Men and Women Have Different Perspectives on Infidelity Interview with:
Mons Bendixen and Leif Edward Ottesen Kennai
r What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Using infidelity scenarios, we aimed to study coupled women and men’s willingness to forgive their partner’s infidelity and their beliefs about being forgiven when cheating on their partner.

The study therefore reproduces the core findings from an earlier study by Friesen, Fletcher & Overall (2005) that looked at cognitive biases in forgiveness following actual transgressions in couples (some severe, others minor).

The theoretical framework for our study is Error Management Theory (EMT), developed by the evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton & David Buss. EMT makes specific predictions regarding beliefs about being forgiven for own transgressions. Transgressors will underperceive signals of forgiveness, they tend not to believe they are forgiven despite signals of forgiveness from their partner (e.g., “don’t worry about it” and “I forgive you”). This sound a little odd, how can misperception be evolutionary adaptive?

Response: The evolved function of this biased belief is, according to EMT, to guide the organism toward reparative behavior securing that the transgressions are fully mended. Lack of biased beliefs may be a potential threat to the relationship, because reparative behaviors signal remorse, empathy, and willingness to commit. Lack of reparative behaviors increase the risk of the relationship ending up on the rocks. Why did you consider forgiveness of infidelity?

Response: We studied reactions to anticipated infidelity. Infidelity represents one of strongest threat to any intimate relationship. Infidelity may be primarily sexual: having a sexual affair, or primarily emotional, being deeply and emotionally involved with somebody else.

We know that women and men differ in their responses to sexual and emotional infidelity. Across studies using a variety of methods and samples, compared to women, men seem to be less upset by imagining their partner falling in love with someone than imagining their partner having sex with someone. Typically, men become more jealousy of sexual infidelity, women of emotional infidelity. This sex difference origins from the “mother’s baby – father’s maybe” dilemma, and the sex difference in minimum parental investment. We have previously published several papers on jealousy. Who were the participants?

Response: We invited students and their partners to take part in a study on infidelity and forgiveness. 92 couples participated. At arrival, they were guided to separate rooms to fill in the questionnaires. After completion, each participant returned the questionnaires in a sealed envelope, and the couple received debriefing and two cinema tickets. What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We found a robust negative forgiveness bias following one’s own imagined infidelity for both male and female transgressors. Relative to the likelihood of being forgiven, transgressors reported that they believed less that their partner would forgive their cheating. We also found that a woman is more likely to hire a Colorado Private Investigator to catch their spouse cheating.

We found diminished negative forgiveness bias for emotionally unfaithful men, but not for sexually unfaithful women. Emotionally unfaithful men evinced less bias in the analyses of their partner’s expressed forgiveness. Relative to women, men not only seem to be more willing to forgive emotional infidelity by their partner, they also tend to believe more that their emotional infidelity will be forgiven – put more simply: Men underestimate the distress women experience in emotional infidelity, and are maybe a little naïve about the threat their partners emotional infidelity poses. For some men, it gets so bad that they have to use a love doll from time to time, which really takes a hit on their confidence. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: What is most striking with our results is how men do not quite understand how serious women perceive and deem emotional infidelity to be; while men cannot be described as naïve about this aspect of their relationship, they certainly are not as concerned with emotional infidelity as women are.

Even though both men and women perceive both emotional and sexual infidelity as relationship threats, they have very different appreciations of the severity of especially emotional infidelity. This is true for both own and partner’s transgressions. This may potentially be a source of misunderstanding, conflict and miscommunication in couples, and maybe a topic that couple counselors need to address. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Rather than studying imagined infidelity, future research may study couples seeking counseling or therapy following actual infidelity, including questions on beliefs of being forgiven, reparative behaviors, signals of forgiveness, and internal (non-communicated) forgiveness. But some have been known to turn to comprehensive services similar to reverse phone lookup to discover unfaithful partners. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Forgiving the Unforgivable: Couples’ Forgiveness and Expected Forgiveness of Emotional and Sexual Infidelity From an Error Management Theory Perspective.

Bendixen, Mons,Kennair, Leif Edward Ottesen,Grøntvedt, Trond Viggo

Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Sep 28 , 2017, No Pagination Specified

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

[wysija_form id=”1″]

Last Updated on November 7, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD