Infidelity— cheating, being unfaithful, or what researchers would describe as “couple members’ violations of relationship norms regarding exclusivity”— clearly can cause negative emotions such as feelings of betrayal, hurt, and jealousy.1 With spring break (at American colleges and universities) just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to discuss how relationship commitment affects the likelihood of infidelity when partners are geographically separated and tempted by the fruit of another.
Commitment, or feeling connected to a partner and interested in the long-term success of a relationship,2 is an important factor in keeping couples together. Commitment also encourages partners to work for the good of their relationships, make efforts to help their partners,3 and constructively handle conflicts that arise (e.g., better communication).4,5
Not surprisingly, commitment also predicts college students’ faithfulness when on spring break (i.e., those low in commitment are more likely to cheat). Steve Drigotas and colleagues6 tracked a sample of heterosexual SMU (Southern Methodist University) students prior to and during their spring break. Before leaving for break, the students self-reported their commitment levels, relationship satisfaction and perceived alternatives to their current partner. Then during break they kept track of all of their interactions with opposite-sex others that lasted longer than 10 minutes, and reported on the levels of emotional and physical intimacy the experienced with these opposite-sex others.
During spring break, 76% of students had some level of emotional intimacy, and 41% had some level of physical intimacy, with one or more opposite-sex persons other than their own partners. Importantly, (low) commitment was the best predictor of engaging in emotional and physical infidelity, although students who were more less satisfied with their relationships and those with more alternatives also tended to cheat more.6 As a side note, my colleagues and I have replicated these results over winter break,5 but that’s a story for another (holi)day.
So, as you head out for spring break, think about whether you (and your partner!) are committed to each other. If not, be careful! And safe.
1Drigotas, S. M., & Barta, W. (2001). The cheating heart: Scientific explorations of infidelity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 177-180.
2Arriaga, X. B., & Agnew, C. R. (2001). Being committed: Affective, cognitive, and conative components of relationship commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1190-1203.
3Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., Drigotas, S. M., Arriaga, X. B., Witcher, B. S., & Cox, C. L. (1997). Willingness to sacrifice in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1373-1395.
4Rusbult, C. E., Yovetich, N. A., & Verette, J. (1996). An interdependence analysis of accommodation processes. In G. J. O. Fletcher & J. Fitness (Eds.), Knowledge structures in close relationships: A social psychological approach (pp. 63-90). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
5Le, B., Korn, M. S., Crockett, E. E., & Loving, T. J. (2011). Missing you maintains us: Missing a romantic partner, commitment, relationship maintenance, and physical infidelity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 653-667
6Drigotas, S. M., Safstrom, C. A., & Gentilia, T. (1999). An investment model prediction of dating infidelity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 509-524.
Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.