Men who worry that they might impulsively cheat on their wives are less likely to do so than men who exhibit full confidence in their restraint. That means that, paradoxically, men who don’t worry should and men who do worry shouldn’t. But of course it’s not that simple. Research shows that men who worry are more successful at policing their impulses when they are willing to explore why they are concerned about adultery. In other words, fear of one’s worst impulses is good only if it’s clear what they are.
“Men who fear cheating on their partners are less likely to commit infidelity,” Jeanette Raymond, a psychologist and psychotherapist told Fatherly.“Those who don’t worry about it so much are likely to be seduced into committing adultery, usually in an effort to draw attention to a problem in the relationship that can’t be addressed directly.”
In Raymond’s experience, cheating and concerns about cheating often come from the same place, an unresolved issue in the relationship.
Fortunately, understanding these issues is often easier than one might expect. Past research shows that men and women cheat for a variety of reasons, but that all of those causes fall into two general buckets: relationship satisfaction and relationship alternatives. For men, the tendency to look away from alternative options faster and/or downgrade the attractiveness of people outside of their significant other has been linked with about a 50 percent lower chance of cheating. Conversely, men and women who suspect their partners of cheating are four times more likely to engage in infidelity. However, few studies have looked at what happens when people are paranoid about committing the act of infidelity themselves.
Still, we know that anxieties about infidelity can serve as a warning sign. In most cases, these worries indicate a fear of being rejected, punished, hurt, abandoned, or some combination of the above. That fear is externalized into impulses that are recognizable even when not being acted upon.
“It gives the man something to focus on, something they think they can try not to do,” Raymond says. “Not lose control, not give into their need to be fully autonomous in the relationship that they fear would be damaged if they were themselves full.”
It’s important to note that just because you’re not worried about cheating does not mean you’re doomed to be unfaithful. It could just mean that you haven’t personally experienced the negative effects of infidelity before and it is, therefore, not something that you think about. According to family therapist Lisa Bahar, the fear of cheating emerges most prominently in those that have had some experience with infidelity (having committed it, grown up near it, or been cheated on). Unfortunately, sustained concern is a lousy antidote to lust.
“Anxiety is not a healthy way to keep yourself in line to not do a behavior you want to decrease or avoid, because the tendency is the mind will find another impulse to act on,” Bahar warns.
Raymond agrees that it’s not so much the fear of cheating that keeps men faithful, but that addressing the root of that fear makes relationships stronger. Sometimes this causes infidelity which forces couples who want to work it out to look at the deeper issue, but it’s possible for these conversations to happen before the cheating takes place — thanks to the fear of it.
“In my experience with men who cheat, they haven’t planned it or wanted it,” Raymond says. “They usually regret it, but it gives them a window into reframing their relationship and creating a fresh, updated bond.”