Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
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Consequences of Extrarelationship Involvements
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  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).
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.
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.
Reflection Exercise #8