Why do people in happy relationships have affairs? Can we prevent it? Amy Angelilli talks prevention and five reasons we cheat—all according to science.
I recently got cable. Why? Because I saw the free teaser episode of The Affair and was so hooked I ordered Comcast immediately.
Evidently I’m not the only one intrigued by the Showtime drama that explores the emotional effects of an extramarital relationship, as the freshman series has exploded and even won two Golden Globes. Despite the fact that both lead characters cheat on their spouses to have this affair, we don’t actually know why they’re cheating—only that they are cheating and enjoying it.
So why are they cheating?
And, more importantly, why are we cheating? Why are good people in seemingly happy relationships cheating?
I used to cheat, but I don’t cheat now.
Why exactly did I cheat on past relationships? And why don’t I cheat now? What’s changed?
Since Showtime wasn’t answering any questions, I turned to science to shed some light on the situation:
1. Jealousy over digital devices.
If ever there was a reason for a digital detox, this is the one. In this oversaturated digital age, couples spend time on their phones under the guise of “spending quality time” together. (Think about the couple that’s out to dinner only to be spending the entire evening on their phones.) When a person directs attention to digital devices instead of a partner, it enhances feelings of insecurity and even abandonment.
Source: A survey from the dating website, Victoria Milan.
2. Sometimes it feels good to be bad.
Instead of a runner’s high, consider a cheater’s high, only with a dash of danger added. Think about a child who gets caught stealing something from the teacher and gets away with it. Now fast forward 20 years and this could be the spouse who cheats and feels like a badass while doing so.
Source: A study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
3. The clinginess factor.
It may seem counterintuitive to think about insecure people being more likely to cheat, but those who find it hard to trust exhibit needy behavior and are anxious about being abandoned by their partners. Instead of putting faith in the relationship, the clingy set is more likely to strike out on their own to combat an abandonment that hasn’t even occurred.
Source: A study from Florida State University.
4. Fear of poor sexual performance.
Mediocre sex—or even worse, terrible sex—that’s commonplace in a relationship can lead to ongoing performance concerns. However, an affair with a new person acts as a departure from the constant worry of inadequate sexual performance.
Source: A survey from Indiana University in Bloomington.
5. Blame the genes.
Evidently this is one more thing that can run in the family as people’s tendency for promiscuity lie partially in their DNA. A version of a dopamine receptor gene called DRD4 has been linked to people’s tendency toward cheating and even one-night stands. The motivation is one of pleasure followed by reward, which is where the dopamine release comes into play.
Source: A study from Binghamton University, State University of New York.
While all of these studies and surveys proved fascinating and perhaps applicable to a large portion of cheaters, it still didn’t explain my behavior. Sometimes matters of the heart aren’t explained by scientific research. Sometimes we react because of circumstance. Sometimes we’re not with the right person. And sometimes we just make bad choices.
Whatever the case, it’s important to be true and authentic to ourselves before we cheat, so we can get to the root of the problem if there is one, leave the relationship before pursuing another, or change the conditions of the relationship as maybe monogamy isn’t right for the situation.
Because it’s been a long, long time since I cheated, I have time for other pursuits—like trying to figure out why the characters in The Affair are having that affair. Perhaps Season 2 will give us some insights, or at least make us feel a little good about being bad—from the armchair.
[image: via Guian Bolisay on Flickr]