Who is likely to cheat on their partner? Can it be predicted?
Well, yes, says human dynamics coach Matthew Hussey, author of The New York Times bestseller Get the Guy, it can.
In a recent interview with Business Insider magazine, Hussey, who specialises in relationship strategies, outlined the three personality types most susceptible to infidelity. (And, for the record, even those in open relationships can cheat; infidelity is defined as anything that breaches mutually agreed boundaries.)
A cheater, Hussey said, is likely to be:
a. A narcissist,
b. Insecure, or
This all seems reasonable. Narcissists depend on others for “narcissistic supply”, and are well known for their manipulative behaviour. It is hardly surprising that they are prone to cheating on their partners, as they are notoriously lacking in guilt or remorse.
The rest, too, makes perfect sense. Insecure people require a great deal of approval, and so are vulnerable to cheating if their partners aren’t fulfilling their deep well of need. And selfish people only consider themselves, so aren’t deterred by the hurt they will cause their partners.
So, we know which types of people are most likely to cheat. Which types of people, then, are most likely to be cheated on? Hussey doesn’t cover this, but I can answer for him:
How do I know this? Well, let’s consider the stats. Most estimates suggest that 70 per cent of all marriages are affected by infidelity. Up to 60 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women admit to having been unfaithful. That’s a lot of selfish, narcissistic, insecure people.
There are numerous scientific theories explaining infidelity: monogamy is “unnatural”; it is in our genetic code; our brain wiring predisposes us to cheat. But ultimately these explanations are irrelevant, because if we were committed enough, if we were selfless enough, if we were secure enough, we wouldn’t act on our deep-seated urges.
But this, of course, is nonsense. Sexual desire and romantic love are powerful forces, so fearsome that virtually every religion prescribes and proscribes sexual behaviours. If we were all deeply secure and completely selfless, we might be better equipped to resist, but human beings simply aren’t built that way.
We may not all be narcissists, but we can all be insecure and selfish. Insecurity is not a set characteristic, but can wax and wane over a lifetime. We may feel secure in ourselves and our relationships for a time, and be thrown for six after a major life crisis: a job loss, for example, or a birth, or bereavement. We may be happily married or partnered for years, then find ourselves craving attention and validation and sexual excitement.
And we all can be self-serving. The most altruistic of human beings can give in to temptation, and this doesn’t always indicate a poor moral compass. Being committed to one’s partner may increase one’s willpower, but may not be enough to ensure that willpower’s success.
Temptation is everywhere. A huge risk factor for cheating is, simply, opportunity. We live in an age in which everyone is connected, all the time. We can have a fleeting conversation in the street and connect on social media minutes later. We can be at home alone and be flirting with someone online. We can fall in love with a stranger from the comfort of our own kitchen.
Now, I’m not an apologist for cheaters. I see married men on dating sites and I want to reach through my phone and slap their faces. The consequences of infidelity can be devastating, leading to what many mental health professionals refer to as Post Infidelity Stress Disorder.
But if there is one thing I have learnt over the years, watching friends survive or implode after infidelity, it’s that there is no “type”. Anyone can cheat, and anyone can be cheated on.
And so maybe, just maybe, we need to change our paradigm about infidelity. Maybe we need to stop regarding it as aberrant behaviour – one perpetrated by narcissists, and the selfish, and insecure – and see it as a common feature of marriage. Maybe we need to stop being so shocked when it does happen to us, and start developing strategies for moving on through it.
Because all this analysis won’t change a thing. About 70 per cent of couples will tell you that.