By Anju Miura
“Get Psyched” explores the complicated process of human thoughts and behavior to help you understand who we really are. I write this series in the belief that understanding psychological theories will make your life easier, or at least, teach you why life could be so hard. After reading my stories, you’ll get psyched.
Have you ever fantasized having with sex someone other than your significant other? You may think, “I’m in love, but I need someone else.”
In contrast, it may feel like the end of the world when you find out your boyfriend had slept with another girl, or in the worst case scenario, your best friend. It can feel extremely unendurable and humiliating.
When it comes to infidelity, we tend to blame our partner rather than look into underlying issues in the relationship.
But, what drives us to cheat (or be cheated on)? It’s not always as simple as falling out of love with your partner. More often than not, it’s a lot more complicated than that, and cheating doesn’t imply that the love is entirely gone.
Why do we cheat?
We need both closeness and distance in a relationship. When a partner’s different needs for closeness and distance overwhelms us, cheating feels like a plausible solution.
On the one hand, we want to feel cozy, intimate and entirely relaxed with our partners. No secrets should be kept from one another. Our thoughts should be shared, so we constantly know what our partners think and feel.
Small, but constant rejections from a partner may gradually break a relationship, such as starting to sleep facing opposite directions with space in between. Over-distancing can cause us to cheat not because we don’t love the partner anymore, but precisely because we do.
On the other hand, we also need distance to not feel submerged or owned by one another. We want to retain a sense of freedom. Over-closeness leads us to seek out private space. Unhealthy behaviors such as checking your partner’s phone to see who they are in communication with or tracking your partner’s location or social media followers can feel suffocating.
We have the right to remain desirable to the world, even though we are in a relationship. So, signing up on some dating apps may not be a platform for mindless sex, but an escape from the controlling relationship that distorts your identity.
Are men more willing to have sex with a stranger?
Stereotypically, men and women seem to differ in their desire for sexual variety. One experiment revealed men are more likely to hop into bed with a stranger than women.
In one study, when women were approached by a man, 6 percent of them agreed to go back to the man’s apartment, but no one agreed to have sex with him. However, when men were approached by a female, more than half of them agreed to go back to her apartment, and 75 percent of them agreed to have sex with her.
A 1993 study also found men are typically much more positive than women about casual sex. Men are more likely to have sexual fantasies than women are, and they are more likely to fantasize about having two or more sex partners in a single fantasy episode.
Nevertheless, this study did not take women’s personal safety into account.
As a journalist, Natalie Angier noted she thought women would be just as willing to have sex as men in these situations if they feel safe enough with a stranger.
Different definitions of cheating between men and women
You may find some interactions more upsetting than others — when your partner has a sexual relationship with someone else, or when your partner develops a strong emotional bond with someone else.
A study by Randy J. Larsen found men and women perceive events differently to trigger jealousy. Men are far more distressed than women when imagining their partners having sexual intercourse with someone else, whereas women are more distressed when their partners become emotionally involved with someone else.
Moreover, by thinking about their partners having sex with someone else, male participants’ heart rates went up five beats per minute. Female participants, in contrast, displayed greater physiological distress at imagining their partners developing emotional intimacy with someone else.
How can we overcome the desire to cheat?
We may try to find “someone else” to satisfy our sexual desires and fantasies that differ from our partner, but the core problem in a relationship can drive you or your partner to cheat. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a partner who has the same needs for distance and closeness as yours. That’s why we often argue about our partners either being too clingy or too cold.
In any relationship, it seems better to work out what the relative needs are for distance and closeness, as this actually reduces insecurities in the relationships.