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Equity and extramarital sexuality


Equity theory has recently been found to be a useful framework for under-standing the effects of imbalances in intimate “contractual” relationships such as marriage. Equitable couples seem to be happier, more satisfied with their relationship, and more confident that it will last than are their more mismatched, i.e., inequitable, counterparts. Furthermore, inequitable couples predictably act to “set things right” in their marriage. They either restore actual equity to the relationship or psychologically set their relationship in balance. If neither works, they may “leave the field.” Extramarital sex may be viewed as an equity restoration mechanism in that (1) it may be used by the deprived partner to achieve actual equity, (2) it may indicate a partner's readiness to leave the relationship because he feels he can “do better,” or (3) it may represent a desire to achieve equity in an alternative relationship(s) when inequity pervades the primary one. The hypothesis that the inequitable/underbenefited group should be more likely than the equitable group or the inequitable/overbenefited group to have engaged in extramarital sex was tested using data from a large-scale Psychology Todayquestionnaire. The results indicated that men and women in inequitable/under-benefited relationships had more extramarital affairs and began their extramarital activities earlier than did men and women in equitable and inequitable/over-benefited relationships. Alternative explanations of this finding, sex-role demands and length of the relationship, are explored and discarded as untenable.

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Research supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH 26681.

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Walster, E., Traupmann, J. & Walster, G.W. Equity and extramarital sexuality. Arch Sex Behav 7, 127–142 (1978).

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Key words

  • equity theory
  • extramarital sexuality
  • sex
  • marriage