Men Seem To Think Emotional Infidelity Isn't That Serious

Spoiler alert: For women, it is.

Tense couple sitting far apart on a bed.


When it comes to being faithful, we all draw different lines in the sand—what might be a deal-breaker for one couple might not be for another. Either way, we think most people can agree that infidelity sucks. But, unfortunately, it's more common than you might think.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 15 percent of married women and 25 percent of married men have cheated sexually on their partner, and the number increases by about 20 percent when you consider emotional affairs (which, yes, they are real). To dig a little deeper, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology looked at how men and women react to the awfulness that is relationship betrayal.

The authors interviewed 92 heterosexual couples ranging in age from 19 to 30, where the average relationship length was 21 months, and their study’s findings were published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences in September 2017. Each participant filled out a questionnaire that posed four hypothetical situations dealing with their own and their partner’s response to cheating sexually and emotionally. For example, would they forgive their partner if they found out he or she had been hanging out with another person and appeared to have fallen in love?

Unsurprisingly, the analysis found that both men and women had a problem with sexual infidelity. In other words, they admitted it would be really difficult to forgive their partner if he or she was giving out the goodies elsewhere. Participants also said they didn’t expect to be forgiven if they were the ones caught cheating.

But when it came to falling in love with someone else, women thought that was more threatening than men did. In fact, the authors write, “Men not only seem to be more willing to forgive emotional infidelity by their partner, they also tend to believe more that their emotional infidelity will be forgiven.”

So, why are heterosexual women more upset by their partner falling in love with another person versus him having sex with someone? Mons Bendixen, an associate professor of psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and one of the authors of the study, says it has to do with evolution and “the higher reproductive costs women pay losing a man’s recourses to another woman (in terms of protection, social status, food/calories).” Women are way more invested in parenting than men—think pregnancy and breastfeeding—he explains. “Because modern women descend from an unbroken line of successful ancestral women who reacted more to signals of losing a man’s recourses, women feel more jealous when receiving signals indicating that their partner is allocating their resources to another, even today.”

The study concludes by pointing out that infidelity “is probably one of the most severe transgressions one may commit toward one’s partner.” Yet, the authors say “men do not quite understand how serious women perceive and deem emotional infidelity to be; while men cannot be described as naïve about this aspect of their relationship, they certainly are not as concerned with emotional infidelity as women are.”

In short, if you and your honey are just about to tie the knot and you haven’t already had the decidedly uncomfortable conversation about what constitutes cheating, run—don’t walk—to them now.

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