These two signs may mean your partner is more likely to cheat

Quick notes

  • Researchers at the University of Florida say two simple signs may indicate a proclivity to cheat

  • Surprisingly, being in a good relationship does NOT mean your partner won’t stray

  • There are a few easy things you can do to limit the likelihood of unfaithfulness

Is there anything more heartbreaking than finding out that your partner has cheated on you? You think everything is going along fine and then all of a sudden – BAM! – you find something incriminating. It might be an email or text message, or maybe you find someone else’s clothing or jewelry in your home. The pain and anger are unimaginable.

Thanks to a Florida State University study, there may now be a new way to tell if your significant other might be unfaithful before it happens. Keep reading for the two under-the-radar signs you should look for.

233 couples were tracked for 3 1/2 years

Florida State University researchers Jim McNulty, Andrea Meltzer, Anastasia Makhanova and Jon Maner tracked 233 newly-married couples for 3 1/2 years to determine factors that lead to infidelity. They documented dozens of details about their relationships, including long-term commitment, marital satisfaction, sexual intimacy, and whether or not they had strayed.

[bdcbethebest]/[bdcbethebest] via pixabay
Throughout the process, the couples were asked to share every thought and feeling regarding their marriage with the team. In the end, the scientists determined that there are two personality traits every person shares in varying degrees: Attentional Disengagement and Evaluative Devaluation of potential romantic partners. How prevalent those traits are may indicate whether or not you are likely to cheat.

#1. Attentional disengagement

The first trait researchers observed during their study is referred to as “attentional disengagement” or the ability to direct attention away from an attractive person who could be considered a potential romantic partner.

During the study, participants were shown photos of both average and super attractive people. The rate at which they “disengaged,” or how quickly they looked away from the photos, was recorded. Scientists found that those who looked away more quickly were 50 percent less likely to have an extramarital affair.

It is worth noting that the difference in viewing times could be as little as a couple of milliseconds: a difficult observance to make in a real-life situation! Researcher Jim McNulty says that these split-second decisions are “largely spontaneous and effortless, and may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences.”

#2. Devaluation of alternatives

The second trait researchers looked at is “devaluation of alternatives,” or the ability to mentally downgrade the attractiveness of another person (even if he or she is crazy good looking). For example, you run into Chris Hemsworth in the market, but you don’t even give him a second glance — because you’re just THAT into your partner.

[aliceabc0]/[aliceabc0] via pixabay
In the study, participants were asked to evaluate the beauty of attractive photos. The researchers found that those who dismissed the appeal of the alluring images were less likely to cheat than those who found the people in the photos attractive.

Like attentional disengagement, however, devaluation may be challenging to detect on your own. A partner who is thinking of straying can be very adept at hiding their attraction to others.

Other common predictors

In addition to the two main indicators, the FSU study also identified several other predictors of infidelity, including marital satisfaction, perceived attractiveness, age, sexual satisfaction, and the history of short-term relationships.

People are not necessarily aware of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. These processes are largely spontaneous and effortless, and they may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences.

Unsurprisingly, researchers found that younger people and those who are unsatisfied with their relationships are more likely to cheat. In addition, they found that less attractive women were more likely to have an affair  — and the partners of those unattractive women were also more likely to cheat. 

In an unexpected twist, researchers also found that those who are satisfied with the sex in their relationships are MORE likely than average to engage in an extramarital affair. The theory? Those people are more sex-positive in general and therefore more likely to seek satisfaction through additional outlets.

How to prevent straying

The researchers at FSU believe that their findings could offer mental health practitioners practical suggestions for patients who seek help with staying committed to their partners. While the process may be ingrained to some degree, they believe that people may be able to consciously modify their behavior when they know what signs to look for. 

Some commonly offered recommendations include:

  • Do encourage honest communication within the relationship with no judgment
  • Don’t act out of jealousy — you can’t keep your partner around using threats or fear
  • Do take part in regular counseling to work through any issues
  • Do make your relationship awesome — nothing is a better preventative than having a relationship that is just too good to mess with

Having an amazing relationship requires constant effort, but it’s worth it! It makes sense to put in the work if you’re in it for the long haul.

A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101: 

Love isn’t always enough to keep a couple together, especially if external issues come into play.

Five tell-tale signs it’s time to break up.