Married people who cheat don't regret it
Listen to this article
Married people who have affairs find them highly satisfying, express little remorse and believe the cheating didn’t hurt their otherwise healthy marriages, finds a new report on the psychology of infidelity.
The extensive survey of people using Ashley Madison, a website for facilitating extramarital affairs, challenges widely held notions about infidelity, particularly about cheaters’ motivations and experiences.
What the researchers say: “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,” said the lead author. “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.”
Researchers conducted this study to better understand the psychological experiences of those who seek and engage in extramarital affairs. The researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 active users of Ashley Madison, before and after they had affairs.
Participants were asked about the state of their marriage, about why they wanted to have an affair, and about their general well-being. Respondents, generally middle aged and male, reported high levels of love for their partners, yet low levels of sexual satisfaction.
Sexual dissatisfaction was the top-cited motivation to have an affair, with other motivations including the desire for independence and for sexual variety. Fundamental problems with the relationship, like lack of love or anger toward a spouse were among the least-cited reasons for wanting to cheat.
Having great marriages didn’t make cheaters any more likely to regret affairs, the survey found. Participants generally reported that their affair was highly satisfying both sexually and emotionally, and that they did not regret having it.
The results suggest that infidelity isn’t necessarily the result of a deeper problem in the relationship. Participants sought affairs because they wanted novel, exciting sexual experiences, or sometimes because they didn’t feel a strong commitment to their partners, rather than because of a need for emotional fulfillment, the report found.
“People have a diversity of motivations to cheat,” the researchers 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.”
“The take-home point for me,” the lead author said “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. 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.”
So, what? This follows a great deal of research into the issue of fidelity in marriage. A study done a few years ago found that approximately 25% of the children of happily married couples were not sired by the woman’s husband.
In many hunter-gatherer and tribal societies fidelity is not expected and in some it is customary to offer your wife to another male for the night as a way of establishing a collaborative relationship with him. Generally, the wife has to agree.
Join the discussion
More from this issue of TR
Married people who cheat don't regret it
Married people who have affairs find them highly satisfying, express little remorse and believe the cheating didn’t hurt their otherwise healthy marriages.
The expendables: Health consequences of child labor in 19th Century England
If we’re going to go back to the 19th century, we might as well know what it was like.
You might be interested inBack to Today's Research
Pay, flexibility, advancement: They all matter for workers' health and safety
The work people do – and the way it is organized and paid for – is fundamental to producing not only wealth, but health. But will employers focused on the bottom line, uberization of their workforce and overall human replacement by machine, listen?
Common workplace interactions can trigger suicidal thoughts
Even perceived low-grade forms of workplace mistreatment, such as avoiding eye contact or excluding a coworker from conversation, can amplify suicidal thoughts in employees with mood disorders.
Join our tribe
Subscribe to Dr. Bob Murray’s Today’s Research, a free weekly roundup of the latest research in a wide range of scientific disciplines. Explore leadership, strategy, culture, business and social trends, and executive health.