Editor’s note: There’s been so much talk about the “Weiner affair” lately, and we’ve had several request to cover it on the site, so we’re running two articles on it today.
In the last few weeks and months we’ve found ourselves watching the news and repeatedly exclaiming “Really?!”
Arnold Schwarzenegger is married to the beautiful Maria Shriver, has four gorgeous children, and yet he couldn’t resist becoming sexually involved (and having a love child with) his family’s housekeeper. Really?!
Christopher Lee, a married New York state congressman, sent a shirtless photograph of himself in response to a Craigslist personal ad. He even went as far as to call himself a “fit, fun, classy guy.” Really?!
Not to be outdone by his fellow New York politician, Anthony Weiner sent numerous pictures of himself, including one of his crotch, to women other than his wife. He was a rising political star and newlywed, but couldn’t resist texting pictures to young co-eds. Really?!
Why do prominent and powerful men seem to find themselves in these sorts of predicaments?
In order to understand these diverse acts of infidelity – and perhaps more mind-bogglingly – the fact that apparently intelligent men get caught behaving badly, the science of relationships can help.
It is tempting to rely on stereotypes when trying to understand male infidelity. We’ve all heard that men think with the brains located in their pants. Men are often described as incapable of controlling their sexual desires. In fact, some of our research suggests that when cheating is broadly defined, men and women are unfaithful in approximately equal amounts (i.e., when infidelity is more than just sexual intercourse, one-third to one-half of participants report having been unfaithful to a romantic partner).1
However, reasons for infidelity differ for men and women. Men report boredom in their relationships and “opportunity” as top reasons to behave in an unfaithful manner. Women report unhappiness in their relationships and being made to feel attractive by another man as primary reasons to pursue a partner outside of their relationship. In sum, men seem driven by opportunities outside their relationship whereas women who are unfaithful are responding to discontent in their current relationship. Related, we’ve found that women are more likely than men to reveal their infidelity to their partner (perhaps this is why these incidents don’t make the news but are handled privately). This seems to reflect the fact that women’s infidelity often occurs with the intent of ending their current relationship and finding a new partner. In contrast, men’s infidelity may be undertaken with a desire to “have some fun” but not end their current relationship.
Of course, wives and girlfriends tend to have some say in the outcome of men’s infidelity. And, when you are a politician, the public and news networks weigh in as well. We won’t go as far as to suggest what should become of the Schwartzenegger, Lee, and Weiner marriages, but we’re guessing that the combination of power and tempting opportunities was just too much for these men to resist. Sadly, science suggests that there’s no reason to believe that others won’t fall victim to the same fate before these three scandals have faded from memory.
You can read more about “Weinergate” here. Also see our related articles on “Why Do Celebrities Seem to Cheat So Much?” and “‘Sexting,’ Anxious Attachment, and Relationship Expectations” or see other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.
1Brand, R. J., Markey, C. N., Mills, A., & Hodges, S. D. (2007). Sex differences in self-reported causes and consequences of infidelity. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 57, 101-109.