December 16, 2017
Knowing whether your partner is going to cheat would certainly be a useful fact to have. You may think that you've got a pretty good sense of this from the way your partner behaves toward you. Loving, caring, and attentive, it seems as though your partner would never stray, and your relationship is bound to be a good one with years of happiness ahead. However, it might be helpful to have a better way to predict the future. New research suggests you may have to look no further than your partner's parents. Texas Tech University's Dana Weiser and University of Nevada Reno's Daniel Weigel (2017) conducted a series of investigations on intergenerational patterns of infidelity to determine whether, as they suspected, people learn to cheat if they grow up in homes where their parents were known to be unfaithful.
Weiser and Weigel propose that, out of the many ways to define infidelity, the best one to use involves "concealment of behaviors and the resulting emotional fallout" it engenders. They go on to propose that in the United States, "infidelity is particularly viewed as unacceptable for romantic relationships" (p. 933). What leads people to be unfaithful, then, if it causes so much turmoil? People may have individual inclinations to be unfaithful to their partners, according to the study's authors, but they also learn in their families of origin whether it's okay to stray or not. Social learning theory, they propose, provides a useful framework for understanding the transmission of infidelity patterns from parents to their children. You learn by watching your parents that being faithful produces positive outcomes, and therefore you are more likely to be faithful yourself. Conversely, if one or both of your parents are seemingly enjoying themselves by engaging in extramarital affairs, these behaviors will be vicariously reinforced in you. In this way, people develop "complex schemas about romantic relationships" (p. 935).