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From flirting to fucking: What behaviours do people define as cheating?

07 Sep

Just because you do not identify as a “Fanpire” or “Twerd” does not mean you are ignorant toward all Twilight events, scandals, and showdowns. In fact, as you all probably know, the twilight craze started simply enough with selecting who was hotter, Jake or Edward (c’mon – that is a no brainer – Team Jacob all the way!). However, recently the media attention has gotten more intense with the news of Kristen Stewart’s cheating scandal appearing on nearly every tabloid at the grocery store check-out line.

However, let’s face it, Kristen is not the only celebrity recently to stray. Stories regarding infidelity are appearing EVERYWHERE! However, is this representative of general society, are “Joe Shmoes” cheating on their romantic partners as often as celebrities are?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer because of the difficulties in assessing infidelity. First, people are not very likely to admit to engaging in romantic or sexual acts with someone besides their current partner. I mean, who wants to soil their innocent/pure reputation? I sure wouldn’t want to! Second, the large amount of media hype surrounding infidelity/romantic cheating may make a few minor cases of “creepin’” appear as though the whole Hollywood population is fuckin’ around on each other. In other words, celebrities may not be the horn-balls they appear to be.

So, from what we do know, how often do people engage in infidelity?  Well, research has produced a fairly large range of estimates, but our best bet is that approximately 30-75% of men and 20-65% of women have engaged in some type of infidelity (defined as a secret sexual, romantic, or emotional involvement that violates the commitment of monogamy to an exclusive relationship) at some point in their lives (Vangelisti & Gerstenberger, 2004; Wiederman & Hurd, 1999). Recently, a study conducted by myself and colleague Sean Molloy, found that nearly 40% of Canadian adult men and women reported having engaged in some type of infidelity at one point or another (keeping in mind many people refused to answer that question, cough cough).

Despite how common infidelity appears to be, monogamy in one’s romantic relationship is largely considered to be the norm worldwide, with 94-99% of individuals indicating that they expect sexual and romantic exclusivity from their partner (Cherlin, 2009). Furthermore, acts of infidelity often lead to relationship break-ups, which can very devastating for both parties.

But what is considered to be infidelity? Moreover, what behaviours are perceived as unacceptable in romantic relationships and what variables impact their acceptability?

Well, in the research that we are conducting at the University of New Brunswick, we attempted to answer those questions. In this study, nearly 500 heterosexual people, between the ages of 18 and 67, were asked to fill out an online survey about their perceptions of and experiences with infidelity. In particular, all participants were asked to read through a list of 22 behaviours and indicate to what extent they would define these behaviours as infidelity.

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Although there is an extensive body of research addressing issues related to infidelity, our study expands on past research by providing information about online infidelity (porn usage or webcam sexy-time) and by assessing the contextual variables involved in perceptions of infidelity (e.g., if your partner is shittered when they kiss someone else does that make it ok?).

So, what did we find? Well……..

Most people thought that anything involving sexual contact with another person was cheating. This included things like intercourse and oral sex, but also having sexual conversations, sending or receiving sexual texts or pictures, and kissing.

Behaviours such as, flirting, dancing closely, browsing a singles dating website, holding hands, and watching a movie alone with someone else  were considered less unfaithful than sexual behaviours, but still not entirely okay. So, generally people suggested that, although doing these things may be sketchy and somewhat unacceptable, they may not necessarily be considered acts of infidelity.

On the contrary, watching porn and having dinner with or receiving emotional support from someone else was rarely considered unfaithful.

In addition, we found that people are much less likely to describe behaviours as infidelity if their partner engages in these behaviours when drunk, with someone less attractive than themselves, and with a stranger (compared to a friend or ex).

One thing our research failed to include is the role that deception may have when defining infidelity. For example, Susie is in a relationship with Paul but sleeps with Todd on a regular basis. However, Paul may be the one encouraging Susie to sleep with other men. Consequently, this behaviour may not be labeled by Paul as infidelity. So, in fact, it may not be the behaviours themselves that can are considered unfaithful, but the communication behind the behaviours.

The key to all of this is to communicate with your partner. Find how they view infidelity. Inquire as to what they consider to be acceptable and unacceptable. This will ultimately determine what behaviours you and your partner define as being infidelity.

So before taking a side (team Edward or team Bella) remember all of the factors involved in perceptions of infidelity. In the case of the twilight relationship, more may have been going on that meets the eye.

And, to avoid a media uproar in your life (in other words: a Facebook uproar – “OMG… Susie updated her relationship status to being no longer in a relationship”), remember, a happy relationship is a chatty relationship!

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Posted by on September 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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