An individual’s behaviors and attitudes about uncommitted sexual relationships predicts marital dissolution, according to new research published in Psychological Science. But the study also identified some factors that buffers against this.
The researchers were particularly interested in sociosexuality, or the willingness to engage in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship.
Individuals with a restricted sociosexuality favor forming extended bonds with a partner, while those with an unrestricted sociosexuality are more comfortable with uncommitted sexual relationships with little emotional entanglements.
“Romantic relationships are among the most important and influential relationships a person can have, and difficulties with romantic relationships are strongly tied to a myriad of problems, including depression and suicide,” said Juliana French, a Florida State University doctoral student and lead author of the study.
“Given the importance and public-health impact of these issues, my interest in studying how sociosexuality is tied to marital outcomes stems from a broader desire to understand how and why some romantic relationships thrive while others suffer.”
The researchers surveyed 204 heterosexual, newly married couples regarding their attitudes, desires, and behaviors towards uncommitted sex, their marital satisfaction, along with several other control variables such as attachment insecurity, depression, relationship length, and neuroticism. The participants then completed follow-up surveys over the course of several years.
Those with a more unrestricted sociosexuality — meaning those who were more inclined towards casual sex — tended to begin their marriages less satisfied and remain less satisfied over time. And people with more unrestricted partners tended to experience steeper declines in satisfaction, which in turn predicted marital dissolution.
“When people couple up, they (and their partners) enter into relationships with their own personal relationship histories — if those histories include a cast of previous ‘no-strings-attached’ sexual partners and/or acceptance toward casual sex, then staying in a satisfying, long-term relationship (such as marriage) may be more difficult,” French told PsyPost.
But marriages involving individuals with an unrestricted sociosexuality are not necessarily doomed to failure.
“Unrestricted sociosexuality was not associated with poorer marital outcomes among people who had frequent, satisfying sex with their partner or reported low life stress. This is important because it suggests that unrestricted sociosexuality is not inherently bad for relationships,” French explained.
The study, “The Implications of Sociosexuality for Marital Satisfaction and Dissolution“, was authored by Juliana E. French, Emma E. Altgelt, and Andrea L. Meltzer.