Think you know why people cheat, how they feel about it, or the impact it might have on their relationship? You might want to think again if a recent study, which casts doubt on common cheating assumptions, is anything to go by.
“Findings from this study challenge widely held notions about infidelity experiences,” its authors write, before revealing some shocking truths garnered from a survey of users of Ashley Madison – a website that facilitates extramarital affairs.
Unfaithful partners were found to be highly satisfied and seldom experienced remorse over their misdemeanors. Perhaps even more surprisingly, their cheating was not found to be motivated by low relationship satisfaction, nor did they believe it had negatively impacted their marriage.
"In popular media, television shows and movies and books, people who have affairs have this intense moral guilt and we don't see that in this sample of participants," lead author Dylan Selterman said in a statement.
"Ratings for satisfaction with affairs was high – sexual satisfaction and emotional satisfaction. And feelings of regret were low. These findings paint a more complicated picture of infidelity compared to what we thought we knew."
The researchers surveyed almost 2,000 Ashley Madison users, before and after they had affairs, asking them about the state of their marriage, why they wanted to stray, and their general well-being.
Participants were largely middle-aged and male and while they claimed to have a lot of love for their partners, and were not motivated by anger or a lack of commitment, around half were not sexually active with their spouse and reported low sexual satisfaction as the driving force behind their decision to cheat.
Other factors included desire for independence and sexual variety.
"People have a diversity of motivations to cheat," Selterman said. "Sometimes they'll cheat even if their relationships are pretty good. We don't see solid evidence here that people's affairs are associated with lower relationship quality or lower life satisfaction."
Nor were they linked to a decline in relationship quality over time, suggesting that affairs, at least among people who actively seek them, may not be as damaging as many believe.
The findings are limited by the lack of diversity in the sample, but Selterman hopes to expand the research to investigate infidelity in other populations.
"The take-home point for me is that maintaining monogamy or sexual exclusivity especially across people's lifespans is really, really hard and I think people take monogamy for granted when they're committed to someone in a marriage," Selterman concluded.
"People just assume that their partners are going to be totally satisfied having sex with one person for the next 50 years of their lives but a lot of people fail at it. It doesn't mean everyone's relationship is doomed, it means that cheating might be a common part of people's relationships."
The study is published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.