Although the majority of people in relationships are faithful, a significant minority commit at least one act of adultery.
Surveys show that 20-25% of married men have cheated on their wives, and 10-15% of married women have had an affair.
As raw data, these statistics are interesting to anyone fascinated by the psychology of relationships.
However, beyond sex differences, they tell us nothing about the type of person who is more likely to cheat.
Neither do they tell us whether there is a connection between an individual’s personality type and the odds that they will have an affair.
What is the connection between infidelity and cheating?
Research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships set out to explore this question.
The authors recruited heterosexual couples to take part in two studies.
In Study 1, they monitored 108 couples over a period of three years, during which time they were asked to complete a survey packet every six months.
In Study 2, they sent questionnaires to 119 couples at yearly intervals.
All couples had been married for less than 4 months at baseline.
The questionnaires measured each individual’s personality traits, narcissism, infidelity behaviors, and marital satisfaction.
The key results were as follows:
- Highly extraverted women were more likely than average to be unfaithful;
- Men with highly narcissistic spouses were more likely than average to be unfaithful;
- Extraverted men were no more likely than introverted men to be unfaithful;
- Women with highly narcissistic partners were no more likely than average to be unfaithful.
- For both sexes, those with highly neurotic partners were more likely to commit infidelity.
Therefore, the results show that there are sex differences with regards to the relationship between personality traits and cheating.
It is also important to note that it isn’t just an individual’s personality that means they are more likely to cheat, but the personality type of their partner.
What might explain these findings?
The study focused on quantitative data, so the reasons remain behind the results are unclear.
However, it is reasonable to speculate that highly extraverted women are likely to have more opportunities to cheat on their spouses because they enjoy engaging with others.
Because men are more inclined than women to cheat, extraverted women may have more willing partners than extraverted men.
Men with narcissistic wives might be inclined to cheat because they seek approval outside of their marriages, which is hard to secure when in a relationship with a narcissistic individual.
However, the researchers found no link between narcissism and marital satisfaction, so this finding presents a puzzle.
Neither do the results offer an immediate answer to the problem of why this pattern does not hold true for women.
Perhaps the least surprising finding is that people with highly neurotic partners are more likely to cheat.
Neuroticism is associated with a tendency to experience negative emotions on a regular basis.
Being married to a neurotic spouse may lower an individual’s mood, and make the prospect of spending time with more upbeat people more appealing.
Neuroticism can be draining, both for the neurotic person and their partner.
Other research has shown that people who score low on measures of conscientiousness are more likely to cheat compared to the average person.
Given that these individuals have limited regard for social mores, feel little guilt when violating moral codes, and tend to assume that they are above convention, it is not surprising that they would feel comfortable with the thought of committing infidelity.
In addition, those who score highly on measures of psychoticism are also more likely to stray.
People high in psychoticism have a limited capacity for empathy, meaning that they fail to appreciate how much pain they cause their partner.
Therefore, they are more likely to act on any impulses to cheat.
What does this mean for your relationship?
Remember, these results only depict general trends.
You cannot – and should not – use them to guide your relationship decisions.
For example, if you have a neurotic partner, you shouldn’t worry that you will one day feel an urge to cheat.
If you are marrying an extraverted woman, there is no reason to suspect that she is likely to have an affair.
Every relationship is based on a unique set of interactions between two people, and it is impossible to reliably predict how you or your partner will behave in the coming years.
It is the responsibility of you and your partner to handle the challenges that come with a long-term relationship, and to address problems directly instead of seeking attention elsewhere.