Although experts are still unclear why some individuals engage in extramarital affairs, research suggests that by far the biggest predictor of an affair is opportunity. And the work place is the great provider of opportunity. Work is a place where a large number of people are in constant contact. People who may share common interests in work, and may also share interests outside of work. Common interests and the ongoing working relationship, may provide the foundation to socialise after work. Some research has indicated that income and employment status may also play an important role in the opportunity to have an affair. There appears to be a higher incidence of reported infidelity by executives who travel frequently for work, who may engage regularly in one night stands.
The work culture may also play a part in promoting infidelity. For example, within the police, drug enforcement, fire brigades and armed forces. Cultures which are male dominated can create the “player” phenomenon. This is where there is an expectation that a man needs to prove his virility. The culture that creates the player phenomenon at work may also function within sports clubs; rugby, soccer, etc.
Other factors that may influence the possibility of engaging in an affair are education, downtown city living, friendships, and family of origin. People who live downtown in larger cities are exposed to a higher number of potential partners. But there is also a level of anonymity that comes from living in a larger city. Research has shown the larger the number of people in a city greater the possibility of an affair.
Research has shown that those with higher education have a greater propensity for infidelity. This may be due to more liberal attitudes towards sex, and changing views in society towards monogamy and marriage. This is also true for women, women who have a higher level of education than their husband are more inclined to have an affair. This may reflect their independence from their partner due to their increased earning capabilities.
The family of origin may also be an indicator of people who may engage in an extramarital affair if there has been a history of divorce. Or if one parent had an affair which then did not lead to the termination of the primary relationship, this may then become a norm for the child. The child may incorporate this experience into a schema as an acceptable behaviour. In this schema individuals who engage in infidelity are not punished.
Research has indicated that friendships may also increase the possibility of infidelity. Those who engage in extramarital affairs acknowledge the prevalence of infidelity in their friendship circle as influencing their decision to engage in an affair. Friends may even support or encourage an affair. Friends who support or encourage affairs may be mitigating their own feelings of guilt for engaging in extramarital affairs. Separate friendship circles may increase the opportunity of engaging in an affair. One way of lowering the risk of your partner having an affair is to share your social circle.
Personality differences may also play a part in infidelity. Couples who are more or less matched on their personality traits are less likely to have an affair. The Five Factor Model, see here for further information, suggests that there are five distinct traits that make up human personality. We either score high or low in these particular traits, which are; neuroticism, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extroversion.
Openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness are important traits to have in a partner. A person who scores high in openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness is more likely to be a kinder, loving, partner than those who score high in neuroticism and low in agreeableness and conscientiousness. But partners who match evenly in traits such as agreeableness may feel that they are being exploited by their partner because they feel they are giving more to the relationship. They then may search out an affair to get their needs met.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington