With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there’s never been a more apt time to be cynical about romance.
To help, researchers from Florida State University have identified some of the key predictors for infidelity, based on a three-year-long analysis of the marital behaviours of 233 newlyweds.
Surprisingly, they found that those who were satisfied with sex in their relationship were more likely to cheat on their partner, possibly because they “felt more positive about sex in general”, the study suggests.
Age, attractiveness and sexual history all have a crucial part to play, too, they found. In addition to those who were sexually satisfied in their relationship, younger people and less attractive women were also found to be more likely to be unfaithful.
The same was not true for men, who were conversely more likely to cheat when their partners were less attractive.
The researchers found that men who had a higher number of short-term sexual relationships prior to marriage were less likely to stay faithful whereas women in this same category were less likely to cheat.
The research did, however, find two techniques which could minimise the chances of infidelity occurring; 'attentional disengagement', and 'evaluative devaluation' of potential romantic partners.
Those with higher levels of attentional disengagement (avoiding thinking about a potential romantic partner's attractiveness) and evaluative devaluation (downplaying the potential partner's attractiveness in their mind) were less likely to cheat.
Both reactions minimised the risk of infidelity and, consequently, were predictors of relationships with a higher likelihood of succeeding.
Researcher Jim McNulty said these techniques are innate, "People are not necessarily aware of what they're doing or why they're doing it. These processes are largely spontaneous and effortless, and they may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences."
But despite their innate nature, McNulty hopes that the findings could lead mental health practitioners to find practical suggestions to help people stay committed to their partners.
He said a growing body of research suggests people may be able to boost their psychological ability to employ disengagement or devaluation when tempted by someone else.