Understanding signs of future infidelity are easy in hindsight: “I should have known!” But in real life, it’s hard to see it barreling down the pike. Are there certain characteristics that make people more likely to cheat? There are indeed many things that tempt a person to cheat. They range from general relationship dissatisfaction, to the things we will discuss next. That way you can have some insight into that big question… Will he cheat, is she loyal?
Maybe a person’s strong urge for sex can help identify that they might be more likely to cheat; after all, we know that different people desire sex in different amounts. Are those who have an exceptionally strong sex drive more likely to be unfaithful?
Researchers don’t suggest that it’s the only factor, but it could be an important prognosticator. Is it possible that strong sexual desire may even be required for someone who engages in sexual behavior outside of a committed relationship? But what about those individuals who feel an intense pull towards having an affair, but still manage to refrain? Or how about those who have a strong sex drive, but possess the discipline to channel that sexual energy towards their partner?
In two empirical studies from 2014 addressing the subject of the relation between sexual desire and infidelity, it was determined the existence of a strong distinguishing trait that could help explain when and why strong sexual desire only sometimes predicts infidelity: self-control.
Self-control refers to a person’s ability to regulate impulses, such as giving in to temptation. When people lack adequate self-control, it might be their initial inclination toward sex becomes their default action: How intense their usual sexual desire is can translate into conduct. Imagine, when low self-control is paired with high sexual desire, individuals might be more prone to flirting or engaging in sexual behavior outside of a committed relationship. For individuals with low sexual desire, low self-control might guide them even less towards infidelity.
The first of two studies indicated this is true. Researchers measured the self-control, sexual desire, and cheating histories of more than 300 subjects and found that stronger sexual desire predicted more past infidelity, but interestingly, only for individuals who also suffered with low self-control.
There was a second and equally interesting study done by the same research team. They experimentally reduced the “self-control” of some of the test subjects. Those subjects with strong sexual desires and low self-control indicated greater intention to engage in romantic behavior with that stranger.
The research suggests that a strong sexual desire alone doesn’t tell much about whether someone is more or less likely to cheat—the evidence shows numerous individuals with strong sexual desires do resist temptation. On the other hand, if you add in the concept of self-control, the image becomes easier to see. Minimal self-control makes it more difficult for personalities with strong sexual desire to resist temptation, and allows people with low sexual desire to retreat further away from a sexual encounter.
Research on self-control suggests that self-control is sort of like a muscle, and as with any muscle, it can grow tired if overused. Imagine some of the situations that necessitate self-control—completing tasks, dieting, controlling emotions in social relationships or at work, not speaking out of turn. If self-control becomes exhausted, couples can be mindful of how drained their partner is in terms of self-control before interacting with appealing strangers.
Keep in mind that neither self-control nor sexual desires are the only factors involved in predicting infidelity. In fact, relationship dissatisfaction is one of the most powerful predictors available. This highlights the idea that the quality of your relationship should never be ignored. Even in light of personality (strong sexual desire) or situational experiences (self-control depletion) all of these things can contribute to the likelihood of cheating. As that TV commercial said, “life comes at you fast” so keep your eyes open for yourself and your partner, being aware that both of you hold your futures in your hands. In the end, it’s all about the choices you make.
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Frank Hopkins is a life coach in Baton Rouge who is certified as a Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Frank has helped numerous people to go through emotional change in a way that is positively transformative.