The Very Different Ways Men And Women React To Cheating

Both genders cheat, but they react to it differently.

husband apologizing to wife after infidelity Halfpoint / Shutterstock

Nothing strikes more fear, anger, and a boatload of insecurities in a relationship than infidelity. It's one of the big rules of monogamous relationships, but it's also a blanket term, as there are considered to be many different types of cheating.

But infidelity is also a tricky subject. What constitutes infidelity? Does feeling attraction for another, even if you don't act on it, count? What about falling for someone else, but choosing to stay with your partner? Or cheating with someone you have no real feelings for? Is it something that can be forgiven?


But there are evolutionary explanations as to why men and women have different feelings on what actually counts as infidelity, according to a Norwegian study.

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Mons Bendixen, an associate professor from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, says that both men and women are psychologically similar, but vastly different when it comes to reproduction.

But what does reproduction have to do with infidelity? It turns out, quite a lot.

Teaming up with fellow NTNU professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and professor David Buss at the University of Texas, the researchers studied jealousy amongst more than 1,000 participants. What they found surprised them.

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For men, the worst kind of infidelity is sexual. It's not completely about the act itself, but what's produced during the act: a child.


"Since the dawn of time, men have grappled with paternity insecurity, since fertilization occurs inside a woman's body," the researchers said.

Men worry about whether the child is truly his, and if they should invest much protection and resources for that child. Meanwhile, women find emotional infidelity the worst.

"The greatest threat for the woman is not that the man has sex with other women, but that he spends time and resources on women other than her," said the research.

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Women worry that if the man is emotionally invested in another, their own children would be neglected.


At the same time, women who don't worry about their man's emotional infidelity are more likely to raise their child using their own resources. Men who don't worry about their women's sexual infidelity and end up raising another man's child are less likely to pass on their genes, according to Bendixen.

"The cultural gender role perspective believes that jealousy is learned, but we feel confident that these reactions are mechanisms that are part of an evolved human mind, given comparable findings across several nations," he says.

So, in the end, infidelity not only has an emotional impact but also triggers our survival and parental instinct.


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Caithlin Pena is an editor and former contributor for YourTango. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Psych Central, and BRIDES.