Science Reveals Why Some People Make More Faithful Partners Than Others

Remember when this meme actually meant this? Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

As Valentine’s Day approaches, those of you blissfully coupled up might be wondering if your relationship is destined to last. Well, science won’t read your fortune but it can identify certain predictors of infidelity and divorce.

A team of psychologists at Florida State University monitored the relationship status, including infidelity, of 466 newly-weds (233 couples) for up to 3.5 years. The results of the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveal certain patterns that suggest what makes one person faithful and another a serial cheater.

In news that will shock no one, partners in unsatisfied relationships are more likely to cheat. Much more surprising was the find that people who are sexually satisfied in their relationships are also more likely to stray. The researchers suggest it could have something to do with them being more sex-positive in general. This means they are more willing to seek sex elsewhere, even if they are otherwise happy in their relationship.

Another factor is attractiveness. The study results suggest that women with above average looks are less likely to commit adultery, whereas men are more likely to have an affair if his partner is less attractive. 

When it comes to sexual history, men who reported having more short-term sexual partners than average were more likely to cheat and the opposite was true for women.

“With the advent of social media, and thus the increased availability of and access to alternative partners, understanding how people avoid the temptation posed by alternative partners may be more relevant than ever to understanding relationships,” Jim McNulty, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The researchers also tested two psychological processes to examine how they influenced a person's motivation to cheat – attentional disengagement (or the capacity to direct attention away from potential romantic partners) and evaluative devaluation (or the tendency to downplay the attractiveness of others).

They did this by showing participants images of attractive and average-looking men and women, and timing how long it took them to turn their attention away from an attractive prospective partner. Those who looked away 100 milliseconds faster than average were almost 50 percent less likely to have an affair. Compared to singles and partners more predisposed to cheating, participants who remained faithful were much more likely to rate attractive faces in a more negative light.

While there is a growing number of studies that imply we can learn how to disengage and devaluate potential partners, these behaviors are largely automatic.

“People are not necessarily aware of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it,” explained McNulty. “These processes are largely spontaneous and effortless, and they may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences.”

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