- Men may use more "benefit-provisioning" mate-retention tactics when their partners are attractive.
- Men's strategies may switch to "cost-inflicting" tactics when they suspect that women are more likely to be unfaithful.
- Data collected from women show similar patterns with regard to men’s behaviors.
Both men and women are motivated to keep their long-term romantic partners and may use behavioral tactics to enhance the likelihood that a partner will stay in their current relationship. However, these tactics can be both beneficial and detrimental to relationships. In their new research, Vance and colleagues from Oakland University explain the difference between “benefit-provisioning” and “cost-inflicting" behaviors.
The authors define benefit-provisioning behaviors as those that “prospectively intend to prevent relationship infidelity or dissolution by improving relationship satisfaction” such as buying gifts for a partner. Cost-inflicting behaviors, however, are defined as those “intended to reduce the likelihood of relationship infidelity or dissolution, even at the expense of relationship harmony” such as searching a partner’s private possessions. As the authors review, men with more attractive partners, suspicions about a partner’s potential infidelity, and jealousy may be more likely to use both types of tactics to maintain their long-term relationships.
Vance et al. conducted three different studies involving men, women, and couples to investigate the relationships among women’s attractiveness, perceived risk for infidelity, and men’s use of benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting behaviors. The data were collected via online questionnaires. Across the three studies, most of the respondents were heterosexual and White, and the average relationship length spanned three to four years. Men self-reported their own behaviors, while women responded to questions about their male partner’s behaviors. The researchers also collected data related to sexual behavior and sperm competition (please see the article for more information on these topics).
The researchers found strong evidence that when women were perceived as more attractive, men reported using more benefit-provisioning mate-retention tactics (e.g., “bought my partner an expensive gift”) while men’s use of cost-inflicting behaviors (e.g., “called to make sure my partner was where they said they would be”) were unrelated to women’s perceived attractiveness. However, men’s self-reported use of cost-inflicting tactics increased when they suspected that their partners were unfaithful. Similarly, when women reported on men’s behaviors, the data revealed that more attractive women were more likely to say their male partners performed benefit-provisioning behaviors. However, when women admitted to considering being unfaithful to their primary partners, they also reported that men engaged in more cost-inflicting behaviors.
The authors suggest that men with more attractive partners may favor behaviors that promote relationship satisfaction and may be reluctant to use cost-inflicting strategies because “such partners would have more opportunities to desert the relationship or seek extra-pair mates if they become dissatisfied.” The authors do caution that men may be less likely to honestly disclose their use of cost-inflicting behaviors versus their use of benefit-provisioning behaviors. The data collected from women and couples show similar patterns with regard to men’s cost-inflicting behaviors; however, it is important to note that women may not necessarily be aware of men’s cost-inflicting behaviors (such as searching their belongings).
Men may employ more benevolent relationship-maintenance strategies when their partners are more attractive; however, men’s cost-inflicting tactics may increase when they suspect a partner’s infidelity.
Vance, G., Zeigler-Hill, V., & Shackelford, T. K. (2023). Sperm Competition Risk: The Connections That Partner Attractiveness and Infidelity Risk Have with Mate Retention Behaviors and Semen-Displacing Behaviors. Evolutionary Psychology, 21(1), 14747049231161075. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/14747049231161075