Defining Emotional & Sexual Infidelity
Abstract: Researchers studying interpersonal relationships often distinguish between “sexual infidelity” and “emotional infidelity.” Yet, it remains largely unclear whether and how individuals actually conceptualize these constructs in their own lives, and how men and women vary, if at all, in their definitions and understanding of different types of infidelity. The current research used a mixed-methodology approach to explore the epistemological nature of sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity. In Study 1, 379 participants provided open-ended definitions of what they believe constitutes sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity. In Study 2, responses were then coded by a different group of outside raters to examine overall themes in the definitions provided and how prototypical these definitions were for each type of infidelity. Results identified and examined the definitions with the highest mean ratings in terms of how well they represented emotional infidelity or sexual infidelity. Overall, both men and women had more consistency in their definitions of what constituted sexual infidelity than on what constituted emotional infidelity, suggesting that emotional infidelity is a more vague and complex concept than sexual infidelity. Additionally, when asked to define sexual and emotional infidelity, many participants focused on specific behaviors (including deception), but when asked to consider the types of infidelity as distinct from each other, participants focused on feelings. By exploring how individuals actually define these constructs, these data provide a more accurate and rich depiction of how individuals define acts of infidelity than currently exists in the relationship literature.
Kruger, D., Fisher, M., Fitzgerald, C. J., Garcia, J. R., Geher, G., & Guitar, A. E. (2015). Sexual and emotional aspects are distinct components of infidelity and unique predictors of anticipated distress. Evolutionary Psychological Sciences, 1, 1-8.
Abstract: Although there has been a tremendous amount of research attention on differences in reactions to sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity, there is a lack of information available as to how the two constructs overlap with respect to actual behavior, how expectations for distress vary by behavior, and how sexual and emotional content influence expectations for distress. In order to address this issue, we asked participants to rate 50 behaviors on the extent to which each would constitute sexual infidelity and, separately, emotional infidelity. Participants also rated the degree to which they would be upset if their partner performed the behavior, which enabled us to determine the relationship between views of sexual infidelity, emotional infidelity, and anticipated distress. As predicted, ratings of sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity for the 50 behaviors were largely independent. In agreement with past research, ratings of emotional infidelity were stronger predictors of distress for women than for men, where as ratings of sexual infidelity were overall stronger predictors