It may seem like some people are just programmed to cheat (Weiner and Woods, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking at you). But infidelity might be more circumstantial than you think. When it comes to predicting cheating, relationship factors are more important than individual factors, according to a recent study in the Journal of Sex Research.
Pinpointing the Predictors Researchers surveyed 993 unmarried individuals between 18 and 35 years old, all of whom were in romantic relationships at the time. They asked them about several personal characteristics and about their relationships, then they followed up with them 20 months later to see if they had cheated.
While a few individual characteristics (like having a high number of sex partners and parents who never married) were significant predictors of cheating, overall it was the characteristics of the relationship that mattered mostÃ¢â‚¬”things like commitment, communication, and satisfaction, says study co-author Galena Rhoades, Ph.D., research associate professor at the University of Denver. Specifically, low relationship satisfaction, higher levels of psychological and physical aggression toward each other, and less commitment (like no plans to marry or suspecting each other of cheating) were all significant predictors of infidelity.
Why You ShouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t Jump to Conclusions Just Yet Still, individual factors have their place in predicting adultery, say experts. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s complicated because personal traits and relationship factors weave together,Ã¢â‚¬Â says sex therapist Brandy Engler, Ph.D., author of The Men On My Couch. For instance, if one partner has an alcohol problem, it may cause a fight between the couple and lead to lower relationship satisfactionÃ¢â‚¬”so suddenly their individual factor has turned into a relationship factor.
Having a few troubles in your relationship isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a surefire sign of infidelity, either. The bottom line: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crucial to look at both personal and relationship red flags in a broader context before calling out your partner, says Engler.
How to Deal if You Have Concerns If you suspect your partner is cheating, it can be tempting to throw around accusationsÃ¢â‚¬”and maybe a dig or twoÃ¢â‚¬”but that decreases your chances of getting an honest and productive response out of your partner, says Engler. Instead, wait until youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re calm and can explain your concerns while emphasizing how you could handle this as a couple. In fact, research shows that talking about infidelity increases a coupleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chances of staying together post-cheat because it puts them in a better position to work through it, says Engler.
If there are specific red flags youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re worried about, bring them up in a non-confrontational way. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you see your partner has parents who divorced or didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get married, you can ask, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat was your reaction to that? How did it shape your thoughts about marriage?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â says Engler. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You can also ask questions like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat are you most afraid of?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat do you most wish for regarding marriage and commitment?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Talks like this can give you way more insight into your guy than a straight-up accusation ever could.
photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock More from Women's Health:
3 Signs You're an Emotional Cheater
What if Your Partner Pulled an Anthony Weiner?Ã‚Â
Men Who CheatÃ‚Â