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Section 22
Gender Differences in Justifications for Extradyadic Involvement

Question 22 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Printable Page

Consequences of Extrarelationship Involvements
Although some researchers have reported positive effects of extramarital relationships (e.g., Weil, 1975), most have found that such relationships have negative consequences. Participants in one study, even those who had been involved in an extradyadic relationship, believed that such extrarelationship involvements would detract from the primary relationship, especially when the involvements were both emotional and sexual as opposed to emotional only or sexual only (Thompson, 1984). Men and women who were asked to imagine that their partner had admitted having sex with another person reported that they would react with betrayal-anger, disappointment, and self-doubt (Buunk, 1995).

In one study, therapists were asked to give detailed accounts of couples dealing with an extramarital sexual relationship, including their experiences and those of their clients and friends (Charney & Parnass, 1995). The therapists reported that 34% of the cases ended in divorce, and an additional 50% of the cases involved intact marriages that were viewed as destitute or in considerable distress. Although some marriages maintained a positive relationship, the therapists reported that the overall impact of the affair was quite damaging to the betrayed spouses. The most common negative effect was significant injury to a person's self-image and personal and sexual confidence (the person's "worthiness" in Janoff-Bulman and Frantz's [1996] terms). The betrayed spouses also experienced loss of trust and belonging, feelings of abandonment and rage, and an increased urge to leave their partners. Furthermore, the betrayed spouses were often seen by the therapists as unable to effectively challenge their partners and the affair, and subsequently, they may have endured shame and guilt as well as loss of respect from others for their resignation. Consequently, Charney and Parnass (1995) concluded that it might be reasonable "to issue 'public health warnings' that affairs can lead to serious outcomes for marriages" (p. 111).

As a result of these negative personal and relational consequences of affairs, many researchers have examined people's justifications for their extrarelationship involvements. There appear to be four main categories of justifications (Glass & Wright, 1992). The first is a sexual category that includes novelty, excitement, and curiosity. The second category, emotional intimacy, is encompassed by intellectual sharing, understanding, companionship, and respect. A separate love justification category (Category 3) includes receiving love and affection and falling in love. This love dimension is often collapsed under the emotional intimacy category. Finally, extrinsic motivative (Category 4) includes reasons such as getting even with the partner and seeking career advancement (Glass & Wright, 1992).

Gender Differences
There appear to be strong gender differences among the first three justifications. For example, in Glass and Wright's (1992) study, 77% of women and only 43% of men reported that "falling in love" would be a justification for an extramarital relationship. In contrast, 75% of men and only 53% of women reported that sexual excitement would be a satisfactory justification (Glass & Wright, 1992). Glass and Wright (1985) also found that men were more likely to be involved in sexual affairs without emotional involvement, and women were more inclined toward increased emotional involvement in their extramarital relationships. The authors contended that "women appear to approach extramarital involvement from the perspective of their marital relationships, while men appear to approach involvement from a more individualistic perspective" (Glass & Wright, 1985, p. 1115). Women are more likely to link their extradyadic involvements with martial dissatisfaction, which implies that either women enter such relationships only when they are not content with their marriage or a woman's deeper extramarital involvement creates greater marital dissatisfaction (Glass & Wright, 1985; Prins, Buunk, & Van-Yperen, 1993). However, men may view an affair as having little consequence for their primary relationship, because it appears that they are more likely than women to separate sex from love and marriage (Glass & Wright, 1992). Research also shows that men who do refrain from extradyadic sex do so not because of a lack of desire, but because of their attitudes and beliefs (Pestrak et al., 1985). Therefore, it appears that level of marital satisfaction has little to do with whether or not men have an affair.

Similar results were reported by Thompson (1984). In comparison with women, men engaged in significantly more "sexual-only" extradyadic involvements; women reported more "emotional-only" involvements than men, although the difference was not significant. In addition, as noted earlier, the participants believed that extradyadic involvements that were both emotional and sexual were more wrong and detracted more from the primary relationship than either sexual-only or emotional-only involvements.

Men and women may also have different reactions to a partner's extrarelationship involvement. The level of jealousy related to a partner's sexual and emotional extradyadic involvement appears to be mediated by gender. Buss and his colleagues (Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992) asked participants to choose whether a partner's emotional attachment to or sexual intercourse with another person would be more distressing. They found that 60% of the men believed they would be more upset with their partner's sexual involvement; however, 83% of the women reported that a partner's emotional infidelity would be more distressing. Similar results were produced when participants were asked to imagine their partner having a sexual affair and to imagine their partner falling in love with another person (Buss et al., 1992). Buunk (1995) found that, when asked to imagine their reactions to a partner having a sexual affair, men and women were similar in reporting feelings of betrayal and anger; however, significantly more women than men reported that they would also feel disappointment and self-doubt.

Several theoretical perspectives may be used to explain these gender differences. For example, Buss et al. (1992) used an evolutionary framework to explain their findings. Briefly, this model suggests that the primary purpose of human mating is to pass on one's genes, and men and women will use different mating strategies owing to their biological reproductive characteristics (Buss, 1994). Women do not risk parental uncertainty, but they do risk loss of resources for their offspring if their mates become invested in other women. Accordingly, women will be more jealous of men's emotional infidelities, which are seen as implying greater potential loss than sexual infidelities. In addition, when women are unfaithful, they will desire male emotional investment in order to attain valuable resources to ensure the reproductive success of their offspring and to evaluate the possibility of attracting and replacing mates. Men, on the other hand, do not have parental certainty and risk the possibility of investing time and resources on offspring that are not theirs. Thus, men are more jealous of, and guard against, women's sexual infidelities in order to ensure their paternity. Men also desire sexual infidelities to increase their reproductive success by gaming access to more women (Buss, 1994).

On the other hand, social learning theory suggests that gender differences are the result of early socialization experiences in which men and women are taught to follow traditional gender roles and scripts regarding relationships and sexuality (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1995). Consequently, women are taught to be emotionally expressive, to be responsible for maintaining the relationship, to be the gatekeepers of sex, and to engage in sex only after becoming invested in a committed relationship (Winstead, Derlega, & Rose, 1997). However, men are taught to be sexually permissive, and they are held in high esteem for having many sexual exploits with women and for not showing emotional weaknesses.

Regardless of one's theoretical perspective, it seems that men and women do have different reasons for and reactions to extradyadic involvements. However, few studies have investigated whether people are generally aware of such gender differences. One related study examined the attitudes of married couples in which each spouse had been involved in at least one extramarital affair (Buunk & Bosman, 1986). The results showed that although partners perceived that their attitudes were similar, their actual attitudes toward these extramarital relationships were not the same. Pestrak et al. (1985) suggested that such possible misperceptions of what the affair signifies may be a more important determinant of relational problems than the affair itself. For example, a woman may experience a myriad of negative responses, including personal rejection, if she falsely believes that her partner's infidelity indicates that he is no longer satisfied with her or the relationship. However, in Glass and Wright's (1985) study, 56% of men who had had sexual affairs reported still having happy marriages. Pestrak et al. (1985) contended that people may keep their involvement a secret to protect their partner from hurt feelings because they fear that their partner will not understand why they had the affair.

In summary, previous research has shown that the majority of participants believe that extrarelationship sexual activities are unacceptable, but there is a lack of consensus over which types of nonsexual involvements are acceptable. These emotional and sexual involvements often have negative personal and relational consequences, including a sense of loss. Studies have also found a number of gender differences indicating that women and men have different types of, reasons for, and reactions to extrarelationship involvements. Finally, the accuracy of perceptions regarding a partner's infidelity would appear to have important implications for the outcome of the committed relationship. One of the first steps in learning about these perceptions is the examination of generic gender stereotypes held by men and women.
- Boekhout, Brock A.; Hendrick, Susan S.; Hendrick, Clyde; Relationship Infidelity: A Loss Perspective; Journal of Personal & Interpersonal Loss; Apr-Jun99; Vol. 4 Issue 2
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information about gender differences in justifications for extradyadic involvement.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

According to Boekhout, what is one major difference between justifications for infidelity used by men and women? Record the letter of the correct answer the Answer Booklet.

Answer Booklet for this course
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The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
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