Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships
Although there is a large body of research addressing predictors of relationship infidelity, no study to our knowledge has specifically addressed infidelity in a previous relationship as a risk factor for infidelity in a subsequent relationship. The current study addressed risk for serial infidelity by following adult participants (N = 484) longitudinally through two mixed-gender romantic relationships. Participants reported their own extra-dyadic sexual involvement (ESI) (i.e., having sexual relations with someone other than their partner) as well as both known and suspected ESI on the part of their partners in each romantic relationship. Findings from logistic regressions showed that those who reported engaging in ESI in the first relationship were three times more likely to report engaging in ESI in their next relationship compared to those who did not report engaging in ESI in the first relationship. Similarly, compared to those who reported that their first-relationship partners did not engage in ESI, those who knew that their partners in the first relationships had engaged in ESI were twice as likely to report the same behavior from their next relationship partners. Those who suspected their first-relationship partners of ESI were four times more likely to report suspicion of partner ESI again in their next relationships. These findings controlled for demographic risk factors for infidelity and held regardless of respondent gender or marital status. Thus, prior infidelity emerged as an important risk factor for infidelity in next relationships. Implications for novel intervention targets for prevention of serial relationship infidelity are discussed.
KeywordsDating relationships Extra-dyadic sexual involvement Infidelity
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health [Award Number R01HD047564]. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest with respect to authorship or the publication of this article.
All study procedures were approved by the University of Denver Institutional Review Board.
- Allen, E. S. (2001). Attachment styles and their relation to patterns of extradyadic and extramarital involvement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
- Allen, E. S., Atkins, D. C., Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D. K., Gordon, K. C., & Glass, S. P. (2005). Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and contextual factors in engaging in and responding to extramarital involvement. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 12(2), 101–130. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bpi014.Google Scholar
- Baucom, D. H., Snyder, D. K., & Gordon, K. C. (2011). Helping couples get past the affair: A clinician’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Bowleg, L., Lucas, K. J., & Tschann, J. M. (2004). “The ball was always in his court”: An exploratory analysis of relationship scripts, sexual scripts, and condom use among African American women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(1), 70–82. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00124.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Dewall, C. N., Lambert, N. M., Slotter, E. B., Pond, R. S., Deckman, T., Finkel, E. J., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). So far away from one’s partner, yet so close to romantic alternatives: Avoidant attachment, interest in alternatives, and infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6), 1302–1316. doi:10.1037/a0025497.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I. (1975). Belief, attitude, intention, and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
- Harris, C. R., & Christenfeld, N. (1996). Gender, jealousy, and reason. Psychological Science, 7(6), 364–366.Google Scholar
- Johnson, C. A., Stanley, S. M., Glenn, N. D., Amato, P. R., Nock, S. L., Markman, H. J., & Dion, M. R. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce (S02096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.Google Scholar
- Knopp, K., Vandenberg, P., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2016). “DTR” or “WTF”: The role of infidelity in defining the relationship. Poster presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Denver, CO.Google Scholar
- Lalasz, C. B., & Weigel, D. J. (2011). Understanding the relationship between gender and extradyadic relations: The mediating role of sensation seeking on intentions to engage in sexual infidelity. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(7), 1079–1083. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.01.029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Martins, A., Pereira, M., Andrade, R., Dattilio, F. M., Narciso, I., & Canavarro, M. C. (2016). Infidelity in dating relationships: Gender-specific correlates of face-to-face and online extradyadic involvement. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(1), 193–205. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0576-3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2009). Relationship education for individuals: The benefits and challenges of intervening early. In H. Benson & S. Callan (Eds.), What works in relationship education: Lessons from academics and service deliverers in the United States and Europe (pp. 45–54). Doha: Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.Google Scholar
- Rhoades, G. K., & Stanley, S. M. (2014). Before “I do”: What do premarital experiences have to do with marital quality among today’s young adults? National Marriage Project, University of Virginia. Retrieved from http://before-i-do.org
- Scott, S. B., Parsons, A., Post, K. M., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J., & Rhoades, G. K. (2016). Changes in the sexual relationship and relationship adjustment precede extradyadic sexual involvement. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 395–406. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0797-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.Google Scholar
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Table A1: Marital status of people 15 years and over, by age, sex, personal earnings, race, and Hispanic origin. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/hh-fam/cps2010.html