In many relationships, one or both parties may have at some point wondered: how do I fight the temptation to cheat? The answer, according to a recent study, might be more obvious than you think. Simply putting yourself in your partner's shoes could help squash any adulterous inclinations and may help protect a relationship from other behaviors that threaten it.
“Perspective taking doesn’t prevent you from cheating, but it lessens the desire to do so,” Harry Reis, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. Cheating means “prioritizing one’s own goals over the good of the partner and the relationship, so seeing things from the other person’s perspective gives one a more balanced view of these situations,” Reis added
To date, research in this area has focused mainly on trying to understand why people cheat. It’s a question asked countless times by those involved in infidelity, which might explain why so much research has been dedicated to exploring the patterns that lead to cheating.
However, less time has been spent attempting to identify strategies that might make people less likely to stray in the first place, which is where the new study comes in.
The researchers recruited 408 people – 213 Israeli women and 195 Israeli men – aged between 20 and 47. All were in monogamous, mixed-sex relationships and had been for at least four months. Over a series of three experiments, participants evaluated, encountered, or thought about attractive strangers, either while considering the perspective of their partner or not.
Meanwhile, their reactions were recorded and their interest in the strangers, their partners, and their commitment to their current relationships were evaluated by psychologists.
When putting themselves in their partner’s shoes, individuals expressed less sexual and romantic interest in strangers and showed increased commitment to and desire for their current partners.
“These findings suggest that partner perspective-taking discourages engagement in behaviors that may hurt partners and damage the relationship with them,” the study authors write.
While they did not test if the same could be said of the partners not involved in the experiment, they suspect that the perspective-taking strategy could improve relationship satisfaction for both parties by encouraging empathy, care, and understanding, even if only one of them adopts it.
And the benefits of this could extend beyond just infidelity, strengthening relationships in other ways.
“People invariably feel better understood, and that makes it easier to resolve disagreements, to be appropriately but not intrusively helpful, and to share joys and accomplishments,” Reis said. “It’s one of those skills that can help people see the ‘us’ – rather than the ‘me and you’ – in a relationship.”
The study was published in The Journal of Sex Research.