Study finds an intergenerational pattern of infidelity

People are more likely to cheat on their partner if they believe that their parents were unfaithful, according to research recently published in the journal Personal Relationships.

“I find infidelity very interesting to study because in the U.S., infidelity is almost universally condemned yet a fair percentage of individuals will engage in infidelity (among married U.S. couples, the infidelity rate is about 15-20%),” said study author Dana Weiser, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University.

“There is a lot of research about how family experiences shape individuals’ relationship and sexual behaviors, and I was curious as to whether infidelity was also influenced by family experiences.”

The three-part study, which included a total of 1,254 participants, found that parental infidelity was associated with a higher propensity for offspring to engage in infidelity themselves. In other words, children who thought their parents engaged in infidelity were significantly more likely to cheat on their partners in their own adult relationships.

“The experience of a parental infidelity does not mean an individual is doomed to engage in infidelity themselves,” Weiser told PsyPost. “There are many other factors, such as relationship satisfaction, that play an extremely important role in predicting infidelity as well. This means engaging in relationship maintenance and high-quality communication will go far in reducing the likelihood of infidelity in your own relationship.”

“There are still many questions to be answered; specifically, why does this association between parental infidelity and one’s own infidelity exist?” Weiser said. “My work suggest that socialization is at least one partial explanation. More work needs to be done to assess biological, psychological, and contextual factors to explain this association.”

Parental infidelity did not appear to have a significant impact on offspring’s ability to trust and feel competent in their own romantic relationships. But the researchers did find evidence that family messages about infidelity played a role.

“Our research indicates that parental infidelity sends memorable messages to offspring about the greater acceptability of infidelity, and these communications are internalized and used to construct offspring’s belief systems,” Weiser and her colleagues wrote in the study.

The study, “Exploring intergenerational patterns of infidelity“, was co-authored by Daniel J. Weigel.