?

Research illuminates some of the traits and characteristics that predict both scenarios. Studies do indeed reveal the reasons people cheat on romantic partners. Thankfully, there is also a growing body of research revealing traits and proclivities that make couples more likely to stay faithful.    

In a piece entitled “I Swear I Will Never Betray You,” (2018), Ido Ziv et al. discovered some of the reasons spouses stay faithful.[i]Using a questionnaire, they examined moral theories, interdependence theory, and investment theory in relation to different characteristics of couples and individuals with regard to religiosity, gender, and length of marriage.

A total of 423 participants were presented with 29 reasons to resist the temptation to engage in infidelity, and asked to rank their perceived importance. They were also asked how likely they were to engage in extramarital sex if they had the opportunity. Results indicated that factors that decreased the likelihood of straying were being religious, female, and married for a lesser amount of time.  

They also found that among the factors related to the manner in which participants made conscious decisions, fear of being alone and moral standards predicted anticipated faithfulness more than concern for one´s counterpart or effects on children.

Weighing Costs and Benefits

Infidelity has consequences. Wouldn´t it be great if partners took the time to think through potential consequences before making the decision to be unfaithful?Thankfully, research indicates that indeed, some couples do.  

Menelaos Apostolou and Rafaella Panayiotou, in a piece entitled, "The Reasons That Prevent People from Cheating on Their Partners,” (2019), developed what they describe as an “evolutionary theoretical framework” which helps explain why partners remain faithful.[ii]They identified 47 reasons people might decide not to cheat, classified them into 8 groups of factors and 2 broad domains. Of interest is the practicality of the two broad domains: the potential cost of infidelity, and the benefits of one´s current relationship.

Gender and Personality

Apostolou and Panayiotou found that women reportedly were more likely to be faithful than men, particularly when they were satisfied in their current relationship, and because they reported they would feel guilty if they cheated on their partners.  

Why the gender difference? The authors suggest the answer lies within the respective perception of benefits and costs. They explain that within their proposed theoretical framework, “the cost of cheating could be potentially higher for women due to their partners' reactions and the social stigma, while its benefit could be potentially higher for men due to the increase in access to sexual partners.”

Regarding personality traits, the authors found correlations between likelihood to stray and traits of conscientiousness, and openness. Specifically, they found that participants who scored higher in conscientiousness were less likely to cheat, while participants who scored higher in openness were more likely to cheat. The authors define openness as being associated with a desire to try new things and have novel experiences.

Getting to Know You

Obviously, there is no study that can accurately predict faithfulness in every case.  But as research continues to uncover traits and considerations that predict both fidelity and infidelity, it is worthwhile to move slowly when considering tying the knot. Taking the time to get to know a prospective partner is a valuable investment in the long run considering the consequences of making the wrong choice.

Although there is no crystal ball, there do appear to be factors to consider in order to improve the odds of a successful pairing, in the hopes of achieving a happy, healthy, long marriage.

References

[i]Ido Ziv, Or Ben-Haim Lubin, and Sapir Asher, “‘I Swear I Will Never Betray You’: Factors Reported by Spouses as Helping Them Resist Extramarital Sex in Relation to Gender, Marriage Length, and Religiosity,” Journal of Sex Research 55 (2), (2018): 236–251.

[ii]Menelaos Apostolou and Rafaella Panayiotou, "The Reasons That Prevent People from Cheating on Their Partners: An Evolutionary Account of the Propensity Not to Cheat," Personality and Individual Differences146 (2019): 34-40.