Marriage and Cheating, Essay Example

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Words: 1062

Essay

Introduction

Marital infidelity is a leading cause of divorce, and causes much pain for the offended party. However, there is a case for sex-based differences in jealousy, with men tending to be more jealous of sexual infidelity, and women tending to be more jealous of emotional infidelity. As to the cardinal question of why people cheat, the argument is made that adultery is motivated by the complex needs of individual egos, variously a need for attachment or a desire to assert independence. Marital infidelity, then, is motivated by the demands of the unfaithful party’s ego and attachment style; compelling sex-based differences in jealousy can be explained through the lens of evolutionary psychology.

Summary

The sources here presented offer a range of perspectives on adultery. Pittman (1989) draws on his work as a family therapist to argue that marital infidelity springs from the ego state of the offending party, and often reflects the complex emotions that characterize any marriage (p. 39). Buss, Larsen, Westen, and Semmelroth (2001) examine sex differences in jealousy from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, arguing that paternity uncertainty drives men to be more concerned with sexual infidelity, while women experience emotional infidelity as the greater concern, inasmuch as it heralds the prospect of diminished resources for them and their children (pp. 278-279). Treger and Sprecher (2011) argued that attachment style, which ranges from fearful (insecure) to secure, and sociosexuality, which describes individuals’ sexual restrictiveness or permissiveness, accounts for between-sex and within-sex differences in jealousy (pp. 415-417). Fish, Pavkov, Wetchler, and Berchik (2012) analyzed attachment style in terms of the anxiety and avoidance continuums and their four associated types, finding a connection between anxiety and infidelity (pp. 216-217, 220-221).

Analysis

Whence comes the taboo on adultery? Buss et al. (2001) argued that it is rooted in human evolution and reproductive biology (p. 278). They point out that men face paternity uncertainty, in that they cannot necessarily be sure that they have fathered ‘their’ putative offspring (p. 279). This would suggest that men are more likely to be distressed by sexual infidelity (p. 279). By contrast, women know who their children are, but if their husbands are adulterous, they risk losing valuable resources and emotional investment (p. 279). Thus, the argument runs, women should be more jealous of emotional infidelity (p. 279). This makes intuitive sense, and support for this view is provided by Treger and Sprecher (2011), who analyzed within-sex and between-sex attitudinal differences concerning emotional and sexual infidelity (pp. 415-416). They also evaluated attachment style, which ranges from fearful/insecure to secure, and sociosexuality, i.e. individuals’ restrictiveness or permissiveness “across sexual attitudes, behaviors, and preferences” (pp. 415-416). They found that male participants in their study were more jealous of sexual infidelity, 62.7% versus 29% of female participants, while women prioritized emotional infidelity as the most distressing 71% to 37.3% of male participants (p. 417). In both genders, attachment style did not affect responses to infidelity (p. 418). However, one must ask two important questions: 1) can so complex a thing as jealousy be accurately measured by a survey? and 2) do attachment styles influence the behavior of the unfaithful party?

Pittman (1989) indirectly provided evidence that attachment styles do in fact influence infidelity. Drawing on his work as a family therapist, Pittman argued that contrary to popular myth, affairs do not necessarily indicate that the unfaithful partner no longer loves their partner, nor is it necessarily the case that sexual appeal is the motivating factor (pp. 39-42). For Pittman, the ego state of the unfaithful party is typically far more salient than anything on the part of the aggrieved party (p. 39). Pittman notes that adulterers tend to be attracted to people who are the opposite of their spouses: if their partners are career types, they choose lovers who are not, and vice-versa (p. 42). This is an important point, but Pittman does not go far enough in analyzing it. What this pattern suggests is that adulterers are motivated by the need for a different type of emotional connection than the one that they experience in their relationship.

And there is evidence that attachment style does influence the occurrence of infidelity. Attachment style can be described by two continuums: “anxiety”, essentially the need for attention and fear of not receiving it, and “avoidance”, characterized by emotional distance and a strong need for independence in a relationship (Fish, Pavkov, Wetchler, & Bercik, 2012, p. 216). Utilizing convenience sampling and questionnaires, these authors evaluated attachment style and predilections towards infidelity (pp. 216-221). They found that anxiety was positively linked with physical infidelity, emotional infidelity, and composite infidelity (pp. 220-221). These findings suggest that individuals with higher anxiety, ‘fearful’ or ‘preoccupied’, may be more likely to have an affair in order to meet their emotional needs for attention, or even a sense of self-worth (p. 223). Avoidance was not linked to categorical scores of infidelity; however, there were “significant differences between the types of infidelity”, indicating that avoidant individuals may engage in affairs if they feel the need to assert their independence (pp. 223-224). Despite the questionable use of convenience sampling, this case is compelling, in that it casts light on possible egoistic and emotional motivations for infidelity.

Conclusion

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, sex differences in jealousy stem from reproductive biology. The evidence does seem to validate this view; however, other evidence makes a clear case that infidelity itself is a rather complex phenomenon. Attachment styles, particularly those characterized by high anxiety, are ‘high-risk’ for infidelity, because infidelity is often motivated by egoistic and emotional needs. Individuals who choose to be unfaithful are typically seeking something they feel they are not getting in their relationships.

References

Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (2001). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. In R. F. Baumeister (Ed.), Social psychology and human sexuality: Essential readings (pp. 278-284). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

Fish, J. N., Pavkov, T. W., Wetchler, J. L., & Bercik, J. (2012). Characteristics of those who participate in infidelity: The role of adult attachment and differentiation in extradyadic experiences. American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(3), pp. 214-229. DOI: 10.1080/01926187.2011.601192

Pittman, F. S. (1989). Private lies: Infidelity and the betrayal of intimacy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Treger, S., & Sprecher, S. (2011). The influences of sociosexuality and attachment style on reactions to emotional versus sexual infidelity. Journal of Sex Research, 48(5), pp. 413-422. DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2010.516845

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