According to The New York Times, the most consistent data on infidelity comes from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey (GSS). Interviews with people in non-monogamous relationships since 1972 by the GSS have shown that approximately 12% of men and 7% of women admit to having had an extramarital relationship. Results, however, vary year by year, and also by age-group surveyed. For example, one study conducted by the University of Washington, Seattle found slightly, or significantly higher rates of infidelity for populations under 35, or older than 60. In that study which involved 19,065 people during a 15-year period, rates of infidelity among men were found to have risen from 20 to 28%, and rates for women, 5% to 15%. In more recent nationwide surveys, several researchers found that about twice as many men as women reported having an extramarital affair. A survey conducted in 1990 found 2.2% of married participants reported having more than one partner during the past year. In general, national surveys conducted in the early 1990s reported that between 15–25% of married Americans reported having extramarital affairs. People who had stronger sexual interests, more permissive sexual values, lower subjective satisfaction with their partner, weaker network ties to their partner, and greater sexual opportunities were more likely to be unfaithful. Studies suggest around 30–40% of unmarried relationships and 18–20% of marriages see at least one incident of sexual infidelity.
Rates of infidelity among women are thought to increase with age. In one study, rates were higher in more recent marriages, compared with previous generations; men were found to be only “somewhat” more likely than women to engage in infidelity, with rates for both sexes becoming increasingly similar. Another study found that the likelihood for women to be involved in infidelity reached a peak in the seventh year of their marriage and then declined afterward; whereas for married men, the longer they were in relationships, the less likely they were to engage in infidelity, except for the eighteenth year of marriage, at which point the chance that men will engage in infidelity increases.
One measure of infidelity is covert illegitimacy, a situation that arises when someone who is presumed to be a child’s father (or mother) is in fact not the biological parent. Frequencies as high as 30% are sometimes assumed in the media, but research by sociologist Michael Gilding traced these overestimates back to an informal remark at a 1972 conference. The detection of unsuspected illegitimacy can occur in the context of medical genetic screening, in genetic family name research, and in immigration testing. Such studies show that covert illegitimacy is, in fact, less than 10% among the sampled African populations, less than 5% among the sampled Native American and Polynesian populations, less than 2% of the sampled Middle Eastern population, and generally 1–2% among European samples.
Differences in sexual infidelity as a function of gender have been commonly reported. It is more common for men compared to women to engage in extra-dyadic relationships. The National Health and Social Life Survey found that 4% of married men, 16% of cohabiting men, and 37% of dating men engaged in acts of sexual infidelity in the previous year compared to 1% of married women, 8% of cohabiting women, and 17% of women in dating relationships. These differences have been generally thought due to evolutionary pressures that motivate men towards sexual opportunity and women towards commitment to one partner. In addition, recent research finds that differences in gender may possibly be explained by other mechanisms including power and sensations seeking. For example, one study found that some women in more financially independent and higher positions of power, were also more likely to be more unfaithful to their partners. In another study, when the tendency to sensation seek (i.e., engage in risky behaviors) was controlled for, there were no gender differences in the likelihood to being unfaithful. These findings suggest there may be various factors that might influence the likelihood of some individuals to engage in extra-dyadic relationships, and that such factors may account for observed gender differences beyond actual gender and evolutionary pressures associated with each.
Infidelity causes extreme emotions to occur between males and females alike. Emotions have been proven to change through this process. Below, the three phases of infidelity (beginning, during and after) are explained.
The “Before” Stage:
Infidelity is the biggest fear in most romantic relationships and even friendships. No individual wants to be cheated on and replaced by another, this act usually makes people feel unwanted, jealous, angry and incompetent. The initial stage of the infidelity process is the suspicious beginning; the stage in which it has not been proven, but warning signs are beginning to surface. While suspicion is not hard evidence in infidelity and cannot prove anything, it does affect a person’s affective emotions and cognitive states. Jealousy, the feeling of incompetence, and anger can all be felt in both the affective and cognitive states of emotions; infidelity has a different impact in each of those connected states.
Affective emotions and response are a primary factor in the initial stages of infidelity on both sides. Affective behaviors are how we deal with emotions that we do not anticipate. An affective response immediately indicates to an individual whether something is pleasant or unpleasant and whether they decide to approach or avoid a situation.
To begin, affective emotions and the effect infidelity has on affective jealousy. Both men and women alike feel some kind of jealousy when they suspect their significant other is being unfaithful. If some individual suspects that he or she is being cheated on they begin to question their partner’s actions and may possibly act in more frustrated ways towards them than they normally would. The affective use of jealousy in a seemingly unfaithful relationship is caused by the accusing partner anticipating the infidelity from the other.
Another affective emotion in this beginning stage is incompetence. Feeling incompetent can spring from multiple things in a relationship, but during the initial stages of infidelity, a person can experience this on an increased level. When someone is having incompetent feelings due to someone else’s actions they begin to resent them, creating a build-up and eventually an affective emotion outburst over something small. The faithful partner is not normally aware that their suspicion is the reason they feel incompetent in the relationship and do not expect to be so irritated by the change of simple things; making it an affective response in this stage of infidelity. These unanticipated emotions could lead to more and multiple responses such as this one within the future of the initial stage of infidelity.
An additional affective response or emotion seen in initial infidelity is anger. Anger is an emotion that is felt in all stages of infidelity, but in different ways and at different calibers. In the initial stages of infidelity anger is an underlying emotion that is usually exposed after the buildup of other emotions such as jealousy and Resentment. Anger is noticed to be a key emotion within a situation like infidelity, it takes on many roles and forms throughout the process but in the initial stage of cheating, anger can be an affective emotion because of how unpredictable and rapid it can happen without thinking of one’s actions and feelings before doing so.
Cognitive emotions and states tend to be felt in the initial stages of infidelity whenever the faithful partner is alone or left alone by the suspected unfaithful one. Cognitive emotions and responses are that of those in which an individual anticipates them. Once couples begin to anticipate the actions and emotions of their partners, even if evidence have not been set forth, the emotions of infidelity enter a cognitive state.
To begin with cognitive responses in infidelity, individuals who have been cheated on experience jealousy cognitively for many reasons. They may feel that their partner has lost interest in them and feel that they cannot compare to the persons with whom they are being cheated on with. Therefore, they anticipate the loss of their partner’s emotional interest in them and become jealous for more clear reasons. The anticipation of jealous feelings towards an individual’s significant other causes a cognitive response, even without the burden of proof.
Some more cognitive responses in the young stages of infidelity are incompetence and resentfulness. In the initial stages of infidelity, the feeling of incompetence can lead to cognitive resentment. The partner being cheated on will begin to feel that anything and everything they do is not enough, they may feel incompetent in the ways of love, affection, or sex. Whenever an individual suspects that they are being cheated on they try to change their behavior in hopes of keeping or getting their partner’s attention back onto themselves instead of on the person whom they are having another relationship with. People cheat for many reasons and each of those can cause a faithful person to believe they are not competent enough to be in a romantic relationship. This feeling leads to the resentment of the unfaithful partner’s actions and becomes an ongoing emotion throughout the stages of infidelity instead of simply being a quick and immediate response to a partner’s actions.
Anger in infidelity is quite inevitable. In the initial stage of infidelity, anger is not as apparent as it is seen in stage two, because there is not hard facts or evidence supporting one’s suspicions. As previously talked about, the accuser most likely feels jealous and incompetent in the first stage of cheating. These emotions can contract into anger and provide a cognitive state of anger because the accusing person anticipates his or her anger. Unlike jealousy and resentment, it is hard to identify the purpose or cause of the individual’s anger because in reality there is nothing yet to be angry about, there is no proof of their romantic partner’s unfaithfulness. It is hard to pinpoint the anger emotion in the initial stages due to ambiguity; therefore, it begins to take on other emotions turning into a cognitive state of emotional turmoil. The individual knows they are angry and anticipates it, but cannot logically explain it to their partner because of the lack of evidence they have.
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