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46 Reasons Not to Cheat on Your Partner. When it comes to cheating, research asks: Why not?

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Original Post Posted Oct 22, 2020 Mariana Bockarova Ph.D. Romantically Attached


On the day before their first anniversary, Ellis and Emma took a romantic rowboat ride in the middle of a nearby lake. Emma, enamored by the surrounding beauty, reached for Ellis' phone to take a photo. Instead of his habitual reaction, which would have been none at all, he froze, tightly clenching his fingers around his phone. Emma, perplexed, at first thought Ellis was playing some sort of game or had a romantic surprise, guarding his phone so as to not reveal it. But, reading Ellis' frozen expression, one of mixed worry and shock, Emma knew that wasn't the case. After seconds which felt like hours, Ellis gave over his phone, filled with texts to another woman. It seemed as if the man Emma loved was someone she did not know at all.  Cheating is not a novel phenomenon and accounts similar to the one written above are nothing new. In fact, it is estimated that one in every three men, and one in every five women in America will engage in an extramarital affair at least once in their lifetime. While these staggering statistics suggest infidelity being commonplace, and the reasons to cheat being plenty, recent research attempted to discover a question rarely asked: Why don't people cheat? Over a course of two studies, research published in Personality and Individual Differences sought to discover the factors that prevent people from cheating on their romantic partners. In the first study, 40 voluntary participants, with a mean age of 31, took part in 30-minute semi-structured interviews where they were asked why they do not cheat, have not yet cheated, and would not cheat, followed up by probing questions and open-ended questionnaires centered on the same themes. The data gleaned through the interviews and questionnaires was then coded, allowing the researchers to identify 46 reasons that deterred people from cheating, which they've organized under 8 broad categories: Broad Category: I am satisfied with my relationship

  • My partner treats me well

  • I get many benefits from my relationship which I do not want to lose

  • I do not want to destroy my relationship

  • I respect my partner

  • I do not want to betray my partner

  • I am having a good time with my partner

  • My partner does not deserve something like this

  • I do not want to hurt my partner

  • I love my partner

Broad Category: Social stigma

  • I worry about what people would think if this gets out

  • I worry about being socially stigmatized

  • I would not like people to know it

  • I fear the reactions of my partner's friends if this gets out

Broad Category: Feel ashamed if it gets out

  • I would feel ashamed if it gets out

  • Doing so is not compatible with my religious beliefs

Broad Category: Feel guilty

  • I would not feel OK with myself

  • I cannot continue my life feeling guilty

  • I would feel guilty

  • I do not consider it right

  • I do not consider it ethical

  • I would feel ashamed

  • I do not like a double life

  • I do not want to betray my partner's confidence

  • I am monogamous

  • I respect myself

  • I do not like to lie

  • This action can hurt a lot of people

Broad Category: Have not been provoked

  • My partner has not provoked me

  • I consider that my relationship has potential

  • I fear that I will enjoy it, and I will be tempted to do it again

  • Not have met someone attractive enough to do it

Broad Category: Fear of my partner's reaction

  • Fear of my partner's reaction if she/he finds out

  • Fear that my partner will find out

  • If I had children with my partner

  • Fear that my partner will react violently

Broad Category: I do not want to get in trouble

  • I fear that I will confess it to my partner

  • I never had the chance

  • I fear the reaction of my partner's parents if they find out

  • I fear that I will regret it

  • I worry about the consequence that something like this may have

  • My friends advising me not to do it

  • My parents advising me not to do it

  • I fear that I will get a sexually transmitted disease

Broad Category: Fear that it will happen to me

  • I would not like something like this to happen to me

  • I fear that my partner will do the same

A second study, in which 576 participants with a mean age of 33 years took part, were asked to rate on a five-point Likert scale how likely the 46 reasons above would be to deter cheating. They were also given personality measures, using the Big-Five Inventory.

In sum, the researchers found women would be less likely to cheat on their partner, especially if they were satisfied with their relationship, and also because they would be more likely to feel guilty. In terms of personality, those who were most likely to cheat scored high in openness, while those who were least likely to cheat scored high in conscientiousness.


*Kindly note: The research article referenced notes 47 reasons were given, however only a total of 46 (those listed above) were included in the publication.



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