Depending on whom you ask, there could be varying definitions of what counts as "cheating" or being unfaithful to your partner.
Some may think it goes far beyond getting physical with another person, and can be as seemingly harmless as flirting or seeking an emotional connection with someone who isn't your partner.
However, if you have feelings of guilt or shame, and would feel devastated if your partner was doing the same to you
, chances are it's infidelity. According to the Journal of Martial and Family Therapy,
in 2014, 41 percent of one or both spouses admit to infidelity (physical and/or emotional).
According to doctors and researchers, infidelity is the hardest subject to study and monitor, since many people don't want to admit being unfaithful. Even if you've always promised to stay true to your partner, could something switch your perspective?
Is there a way to determine if you or your partner is at risk for cheating?
Even though it can be hard to determine why and how often people cheat, experts have several risk factors that most people who are (and have) been unfaithful share. For example, your gender plays a huge role in whether or not you're likely to cheat. Even though men and women may cheat for different reasons, if you're a man, you're more likely to cheat.
What are the other risk factors?
- Relationship dissatisfaction
How do you protect your relationship from infidelity?
Kelly Campbell, PhD, discusses the risk factors of people who cheat and if you might be at risk for infidelity.
RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: February 19, 2015
Hosts: Michelle King Robson and Pamela Peeke, MD
Guest: Kelly Campbell, PhD
PAM: Alright, so we’re both trolling around for hot articles. I mean, hot! And we stumbled right on this one again. Our little pal, Wall Street Journal. “Are You Likely to Have an Affair?” glommed onto the expert, our wonderful guest, Dr. Kelly Campbell.
Now, Dr. Campbell is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Human Development at California State University, San Bernardino, and a research interest focused on exactly this topic--romantic relationships, friendships, health and others.
So, we’re just going to cut through it. We want to understand. What are the risks of having an affair? I think that this is such a topical issue.
So, what is this about infidelity? Could you help us, Dr. Campbell?
DR. CAMPBELL: I’d love to help you. I find it a fascinating topic and I think that we can break it down so that people can understand it.
So, infidelity is something that’s hard to define because people have different definitions of it. And, it’s very important that partners have that open discussion with one another to ask themselves, “How do we define infidelity? What is it for us?” and you can understand what those behaviors are, so they’re know if they’re violating those norms.
MICHELLE: Hmm. Okay, so…
DR. CAMPBELL: Yes.
PAM: Alright. So, when you say that infidelity is hard to define, I mean, I’m always laughing because, Michelle, I think, didn’t you teach me it’s okay to shop, just don’t buy? And so…
MICHELE: Yeah. You can read the menu.
PAM: I mean, how many metaphors are there out here for this?
MICHELLE: One million and one.
PAM: I know. Totally. And so, Dr. Campbell, are there warning signs to look out for if your partner is unfaithful? Because, everyone, you know, it’s nice if you’re a woman, you’re looking at a good-looking guy walking by and vice versa, but what are the warning signs that things are not going where they should be going?
DR. CAMPBELL: Yeah. Sure. That makes sense. So, you’d want to look for things that—changes, basically. Changes in your partner’s behaviors that just weren’t there before. So, maybe they’re spending more time at work compared to the past, going to the gym more often, visiting a certain friend more often. Those kind of changes. Or secrecy. Secrecy with their cell phone, secrecy with computers, not wanting you to use or see their cell phone. Oftentimes, though, it can get tricky because people who are experienced with cheating have a second cell phone, but just watching out for those changes in behaviors.
Even in your own sex life with them. So, are they changing in the bedroom? Are they doing different things? Are they more aggressive with you? Are they engaging in a greater variety of behaviors? Are they no longer interested in sex with you? Those kinds of changes can signal there’s reason for concern.
MICHELLE: So, Kelly, why do you think people cheat? I’ve been cheated on. I don’t like it. It feels really, really bad.
DR. CAMPBELL: Yes. So many people have been cheated on or they know someone who has been cheated on or it could have happened in their families of origin with their parents. There are so many reasons that it’s not a simple reason. I like to tell people to think about it in terms of three categories because then you can really start to understand those reasons.
So, the first category would be individual reasons and that means it’s something about the person themselves that’s causing them to cheat. That could be where that phrase comes from, “once a cheater, always a cheater” because it’s something about that person that no matter what relationship they’re going to get themselves into, they’re still going to cheat.
DR. CAMPBELL: There are different individual predictors like, I mean, it’s hard to say this, but men are at much greater risk and that’s because of testosterone and testosterone, you know, leads to sex drive and having a higher sex drive. So, gender is a predictor. Age is something that could fluctuate over time, obviously, and so being middle-aged is actually a protective factor. That’s usually because people are really focused on their careers and may have kids and no time and energy in that stage of life to engage in infidelity.
One thing that doesn’t change: personality type. So, being low on agreeableness combined with low on conscientiousness—those two traits together—and you can take an online assessment of your personality to see where you fall in the traits. But, those two combined put you at risk across the board no matter who you’re with. Insecure attachment styles and that’s something developed from your family of origin. So, that’s changeable, luckily, but very stable over time. So, those are individual factors.
PAM: Alright, Kelly. So, you’ve found out that an affair has happened. How do you fix your relationship?
MICHELLE: Can you?
DR. CAMPBELL: Yeah. It’s tough, right? And so, our society perceives infidelity as devastating and, therefore, we usually perceive that as devastating when it happens to us. There’s betrayal involved. That’s one of the key defining features of infidelity. You’ve been betrayed by someone--the closest person to you, usually. So, you need to repair the trust and you need to decide if that relationship is worth repairing which, what I’m referring to is, is your partner going to continue to do this? Are they willing to repair it? It takes two. So, you have to figure out, where’s your partner at and is this worth repairing? Otherwise, break up. But, if it’s worth repairing, you’ll probably need to get into therapy to regain that trust. To heal from that. To keep your self-esteem high because it’s probably going to impact your self-esteem. So, that’s a really important factor.
MICHELLE: No question that it affects the self-esteem and as I say now, being divorced, it is a non-negotiable for me. So, infidelity just is a non-negotiable. Period. And, I see a lot of women who’ve lived with it their entire marriages and then I see others who, boy that man or woman cheats one time and they are out. And, I think it’s even surprising to the partner that that happens. How do you protect your relationship so you don’t have infidelity?
DR. CAMPBELL: You’ll want to have that discussion early on with your partner. So, you both need to know is that a deal breaker? You need to have a discussion about that. You need to also discuss what constitutes infidelity so that you know, are you breaking the rules or aren’t you? But the other things that you can do that are a lot more positive is, work to keep the relationship very satisfying and sexually satisfying because that dissatisfaction is one of the relationship factors that will cause infidelity. So, the stability and predictability of relationships is great and we need that, but we also need the novelty, the excitement. Doing new things with your partner that you both love doing will transfer into the bedroom, so it will help keep your own passion alive and then will protect the relationship from experiencing infidelity.
PAM: You know, it’s an interesting thing that you bring that up. I’m looking at Michelle going “hmmm”. So, you have a conversation straight up front saying, “Look. Here are the deal breakers.” Right?
DR. CAMPBELL: Yes.
PAM: If I find out that you’re a felon or, you know, all these other things, but when it comes to…
PAM: I know, Michelle. I mean, seriously. It’s like, really? You spent how many years in the slammer and you failed…Oh, it was an omission. Not a lie. So sorry.
But, when it comes to infidelity, you know, it’s the weirdest thing. I’ve seen the wide spectrum as a physician, you know? Some people being able to just come back and make it even a better relationship. I mean, sometimes you just can’t even believe that will happen and in other cases, it’s like, “I’m sorry. Deal breaker. You’re out of here, buddy.” Or, woman. Whoever happened to do it. It’s just a really tough situation. In 30 seconds, just enlighten us.
DR. CAMPBELL: Well, that open discussion with your partner is critical and understanding yourself is critical. So, you have to know for yourself, are you willing to work on it and I say, try. Try to get through therapy and realize, is this relationship worth saving? Is this a good relationship? Because that can help you, like you say, develop into the most satisfying relationship down the line—better than you ever imagined it could be. So, decide early on. Is it worth saving or isn’t it and then invest in therapy. It’s a really important part to creating that satisfying long-term bond.
PAM: Well, I think communication is where it’s at and I don’t think there’s any question that you, Dr. Kelly Campbell, are a wonderful expert for this segment. It really helped enlighten us about this whole issue about “what are your chances of having an affair”.
If you want to want to learn more about Dr. Campbell’s terrific work out there at California State University, go to KellyCampbell.com and read up on her because, boy, have we been enlightened.
Thank you so much, Dr. Campbell.
I’m Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson.
MICHELLE: And ladies, you need to identify what your non-negotiables are and that might be one of them.
You’re listening to HER Radio on RadioMD. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook. Stay well.