Love in all of its manifestations has been the most caroled of subjects. Countless poets, writers, artists, and common people dedicated their entire lives searching for it and expressing it. And, as long as love exists, so do the dramas almost necessarily surrounding this emotion: ancient Greek epics, Shakespeare’s plays, Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, and other sources can provide one with multiple illustrations of this statement. One of the most significant dramas connected to love and romantic relationships is infidelity (let us recall Shakespeare’s Othello). Infidelity, more commonly known as cheating, is a catastrophe for countless couples, married or not, around the world, and is looked down upon based on almost any society’s moral foundation. But could it be that infidelity does not mean falling out of love with one’s significant other, as it is usually claimed? Is it always a voluntary choice? Does it necessarily lead to divorce? Let us try to find out the answers.
Perhaps the most frequent question spouses ask their partners that cheated on them is, “Why?” This is an important question indeed. Recent brain research revealed that one of the factors contributing to infidelity might originate from neurology, specifically from neural architecture. All people have brain centers responsible for sex drive, romance, and attachment to a partner. These centers are respectively responsible for the motivation to seek a possible partner for copulation (sex drive); to save an individual’s metabolic energy and time by focusing one’s courtship efforts on the best possible partner (romantic aspect); and to stay with the chosen partner long enough to raise at least one child, or longer (attachment). Interactions between these three centers define our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and motives when we are in love. Logically, if the balance of influences these centers have on each other shifts towards one of them—specifically, the “sex drive” one—a person might be more prone to seek sexual relationships with more partners than just one (and this does not mean this person does not still love their “primary” partner). As if it was not enough, in 2008, scientists discovered that there could be a gene directly connected to infidelity and pair-bonding behavior. During an experiment, 552 married or co-habiting couples were examined; men carrying the 334 vasopressin allele in a specific region of the vasopressin system demonstrated lesser attachment to their partners, were less satisfied with their marriage, and tended to experience more marital crisis than those who did not bear the allele (TED).
This does not mean infidelity can be explained by genetics or neurology alone; neither does it means only men are prone to cheating. It rather implies that when figuring out the factors causing infidelity, biological reasons should not be neglected.
Apart from the biological reasons, social—or, more specifically, financial—reasons can also draw people into cheating their partners. According to Christin L. Munsch, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, some people could be cheating because of being economically dependent on their partners. In her research published in 2015 in the American Sociological Review, she states that men who are economically dependent on their partners tend to cheat more often than those who can sustain themselves. The same is true for women, although men tend to do it more often (there is a 15% chance of a man cheating due to an economic factor, versus only 5% of women). “We naturally compare ourselves to see how we stack up and don’t want to feel like we are on the losing end of the comparison […] Men are supposed to be breadwinners, and although women may not like being dependent on a man, nobody is questioning her femininity as a result,” Dr. Munsch says. As a result, a man feels the urge to “prove themselves” in other possible ways more often than women. “Men engage in compensatory hyper-masculine behavior such as cheating, which also allows him to punish the breadwinning spouse” (Everyday Health).
Seemingly higher proneness of men to infidelity does not mean, however, that those of them who cheat are necessarily unhappy in their marriages. According to a study by Rutgers University, 56% of men who cheated on their spouses claimed to be happy with their marriages; 34% of cheating women stated the same. Moreover, when a spouse cheated on becomes aware of infidelity, it does not automatically lead to divorce—or, at least, this is not the major cause of many divorces, being only the second reason after falling out of love. “A single instance of infidelity may not lead to divorce, especially if the couple uses it as a wake-up call and fix the underlying problems. It is the repeated instances of cheating that usually lead to divorce,” Dr. Tina B. Tessina, a psychotherapist in California, says (Medical Daily).
As it can be seen, infidelity is not just a caprice or fully conscious voluntary choice. It is rather a result of an interaction of multiple underlying factors: genetics, neurology, social, and financial status, and so on. The good news is that infidelity does not lead to divorce if a couple wants to work it out. The fact of cheating can be a wake up call for many couples to work on their relationships and improve them—especially considering that even those men and women who cheat on their partners do love them in a significant number of cases.
- “10 Facts about Infidelity.” TED. N.p., 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
- “7 Surprising Facts about Infidelity.” EverydayHealth.com. N.p., 09 Oct. 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
- Borreli, Lizette. “Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? 7 Surprising Facts about Infidelity.” Medical Daily. N.p., 12 June 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
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