Whatever You’re Doing To Stop Yourself From Cheating Probably Won’t Work

September 5, 2018  |  



Getty/10’000 Hours

It’s no secret that cheating in a relationship is one of the most common, as well as one of the hardest obstacles, to overcome. For some, all it takes is one slip up for them to never trust their partner (or anyone else) ever again. Knowing this, people in monogamous relationships tend to try a number of things to ward off the temptation to cheat, but a new study explored whether those tactics people use actually work and the results are pretty interesting.

Researchers Brenda Lee and Lucia O’Sullivan from the University of New Brunswick investigated the popular strategies people use in their relationship to remain faithful and attempted to determine whether these so called “monogamy maintenance strategies” were actually effective.

In a survey of more than 362 people ages 19-63, researchers asked participants how they would resist the temptation to cheat if the opportunity presented itself. Their answers uncovered that there are three main types of monogamy maintenance strategy:

“Relationship Enhancement”, used by three-quarters of participants, included things like taking a partner out on a date, making an extra effort with their appearance around their partner, or engaging in sexual acts with them;  “Proactive Avoidance” was similarly common, and involved maintaining distance from the temptation, both physically, and also in terms of avoiding getting close in conversation; and finally “Derogation of the Temptation”, which was slightly less frequent, and involved applying negativity towards the relationship threat, and guilt towards the self, in an attempt to pour cold water on the prospect. 

The survey found that having more sex with your partner is the most popular method to avoid cheating, followed by distancing yourself from the alluring person. Unfortunately that’s where the positive news ends. Overall, the study determined that the monogamy maintenance strategies were largely ineffective. The finding basically suggests that although we may call upon these techniques, they don’t appear to make much difference in staving off the temptation of cheating.

Luckily, another similar study was also recently conducted and the outcome was a bit more positive. Researchers led by James McNulty of Florida State University, asked 233 newly married couples if they were ever unfaithful and 37 confessed they were.

Those same participants were then asked to complete a task where they had to disengage from images of attractive opposite-sex faces in order to respond quickly to stimuli flashed elsewhere on a computer screen. This revealed that participants who were substantially better at disengaging from the alluring pictures were half as likely to have been unfaithful.

An additional (and very telling) component of the study involved rating the physical attractiveness of the images involved in the prior task. All the participants considered the images as somewhat less attractive than a separate group of single participants, reflecting the tendency for people in relationships to devalue the attractiveness of others. McNulty’s team also predicted that the married participants who engaged in more of this devaluing of temptation would be more likely to be faithful, and the results confirmed this.

So, with two separate studies providing both positive and negative outcomes as it involves cheating, what does that mean? Well, it appears that your ability to resist the urge to cheat on your partner is an inner quality that is enhanced by the implementation of a few technical practices. My inner optimist wants to believe it’s true.

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