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New Findings Show Divide in How Men and Women View Infidelity

new findings show men and women view infidelity differently

Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell 

Key Takeaways

  • Research shows that men and women differ in how they view certain types of infidelity.
  • Women tend to react more strongly to emotional infidelity, while men tend to be more upset by sexual infidelity.

Infidelity is an obstacle that many couples face, something that has historically been viewed as a “man’s problem.” While men are still more likely to cheat than women, evidence suggest this gap is closing.

Men and women, however, have varying views on infidelity, whether they are the cheater or the one being cheated on. As research shows, the type of cheating may determine you or your partner's response.

The Infidelity Gender Gap

A YouGov study reveals that 19% of individuals reported having sex outside of their relationship without their partner’s knowledge. By gender, that is 25% of men, and 13% of women. Psychotherapist Lindsay Brancato, PhD explains that cheating looks different now than it did years ago, since women are now working right alongside men and no longer staying home as caretakers.

Men often sought comfort outside of their home if they felt neglected. Brancato states, “Now things have shifted. Women have more economic independence, they have more power outside the home, but inside the home they still shoulder the majority of the invisible labor.” Brancato says that this labor involves meeting the emotional and social needs of the family.

With women feeling like they’re caring for their partners and children while becoming more of a breadwinner, they may be discovering a loss of attraction to their partner, as well as greater exposure to potential alternatives outside their homes and current relationships.

As roles within male/female relationships continue to equalize, it's possible that the statistics surrounding infidelity will as well.

That is just one of a myriad of reasons why someone might cheat, but what is worth noting is that partners often have a different view of what constitutes cheating or what form is more severe. One researcher recognized three types of cheating—sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity, and full investment infidelity.

Emotional Affairs vs. Physical Infidelity

A recent study in the Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy states that women are more likely to be upset by emotional cheating, and men more upset by sexual or physical infidelity. That study claims that the reasoning for this is because emotional infidelity “signals that a mate will either abandon the relationship or divert resources to a rival.”

The study also asserts that the threat of sexual infidelity is due to a more primal response from men related to reproduction. It is born out of fear being cuckolded (when a man's wife has been unfaithful), since a baby’s paternity is not known until after birth.

Lindsay Brancato, PhD

Women have more economic independence, they have more power outside the home, but inside the home they still shoulder the majority of the invisible labor.

— Lindsay Brancato, PhD

Brancato further points out that a major difference with how infidelity is viewed by the different sexes is that men, due to ego, find it necessary to leave after they’ve been cheated on.

They don’t want to be perceived as "weak.” That may explain why the word cuckold is widely known, but not cuckquean, which is the equivalent for a woman whose husband was unfaithful.

It is not unheard of, though, for a man to forgive a cheating wife. Brancato says, “It used to be that women were in such a position that they had to stay in order to keep their lives intact financially and socially. It has become much more shameful now for women to stay, which I think makes it hard. They not only have to deal with the pain of the affair but might be worried about how they are perceived if they take back their partner and worry about protecting them.”

Simply put, both parties end up feeling that intense pressure—one from society, and the other from internal factors.

One point that most researchers can agree upon is that cheating enacts shame. Both spouses may try to rationalize their behaviors, but infidelity is still the most common reason for divorce—often the last straw.

The lack of trust as a result of these behaviors is enough to dissolve a marriage, whether through emotional investment or sexual infidelity.

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Article Sources
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  1. YouGov. The Opening of American Relationships. September 23 - 25, 2016

  2. Zare B, Review of studies on infidelity, 2011 3rd International Conference on Advanced Management Science IPEDR vol.19, IACSIT Press.

  3. Kato T. Gender differences in response to infidelity types and rival attractivenessSexual and Relationship Therapy. 2019:1-17. doi:10.1080/14681994.2019.1639657

  4. Scott SB, Rhoades GK, Stanley SM, Allen ES, Markman HJ. Reasons for Divorce and Recollections of Premarital Intervention: Implications for Improving Relationship Education. Couple Family Psychol. 2013;2(2):131-145. doi:10.1037/a0032025