I met my friend Rick* for lunch recently, and I was shocked when he revealed that his wife had been engaged in a long affair and that they were divorcing. Although I never expected Rick's wife to be unfaithful (and neither did Rick), in hindsight, I could see that their relationship did have some qualities which increased their risk for infidelity. Researchers estimate that infidelity impacts up to 25 percent of all marriages, as well as larger percentages of cohabiting and dating couples (Fincham and May, 2017).
Madeleine A Fugère Ph.D. is a professor of Social Psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she teaches courses in Social Psychology, Statistics, Research Methods, and Attraction and Romantic Relationships. She is the author of The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships (Palgrave Macmillan) as well as numerous journal articles related to attraction and romantic relationships.
Editor: Arman Ahmed
The following research-based tips can help you to avoid a relationship with an unfaithful partner and find a partner who is more likely to be loyal:
1. Does he look like a cheater?
This may sound overly simplistic, but our first impressions can be quite accurate and informative, even when based on limited information. Research shows that women can accurately detect whether men have been unfaithful in the past just by looking at facial photographs. Rhodes and colleagues (2012) asked men and women to judge facial photographs of members of the other sex and to rate the likelihood that the individuals in those pictures had been unfaithful in the past. They also collected self-reported data from the people who appeared in the photographs about their previous relationship history. Women could accurately detect which men had reported being unfaithful in the past, and appeared to use the men's masculinity as a key cue; in reality, the men with more masculine facial features were more likely to have reported being unfaithful — and past infidelity is a predictor of future unfaithfulness (Fincham and May, 2017). Men, however, did not accurately detect women’s past infidelity. While they believed that attractive, feminine women were more likely to have been unfaithful, those women had not necessarily cheated on partners in the past. This method will not work 100 percent of the time, but trust your gut: If you think a potential partner is more likely to be unfaithful, you may be picking up on some subtle but reliable cues.
2. Does he or she have a sexy voice?
Do you find a sexy voice attractive? Men tend to prefer higher, more feminine voices in women, while women tend to prefer deeper, more masculine voices in men (Collins and Missing, 2003; Saxton et al., 2006; Simmons et al., 2011). Paradoxically, though, men suspect women with very feminine voices to be more likely to be unfaithful, and women expect men with very masculine voices to be more likely to be unfaithful (O’Connor et al., 2011). These expectations are valid: Both men and women with attractive voices tend to have more sexual partners and are more likely to be unfaithful (Gallup & Frederick, 2010). Not only is vocal attractiveness associated with the likelihood of having one affair; it's associated with an increased risk for having numerous affairs, as well as an increased risk for having sex with a partner who is already in another relationship, otherwise known as "mate poaching" (Hughes et al., 2004). Although sexy voices make for appealing partners, such individuals may make better short-term than long-term partners. (See this post for more on the attraction of sexy voices.)
3. Does he or she have a drug or alcohol problem?
Individuals who report more problem drinking (e.g. drinking five or more drinks at one event, past DUI arrests, or disruptions in eating or sleeping due to drinking) are also more likely to cheat on their primary partners (Graham et al., 2016). These researchers suggest that a lack of impulse control or self-control may contribute both to drug and alcohol issues and an increased likelihood of infidelity. Alcohol consumption may also be linked to an increased likelihood of flirting with individuals other than one's primary partner (Buss and Shackelford, 1997).
How to Find (and Keep) a Partner Who's Less Likely to Cheat
While the signs that a partner may be more likely to cheat are relatively quickly observable, the factors associated with a decreased likelihood of infidelity may take longer to observe.
A variety of factors are associated with a decreased likelihood of infidelity. Being similar to your partner, especially in the areas of religious and educational background, decreases the likelihood of experiencing infidelity (Fincham and May, 2017). Interestingly, when both partners work, rather than just one, the risk of infidelity is also reduced (Fincham and May, 2017). Finding a partner with a secure attachment style can reduce the risk of infidelity as well (DeWall et al., 2011, Fincham and May, 2017; Schmitt and Jonason, 2015); so can finding a partner who is lower in narcissism and higher in conscientiousness (Brewer et al., 2015; Buss & Shackelford, 1997).
If you are already in a relationship, regardless of whether you or your partner have qualities associated with an increased or decreased risk of infidelity, your relationship dynamics may be the best predictor of a faithful relationship. Increased relationship satisfaction is a strong predictor of faithfulness in couples (Fincham and May, 2017). Keep your relationship a priority using these tips to increase your satisfaction and decrease your risk for infidelity.