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Jun 04, 2009

People commit adultery all the time, but what makes us so suspicious of faithful partners?

By FLYP Staff

It’s a standard story: a politician cheats on his wife and the tabloids go crazy. The cad appears on television and swears he’ll never sin again while the wife stands by her man. Eventually, there are book deals or, maybe, a made-for-TV-movie. Sometimes the marriage survives the trauma; sometimes not.
The assumption that the man is usually the guilty party is baked into popular culture, but rests on some science. Alfred Kinsey’s famous 1948 sex report estimated that half of all men had engaged in an adulterous affair, in comparison to somewhere between one-sixth and one-tenth of women. However, in the early 21st century, research suggests that marital betrayal has become an equal opportunity employer. According to Geneviève Beaulieu-Pelletier of the University of Montréal, the chances of any either adult partner having a relationship outside marriage is about 41 percent.
Does this mean a lot of people are breaking the seventh commandment—and that the caricature of the trusting wife or husband is one more image receding into America’s cultural past?
When it comes to suspicion, new research provides a surprising insight. The journal Evolutionary Psychology recently reported that men, more than women, tend to assume the worst about their partners.
The researchers asked 149 college students in committed, heterosexual relationships to speculate about their partner’s possible future infidelity. Half of the men said they were suspicious of their partner’s faithfulness, whereas only 28 percent of women thought their mates would two-time them in the future.
The researchers explained the difference in terms of evolution. Men have developed psychological mechanisms to exaggerate the likelihood of a partner’s infidelity, in order to reduce the risk they would end up inadvertently raising another man’s child. Men, they argue, are genetically hardwired to want to ensure their offspring are really their offspring. Women may not be as suspicious as their partners, because they have evolved to want to trust that their partners are going to stick around.
Scientists report that women also think differently than men about what counts as harmful cheating. A study last year in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy reported that 77 percent of women believe that an emotional affair is worse than a sexual one. Confirming a stereotype, only 16 percent of the men in the study cared about emotional cheating, but 84 percent were distressed about sex outside of the relationship.
It seems that men really do only have one thing on their minds.


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