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Infidelity: Its Gender-Based Perceptual Differences

Updated on March 11, 2017

Historically, most cultures in the world were polygamous but, in the fullness of time, they have evolved into presumptive monogamy or legal monogamy. In spite of this, we haven’t evolved beyond our biological impulses and are quite likely to stray. Many still think that men are hard wired to cheat.

Most of us agree that humans do have the ability to override their genetic and biological programming. This has been highlighted by various statistics, showing that more than half of marital relationships still remain free from cheating by the partners.

It appears that our society has been slowly developing immunity to infidelity in marital relationships. We have become desensitized by hearing the disheartening statistics over and over again about the burning social and personal issue of infidelity. And that is one of the reasons we overlook the issue, thereby giving it our consensual acceptance. Given the secretive nature of infidelity, exact figures about it are impossible to establish.

According to a study at the University of Montreal, Department of Psychology, the probability of someone cheating during the course of a relationship varies between 40 and 76 percent. The study considers it to be quite high. This stands as a testimony to the continuously rising incidence of marital infidelity.

The landscape of infidelity is rapidly changing all over the world, for which many reasons are responsible. Mushrooming of dating websites increases the ease with which one can have opportunity of having sexual relationships. Besides, increasing life expectancy and sexual awareness also contribute largely to its spiraling rise. Furthermore, economic independence of women due to their employment in various fields also opens up more opportunities that may lead to infidelity.

The definition of infidelity varies from person to person and also from man to woman. At one time, marital cheating was considered to be a physical act but the concept of infidelity has changed as it now considers emotional attachment to another person as infidelity.

Types of infidelity –

Basically, there are two types:

  • Emotional infidelity - It means having a meaningful relationship with another person and keeping the depth of that relationship a secret from one’s partner. For example, a woman might refer to a work friend as her “office husband,” because she spends lot of time and shares her feelings and thoughts with him. She may text or call him often outside of work hours for personal chats. A man is capable of doing the same thing with a female coworker. These actions could be considered emotional infidelity.
  • Sexual infidelity – It involves consensual sexual act between a married person and a person other than the spouse.

Emotional fidelity is the hardest thing to build in a relationship and it takes the biggest toll when it is betrayed. Any two people can have sex in the heat of the moment. But the thing that everyone longs for is to have a deeply passionate emotional connection that can be sustained for a lifetime.

Perceptual differences of men and women on infidelity –

New research published in Sexual & Relationship Therapy has uncovered the different ways in which men and women perceive infidelity. Infidelity can lead to relationship dissatisfaction and breakdown, though in some cases the problems may be caused by the different ways in which individuals define infidelity. They found that women were more likely than men to identify both sexual-based and emotion-based acts as constituting infidelity.

Men and women differ so much in their feelings about what constitutes infidelity. The following points highlight how men and women perceive infidelity in relationships:

  • Men report that sexual infidelity is relatively more distressing than emotional infidelity but for women both are equally distressing.
  • Women are more sensitive than men to possible violations related to infidelity within the confines of a romantic relationship.
  • Most men wouldn’t be happy to discover that their partner is secretly sexting her office crush, even if he only considers sexual acts actual infidelity.
  • Men and women both aren’t likely to feel happy on discovering that their partner is keeping some type of relationship or interaction with another person secret.
  • Women place higher value on relationships that are supportive and meaningful than men.

It’s really important to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. And as always, focus on fostering intimacy in your own relationship that makes these issues less likely to arise.

Final thoughts –

The rising incidence of infidelity in society, albeit disturbing, is a reality, which is slowly getting its acceptance. It is actually threatening the very fabric of institution of marriage and family, thereby giving rise to many problems for the family members as well as society. Though difficult, it is not impossible to countermand human genetic and biological programming. We will have to make individual efforts for making our relationships more meaningful and supportive. We can do so by fostering better emotional connection with partners that can be done considerably by spending quality time with them.

References -

  1. University of Montreal. "Infidelity Dissected: New Research On Why People Cheat." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2008.
  2. Taylor & Francis. "Infidelity perceptions differ between men and women." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 June 2016.


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