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How Partners Can Stop Themselves from Cheating

New research on the power of perspective-taking.

Key points

  • People may cheat because their relationships have lost newness or passion.
  • A technique called partner perspective-taking can help couples maintain stable and satisfying relationships.
  • Perspective-taking creates a deeper level of empathy.
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash
Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

A new study published in the Journal of Sex Research suggests that a relatively simple technique called partner perspective-taking can help couples maintain stable and satisfying relationships when faced with appealing alternative partners. This approach can prevent vulnerable partners from giving in to the temptation of cheating.

“Attempting to see a situation from a partner’s perspective, and striving to feel and think as the partner would — in other words, engaging in perspective-taking — enables people to understand their partners and feel compassion for them,” says the lead author of the paper, Gurit Birnbaum of Reichman University in Israel.

According to Birnbaum and her collaborators, people in committed relationships cheat for a variety of reasons. People may cheat because their relationships have lost newness or passion or one partner feels their emotional or sexual needs are not being met. People are also more likely to cheat if they associate with people (friends and acquaintances) who also cheat.

But simply adopting the perspective of your partner, like thinking about what your partner is thinking and feeling as they go through their day, may be all it takes to keep unwelcome urges at bay.

For example, in one of Birnbaum’s studies, she and her collaborators asked one group of participants to describe a day in their partner’s life (control condition). They asked a second group of participants to do the same thing but to engage in partner perspective-taking ("describe what they might be thinking, feeling, and experiencing if you were looking at the world through their eyes and walking in their shoes”). They then asked both groups to look at a series of pictures and rate whether the individual shown would make for an attractive alternative partner. They found that participants in the perspective-taking group showed less interest in the attractive alternatives.

Two other studies with slightly different methodologies also found partner perspective-taking to be a useful relationship maintenance strategy.

And, there are other relationship benefits associated with partner perspective-taking, according to the researchers.

  • Perspective-taking improves couples’ interactions by increasing concern for the needs and desires of one’s partner. It also creates a deeper level of empathy that helps make the relationship more satisfying for both partners.
  • Consideration of a partner’s viewpoint shifts one’s focus from immediate, self-centered preferences to broader relationship concerns and long-term consequences. For example, relationships, where partners take each other’s perspectives into account, are likely to be marked by feelings of closeness and care.
  • Feelings of concern induced by perspective-taking promote the de-escalation of conflict, thereby helping sustain relationship well-being even in the face of threats and challenges.

The researchers offer the following advice for partners in a committed relationship who are trying to evade the threat of attractive alternatives:

  1. Focus on your current partner and find ways to sustain some sense of growth and passion in your sex life, both of which will strengthen your emotional connection.
  2. Always be on the lookout to learn new things about your partner and come up with new ways to let them know that you care for them.
  3. Try to do things a little differently every time. Share new, non-sexual experiences that increase intimacy, instill a sense of novelty, and make your partner feel special and desired.
  4. Before giving in to short-term pleasures, remind yourself of the long-term consequences of having connections with alternative partners, like the fallout that will inevitably occur among you and your loved ones.

Facebook image: silverkblackstock/Shutterstock

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