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Personal Relationships, 11 (2004), 305318. Printed in the United States of America. Copyright # 2004 IARR.


Former partners and new rivals as threats to a relationship: Infidelity type, gender, and commitment as factors related to distress and forgiveness

ARNIE CANNa AND TRACY R. BAUCOMb a University of North Carolina at Charlotte and bUniversity of North Carolina at Wilmington

The overall aim of this study was to examine differences in responses to relationship infidelity when the infidelity involves a former romantic partner as opposed to a new rival. Participants indicated, for either sexual or emotional infidelity, whether they would be more upset if their partner were involved with a former partner or a new person, and whether they would be forgiving. Men and women saw the former partner as a greater threat when the infidelity was sexual. However, for emotional infidelity, only women selected the former partner more frequently. Ratings of the degree of distress and likelihood of forgiveness followed a similar pattern. For women, measures of relationship commitment were related to distress and forgiveness. For men, these measures were related to forgiveness only. The gender differences in distress may be related to differences between men and women in beliefs about the importance of commitment.

Infidelity in a romantic relationship is a source of strong emotional reactions and a threat to the stability of the relationship (Buss, 2000). Any evidence, real or imagined, that one member of the relationship might be attracted to, or be involved with, a rival is likely to arouse distress in the romantic partner and threaten the continuation of the relationship. However, whereas distress is likely to be the initial response to any evidence of infidelity, forgiveness for the infidelity might eventually be granted. In

This research was completed by the second author as an honors research thesis under the guidance of the first author. Both authors thank I. J. Toner and Albert Maisto for their participation in the honors thesis committee. Suggestions from the action editor (Julie Fitness) and anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. Correspondence should be addressed to Arnie Cann, Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 9201 University City Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA; e-mail:

committed relationships, partners are often willing to accommodate one another (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993; Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998), so that despite the distress of the infidelity, forgiveness might be possible (Fine & Sacher, 1997), although the distress may be harder to manage in some cases of infidelity than in others (Shackelford, Buss, & Bennett, 2002). The degree of distress or jealousy that results from potential infidelity, and the possibility of forgiveness, may be influenced by a variety of factors related to gender, the nature of the behaviors involved, and the qualities of the rival (Buss, 2000; Buunk & Dijkstra, 2000; DeSteno & Salovey, 1996). For example, women are more threatened by a physically attractive rival, while men fear more a rival who presents himself as dominant (Buss, Shackelford, Choe, Buunk, & Dijkstra, 2000; Dijkstra & Buunk, 1998). Moreover, recent research has provided some support for gender differences when



A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

individuals are forced to choose which one among alternative forms of obvious infidelity would be more upsetting. Buss and colleagues (Buss, Larsen, & Westen, 1996; Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth, 1992; Buss et al., 1999; Buunk, Angleitner, Oubaid, & Buss, 1996) have reported consistent differences between women and men in the distress anticipated when confronted by imagined sexual, as compared with emotional, infidelity. Men choose sexual infidelity as more distressing, while women choose emotional infidelity. In each of these instances, the original predictions have been guided by an evolutionary model, although alternative models have been suggested to explain the results. For example, on the basis of an evolutionary model, men are expected to be more distressed by sexual infidelity because they are less certain of paternity. Women, on the other hand, should be more distressed by emotional infidelity, which signals a loss of commitment and a possible loss of the future resources and protection they seek from a mate. Others have suggested that these same gender differences could be the result of learned social expectations (DeSteno & Salovey, 1996; Harris, 2000; Harris & Christenfeld, 1996), without necessarily requiring a role for evolved sex differences. Given the conflicting findings in this area, and the competing explanations for them, the overall aim of the present study was to further examine the roles of gender, rival type, infidelity type, and relationship commitment in predicting distress and likelihood of forgiveness in response to imagined infidelity. Former Partners as Threats to Relationships One rival quality that is associated with jealousy, but for which an evolutionary perspective should differ from expectations based on social beliefs, is a past relationship between ones partner and a rival. Rather than representing a fixed quality of the rival, a past relationship involves a transient condition associated with a rival. The potential salience of these past relationships

is evident in reports of experienced and provoked jealousy. In a survey of college students, the two most commonly mentioned sources of jealousy involved associations with a previous partner (talking to or talking about a previous partner; Knox, Zusman, Mabon, & Shriver, 1999). Another survey found that many college students intentionally make references to former partners to evoke jealousy in current partners. In fact, talking about a prior relationship was rated as likely to cause a fight in the relationship by 28% of a sample (Sheets, Fredendall, & Claypool, 1997). Obviously, a former relationship is believed to be a potential threat to a current relationship. Why might a former partner be such a potent and recognized source of jealousy? On the basis of evolutionary processes, former partners should be seen as minimal threats, because the current partners already have successfully out-competed them, proving their fitness advantage, to establish the existing relationship. If the competition for a mate is based on fitness advantages, the rival who has been defeated should become less of a threat. On the other hand, the common and apparently successful use of a former partner to arouse jealousy implies that these rivals are, in fact, seen as serious threats. A prediction based on learned social expectations would reflect the fact that individuals are often portrayed in narratives about relationships as returning to past lovers. The media are filled with stories of lovers being reunited after a separation, leading to a happy ending. The implication of these socially constructed messages may be that the emotional connection with a former partner is a bond that remains even though the relationship has ended, eventually drawing partners back together again. If some emotional connection is assumed to persist, women, more so than men, may feel more threatened by past partners, given their greater concern about emotional infidelity. Because no study has directly compared a previous partner with a new rival, it remains to be shown that the prior partner is truly perceived as a greater threat to a

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relationship or, as predicted by an evolutionary model, that the former partner is not perceived as a serious threat. The first aim in the current study was to directly test the differences, if any, in responses to former partners and new rivals as threats to relationships. Social uses of former partners as a common means of arousing jealousy imply that these individuals are seen as serious rivals, yet an evolutionary model predicts the opposite, that a new rival will be more of a threat since a fitness advantage over the new rival has not been established. One possible reason a former partner might be a greater threat is because we have learned, through social messages, that emotional ties may not be completely broken even though a relationship ended. Given the demonstrated tendency to use former partners to arouse jealousy, we would predict that former partners would cause greater concern. In addition, because emotional ties are held to be more important to women than to men, we would expect women, more than men, to fear the former partner. Infidelity Type As indicated earlier, researchers have consistently found a gender difference in womens and mens reports of which type of infidelity (sexual or emotional) would be more distressing (Buss et al., 1992, 1996, 1999; Buunk et al., 1996). Men choose sexual infidelity, and women choose emotional infidelity. However, the gender differences in distress because of infidelity type appear consistently only when using a forcedchoice comparison. Studies that have looked at separate ratings of the degree of distress each infidelity would cause, or the physiological indicators of arousal associated with each infidelity, have produced inconsistent results. Cann, Mangum, and Wells (2001) and Pietrzak, Laird, Stevens, and Thompson (2002) found the predicted gender differences in rated distress, while DeSteno, Bartlett, Braverman, and Salovey (2002) and Harris (2000) did not. Similarly, Buss et al. (1992) and Pietrzak et al. (2002)

found physiological responses (heart rate and electrodermal activity) consistent with predictions, but Harris (2000) did not. It could be argued that when men and women are forced to choose, they choose what they believe they should choose, and so they choose differently. However, when each infidelity is considered separately, mens and womens responses may be based solely on their evaluation of the impact of the infidelity presented. The second aim in the current study was to further examine gender differences in the rating of the distress associated with sexual versus emotional infidelity. In past research, distress ratings for the two forms of infidelity have always been collected as a withinsubject variable. In the current study, the two ratings are treated as a between-subject variable, to minimize the likelihood of social expectations about how one should respond to one type of infidelity or the likelihood of the other altering the responses. Without the ability to compare the two types of infidelity, it is expected that gender differences will be minimal or entirely absent. Both types of infidelity are undesirable, but sexual indiscretions should be more distressing than emotional indiscretions to men and women alike. Predicting Distress and Forgiveness Following Infidelity Recent research has found gender differences in forgiveness following infidelity, depending on both the type of infidelity involved and the degree of distress reported. In a direct comparison of sexual versus emotional infidelity, both men and women found sexual infidelity more difficult to forgive, but compared to women, men more frequently selected sexual infidelity as harder to forgive (Shackelford et al., 2002). In a subsequent question in which participants were asked to imagine that both sexual and emotional infidelity had occurred, women now more frequently selected emotional infidelity as the aspect of the dual infidelity that would be hardest to forgive. Because men find sexual


A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

infidelity more distressing than emotional infidelity, these results are consistent with the idea that distress is negatively associated with the likelihood of forgiveness. The third aim in the current study was to examine the correspondence between distress ratings and judgments of likely forgiveness. By collecting ratings of distress and likelihood of forgiveness, and by assessing infidelity type as a between-group factor, the results allow for a determination of the reliability and generality of the findings reported by Shackelford et al. (2002). The Role of Relationship Commitment Romantic relationships, like any relationships, require a certain degree of commitment to ensure their continuation. As commitment increases, the relationship becomes more stable, and the willingness to accommodate one another in the relationship increases (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993; Rusbult et al., 1998). One likely accommodation in committed romantic relationships involves a willingness to forgive some transgressions. However, the degree of commitment also is likely to be related to the distress experienced if the relationship ends (Fine & Sacher, 1997). Thus, commitment should be an important factor in helping to understand both distress and forgiveness responses following infidelity. Indirect evidence that forgiveness will vary with commitment can be drawn from studies reporting that the decision to leave or stay in an abusive relationship can be predicted from variables associated with commitment (Rusbult, & Martz, 1995; Truman-Schram, Cann, Calhoun, & Van Wallendael, 2000). Although these decisions may not be based on forgiveness alone, results indicate that even after being seriously wronged in a relationship, higher commitment leads to a greater attempt to maintain the relationship. Two recent studies provide more direct support for the proposed relationship. McCullough et al. (1998) found a link using a relationship satisfaction/commitment composite, and Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, and Hannon

(2002) found consistent associations between commitment, as measured using a more specific measure of relationship commitment, and positive reactions, viewed as instances of forgiveness, following betrayal. The final aim in the current study was to examine the associations among measures of relationship commitment and reactions to infidelity. Specifically, relationship commitment variables are used to predict mens and womens distress and forgiveness in response to the two types of infidelity. If differences in relationship commitment explain a significant portion of the variability in distress and forgiveness, beyond the impact of the infidelity type, the results would provide additional support for the proposal that learned social expectations are important in understanding mens and womens reactions to relationship infidelity. The predictions are that higher commitment will be associated with both greater distress and a higher likelihood of forgiveness, for both men and women. Method Participants Participants were students enrolled in introductory psychology courses who volunteered to fulfill a course requirement. The announcement soliciting volunteers indicated that participants had to be unmarried but currently involved in a committed romantic relationship. There were 71 men, with a mean age of 20 years (SD 2.78), and 69 women, with a mean age of 19.3 years (SD 2.18). The current romantic relationship had a mean length of 17 months (SD 14.3), with a range from 1 month to 72 months. The current relationship was reported to be sexual (Is this a sexual relationship?) by 81% of the sample (n 134). There were no gender differences on any of these variables. Materials
Responses to the infidelity.

After providing the demographic information described

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above, the second section of the survey varied depending upon the participants assigned condition. Participants responded to an imagined episode of either emotional infidelity or sexual infidelity. In all cases, they were told to imagine that the person they were currently involved with had been unfaithful. One of the two phrases described below was used to specify the nature of the infidelity. For those in the sexual infidelity group, they were asked to: Imagine your partner having casual sexual intercourse without emotional involvement with. . . For those presented with emotional infidelity, they were asked to: Imagine your partner becoming emotionally involved without sexual intercourse with. . . Within each of these conditions, they were asked to indicate which of two rivals (a former partner or a new person) would upset them more. The following phrases were inserted at the end of the sentences describing the infidelity to represent the different rivals: . . . a former partner (someone your partner dated before) or . . . a new person (someone your partner recently met). After choosing which other person, the former partner or the new person, would be more upsetting as a rival, the participants rated how distressing each possibility would be on a nine-point scale [slight distress (1) to extreme distress (9)]. Finally, they rated how likely they would be to forgive their partner for the infidelity with each rival, on a nine-point scale [definitely would not forgive (1) to definitely would forgive (9)]. Therefore, a participant was presented with an episode of either sexual or emotional infidelity (a between-group manipulation), where the rival was a former partner or a new person (a within-group variable). This design provides for the desired direct comparison between the two rivals and for the assessment of distress when the two forms of infidelity are independently rated. For each of the three measures (the forced choice as to which rival was more upsetting to imagine, the ratings of distress for each rival, and the ratings of forgiveness for each rival), the order of the options (former partner or a new person)

was varied across participants. These very brief descriptions of the infidelity were patterned after those used in studies that had previously tested for forced-choice decisions (Buss et al., 1999; Cann et al., 2001). Although the descriptions lack detail, providing choices similar to those included in previous studies will allow for clearer comparisons across studies.
Commitment measures.

The next section of the survey was the Investment Model Scale (Rusbult et al., 1998). The scale provides separate measures for the four components of the Investment Model. There are 22 items, with composite scores created for satisfaction (five items, e.g., I feel satisfied with our relationship.), investments (five items, e.g., I have put a great deal into our relationship that I would lose if the relationship were to end.), quality of alternatives (five items, e.g., My alternatives to our relationship are close to ideal.), and commitment (seven items, e.g., I am committed to maintaining my relationship with my partner.). Each item was rated on a nine-point scale [do not agree at all (0) to agree completely (8)]. The participants were instructed to respond to the items based on their current relationship. Procedure Participants were scheduled in small groups (310 per group). After reading the necessary informed-consent information, participants received the survey packet. Within a group, surveys containing the sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity scenarios were randomly distributed. When all participants at a session had completed the surveys, participants were debriefed, and any questions were answered. Sessions lasted about 30 min. Results Forced-choice responses to infidelity scenarios Overall, infidelity involving a former partner was selected as the more upsetting


A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

Table 1. Choice of New Person or Former Partner as More Distressing in Emotional or Sexual Infidelity New person Sexual infidelity Men Women Total Emotional infidelity Men Women Total Former partner

9 (26) 10 (28) 19 (27)

25 (74) 26 (72) 51 (73)

20 (54) 10 (30) 30 (43)

17 (46) 23 (70) 40 (57)

Note. Entries represent the number of participants choosing that option as more upsetting, with corresponding percentages in parentheses.

Table 2, so that distress ratings can be matched to the choices depicted in Table 1. Two main effects were significant, and one of the interactions reached significance. Sexual infidelity (M 7.73, SD 1.69) was more distressing than emotional infidelity (M 6.65, SD 2.03) [F(1, 136) 14.38, p < 0.001], and infidelity involving a former partner (M 7.48, SD 1.86) was more distressing than infidelity with a new person (M 6.89, SD 2.02) [F(1, 136) 16.84, p < 0.001]. However, the interaction of gender with rival indicated that women showed greater sensitivity to the distinction between rivals. Men were equally distressed by both rivals [M 6.81, SD 2.01 for new person; M 7.10, SD 1.99 for former partner, t(70) 1.42, p 0.16], but women were more distressed when the rival was a former lover [M 7.90, SD 1.63 for former partner; M 6.99, SD 2.03 for new person, t(68) 4.39, p < 0.001]. Ratings of forgiveness The ratings of likely forgiveness (1 definitely would not, 9 definitely would) for the infidelity were also analyzed in a 2 (gender) 2 (infidelity type) 2 (rival) analysis of variance, with repeated measures across the two rivals. The means for each cell are summarized in Table 3, so that forgiveness ratings can be matched to the choices depicted in Table 1 and distress ratings in Table 2. The main effects for rival [F(1, 136) 4.66, p 0.033] and for type of infidelity [F(1, 136) 40.26, p < 0.001] were significant, as was the interaction of gender with rival [F(1, 136) 7.11, p 0.009]. Participants believed that they would be more likely to forgive emotional infidelity (M 5.23, SD 2.41) than sexual infidelity (M 3.04, SD 1.98). Forgiveness in reaction to different rivals revealed an overall bias in favor of forgiving when the rival was the new person (M 4.28, SD 3.99) compared to the former partner (M 3.99, SD 2.46), but this was qualified by the interaction with gender. Only women showed a varied reaction to different rivals, with forgiveness more likely when the rival

event, but the extent of the preference did vary as a function of the type of infidelity (Table 1).1 The former partner was selected with a higher relative frequency when the infidelity involved was sexual (73%) rather than emotional (57%) [2(1, N 140) 3.80, p 0.05]. However, when the gender of the participant was considered, men and women differed in their rate of choosing the former partner when the infidelity was emotional (women 70%, compared to men 46%) [2(1, N 70) 4.02, p 0.045], but with sexual infidelity, the frequencies were equivalent (women 72%, men 74%) [2(1, N 70) 0.02, p 0.902]. Ratings of distress The distress ratings (1 slight, 9 extreme) were evaluated in a 2 (gender) 2 (infidelity type) 2 (rival) analysis of variance, with repeated measures across the two rivals. The means for each cell are summarized in
1. The order in which the two rivals appeared on the survey forms was varied. Analyses of both forcedchoice responses and ratings of distress and forgiveness revealed no effects due to the order of presentation.

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Table 2. Ratings of Distress in Response to Sexual or Emotional Infidelity with a New Person or Former Partner New person Sexual infidelity Men (n 34) Women (n 36) Total Emotional infidelity Men (n 37) Women (n 33) Total Grand total 7.56 1.78 7.47 1.81 7.51 1.78 6.05 1.96 6.52 2.17 6.27 2.06 6.89 2.02 Former partner 7.71 1.82 8.17 1.34 7.94 1.60 6.49 1.98 7.64 1.88 7.03 2.01 7.48 1.86 Total 7.63 1.63 7.82 1.35 7.73 1.69 6.27 1.77 7.08 1.85 6.65 2.03

Note. Entries represent the mean ratings on a 1 (slight) to 9 (extreme) rating of distress standard deviation.

Table 3. Ratings of Likely Forgiveness in Response to Sexual or Emotional Infidelity with a New Person or Former Partner New person Sexual infidelity Men (n 34) Women (n 36) Total Emotional infidelity Men (n 37) Women (n 33) Total Grand total 3.24 2.15 3.17 2.09 3.20 2.10 5.03 2.41 5.73 2.21 5.35 2.33 4.28 2.46 Former partner 3.03 1.85 2.72 1.88 2.87 1.86 5.38 2.49 4.79 2.50 5.10 2.49 3.99 2.46 Total 3.13 1.78 2.94 1.90 3.04 1.98 5.20 2.18 5.26 2.27 5.23 2.41

Note. Entries represent the mean ratings on a 1 (definitely not forgive) to 9 (definitely forgive) rating of likely forgiveness standard deviation.

was a new person [M 4.39, SD 2.49 for new person; M 3.71, SD 2.41 for the former partner, t(68) 4.55, p < 0.001]. Men did not differentiate by the type of partner [M 4.17, SD 2.44 for the new person; M 4.25, SD 2.49 for the former partner, t(70) 0.35, p 0.730]. Predicting reactions to infidelity from investment model variables The investment model variables were first subjected to a regression analysis to ensure that the relationships predicted by the the-

ory were valid for this sample.2 The three predictor variables, satisfaction, investments, and quality of alternatives, were used to predict commitment. Because of some omitted items that appear to follow no pattern, there were 134 usable responses to the Investment Model Scale. The regression analysis was significant [F(3, 130) 56.30,
2. The Investment Model Scale was administered last. To ensure that the between-group manipulations did not affect responses on this measure, analyses of variance were conducted with the Investment Model scores as the dependent variables. There were no significant effects.


A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

Table 4. Regression Testing of Investment Model Predictions M Satisfaction Investments Quality of alternatives Commitment 6.55 5.53 3.93 6.67 SD 1.46 1.54 1.75 1.68 B 0.532 0.328 0.162 SE B 0.083 0.073 0.062 b 0.460 0.301 0.168 sr 0.371* 0.259* 0.151*

Note. Satisfaction, Investments, and the Quality of Alternatives were used to predict overall Commitment to the Relationship. Ratings were made on 08 scales, with higher numbers indicating more of the variable measured. The sr is the semipartial correlation. *p < 0.01.

p < 0.001, R2 0.565]. All three variables provided significant unique contributions to the prediction of commitment (Table 4). The three predictor variables from the investment model were then used to predict the distress and forgiveness ratings in response to the infidelity. Given the gender differences in distress and forgiveness ratings, separate regressions were conducted for men and women for each of the four separate measures, with the effects of the between-group variable, infidelity type, removed in a first step of the regression, before the model variables were introduced. The goal was to determine whether the investment model variables could predict reactions above and beyond the effects of infidelity type. In predicting distress when the rival was a former partner, the investment model variables did produce a significant improvement in the regression model for women but not for men (Table 5). An examination of the contributions by individual investment model variables revealed that the investment variable was the only significant predictor for women. For men, only infidelity type was a significant predictor of distress. No investment model variables added significantly to the prediction of distress, individually or as a set. The same pattern emerged when the criterion was the distress associated with infidelity involving a new person. The investment model variables did significantly improve the model for women, but only the investment variable was individually significant. For men, only infidelity type was related to

distress. Women reported more distress over infidelity when they felt that they had invested more in the relationship. Satisfaction and quality of alternatives did not individually contribute a significant amount to womens predicted distress. The predictions of the forgiveness ratings revealed a contribution by the investment model variables for both women and men. In predicting forgiveness when the rival was a former partner, the investment model variables improved the prediction for women and men. For men, the satisfaction variable helped most to explain forgiveness, but for women, it was investment that helped predict forgiveness (Table 6). Again, a similar pattern was repeated when the rival was a new person, although the improvement in prediction was not quite significant for men (p < 0.07). Significant individual contributions were again made by the satisfaction variable for men and the investment variable for women (Table 6). Hence, men were more likely to forgive their partner when they were satisfied with their current relationship, while women were more likely to forgive when they had invested less in their partner. The Investment Model predicts a greater relationship stability with increasing investments; hence, the opposite result would have been expectedmore forgiveness with more investments. To determine whether, perhaps, the true relationship is nonlinear, the curvilinear relationships between investments and forgiveness were examined for women. The power curve

Table 5. Predicting Distress from Investment Model Variables Men SE B b sr B SE B b Women sr

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Rated distress

New person Step 1 Infidelity type 0.466 0.388 0.388* 0.967 R2 0.057 0.970 0.020 0.579 0.048 Change R2 0.171* 0.493

1.571 R2 0.15* 0.465 0.186 0.179 0.172 0.368 0.004 0.246 0.028 0.362* 0.003 0.196 0.025



Step 2 Infidelity type Satisfaction Investments Quality of alternatives

1.492 0.005 0.317 0.039 Change R2 0.067

0.463 0.212 0.166 0.150

0.230 0.013 0.425 0.040

0.236 0.011 0.392* 0.036

Former partner Step 1 Infidelity type 0.465 0.301 0.301*

1.201 R2 0.091* 0.456 0.187 0.180 0.172 0.272 0.158 0.055 0.175 0.268* 0.122 0.044 0.155

0.461 R2 0.020 0.419 0.288 0.473 0.078 Change R2 0.167*




Step 2 Infidelity type Satisfaction Investments Quality of alternatives

1.084 0.201 0.070 0.237 Change R2 0.098

0.385 0.176 0.138 0.125

0.127 0.223 0.428 0.081

0.126 0.189 0.395* 0.072

Note. The sr is the semipartial correlation. *p < 0.05.



Table 6. Predicting Forgiveness from Investment Model Variables Men SE B b sr B SE B b Women sr

Rated forgiveness

New person Step 1 Infidelity type 0.559 0.362 0.362* 2.050 R2 0.180* 3.025 0.198 0.543 0.188 Change R2 0.106* 0.530 0.242 0.191 0.172 0.547

1.778 R2 0.131* 0.550 0.224 0.216 0.207 0.331 0.388 0.151 0.134 0.326* 0.298 0.120 0.119



Step 2 Infidelity type Satisfaction Investments Quality of alternatives

1.625 0.607 0.236 0.224 Change R2 0.091

0.426 0.104 0.335 0.113

0.420* 0.089 0.309* 0.119

Former partner Step 1 Infidelity type 0.539 0.460 0.460*

2.285 R2 0.212* 0.513 0.209 0.202 0.193 0.420 0.457 0.272 0.142 0.413* 0.351* 0.216 0.123

2.601 R2 0.267* 2.614 0.078 0.526 0.118 Change R2 0.087*




Step 2 Infidelity type Satisfaction Investments Quality of alternatives

2.086 0.723 0.429 0.240 Change R2 0.126*

0.525 0.240 0.189 0.170

0.519 0.039 0.311 0.080

0.512* 0.033 0.287* 0.071

A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

Note. The sr is the semipartial correlation. *p < 0.05.

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was significant for the new rival (R2 0.06, p < 0.05), showing that with low investments, forgiveness was high, but forgiveness dropped quickly as investments went up and remained low as investments increased. Despite the significant power curve, the linear relationship was almost as strong (R2 0.05), although not significant. No relationship was found for the ratings involving the former partner. Therefore, there is no evidence in this sample of greater forgiveness with higher investments. Discussion The results confirmed that, in general, a renewed relationship with a former partner was seen as more threatening than a relationship with a rival who was a new competitor. However, there were consistent gender differences, with women appearing to be more distressed by the return of a former partner than men. Although men selected the former partner as the more distressing rival when the infidelity was sexual, they made no clear distinction between new rivals and former partners when the infidelity was emotional and their ratings of distress and forgiveness in response to infidelity were unaffected by rival differences. Women were quite consistent in their sensitivity to rival differences. They found the former partner the more distressing option in the forced choices, involving both sexual and emotional infidelity, and their ratings of both distress and willingness to forgive supported their bias against the former partner as a more serious threat. In no case was the new person seen as a greater threat, as predicted by an evolutionary model. Similarly, the gender by infidelity type interaction for degree of distress experienced predicted by the evolutionary model, with women reporting more distress than men in response to emotional infidelity and men reporting more distress than women in response to sexual infidelity did not occur. The distress ratings for the two types of infidelity were independent ratings; hence, they should have been less affected by any tendency to select the ratings to meet

social expectations based on a direct contrast of the two types of infidelity. Thus, it is possible that prior instances in which gender differences did occur were at least partially the result of felt demands to respond appropriately. The current results are more consistent with a view of sexual infidelity as equally unacceptable to both women and men. Although females may choose emotional infidelity as more distressing in a forced-choice comparison, they find sexual infidelity more upsetting when rated independently. Such inconsistencies should not occur if the gender differences have evolved due to reproductive success pressures but can be understood based on socially learned expectations. Why is the distinction between new and recycled rivals more of an issue for women? One likely explanation is that women are more concerned about evidence suggesting a lack of long-term commitment. While infidelity with a new person would also imply a potential absence of commitment, the apparent continued involvement with a former partner may mean that ones partner was never fully committed to the current relationship. Women may believe that they have a better chance of defeating a new rival than a former rival, to whom ones partner has returned. Contrary to an evolutionary model, the previously defeated rival remains a more serious threat to women despite their having proven their fitness advantage when they attracted their partner from the former relationship in the past. The greater relative importance of relationship commitment to women can also be inferred from the fact that investment model variables were more strongly related to rated distress for women than for men. Mens distress was primarily predicted from the type of infidelity encountered, with the investment model variables adding little to the predictions. For women, consistent with their concern over emotional infidelity, we see that commitment to the relationship, beyond the partners potential contribution to sexual reproduction, seems more central. This in no way suggests that sexual infidelity is not a major relationship issue for women. It does represent a serious breach


A. Cann and T. R. Baucom

of commitment, and women do rate it as more distressing. The results do reinforce the notion that there are gender differences in terms of what is most important over the course of a relationship. For men, sexual activity seems to be the dominant and central concern, while for women, other relationship factors that are associated with commitment play a more critical role. This pattern could be interpreted as supporting either a socially learned expectation model or an evolutionary model. The ratings of likely forgiveness followed the same pattern as the ratings of distress. As would be expected, the more distressing event was more difficult to forgive. These results are both consistent and inconsistent with aspects of results reported by Shackelford et al. (2002). They also found that the more distressing event was more difficult to forgive but only when they presented a forced choice between the two types of infidelity, assuming that both had occurred. When a simple choice between forgiving sexual or emotional infidelity was presented, both men and women were more likely to indicate that sexual infidelity was harder to forgive. Since the current procedures did not force individual participants to compare sexual and emotional infidelity, the effect that the context of the question has on responses remains unclear. Our results imply that when the two types of infidelity are considered separately, sexual infidelity is more distressing and harder to forgive for both men and women. A direct test of the effects of comparing the two infidelities rather than rating them separately may help clarify these apparent inconsistencies. The predictions of forgiveness from the commitment variables did not match the results for distress. The investment model variables were relevant in predicting forgiveness for men. Although, for men, infidelity type remained a critical factor in decisions about forgiveness, the addition of the three variables from the investment model did improve the prediction of forgiveness, with relationship satisfaction making the greatest individual contribution. Men were more likely to forgive

when they were satisfied with the outcomes in their relationship, while for women, it was still the investments they had in the relationship that contributed most to their likely forgiveness. Women have trouble forgiving those in whom they have invested more, no matter what the form of infidelity. These results seem counter to the predictions about the role of commitment in forgiveness but perfectly consistent with the degree of distress experienced. As more distress is caused by the infidelity, forgiveness may be more difficult to grant. However, more investments also should be associated with greater commitment, and because commitment implies a willingness to sacrifice and work toward stability, forgiveness should be more likely. One possible explanation could be that these women, who are still in the early stages of what could become long-term relationships, may be indicating a desire to cut their losses by rejecting a partner whose behavior is not consistent with a long-term commitment. The more they have invested in what now appears to be a failed effort to gain commitment, the more they may resent the partners infidelity. Once a clear commitment to a long-term relationship has been achieved, and extensive investments have been made, investments would have an opposite effect on willingness to forgive. Overall, the evidence provides further support for the assumption that, in romantic relationships, women are more concerned with cues to commitment, while men are more focused on the exclusivity of sexual behavior. This is consistent with an evolutionary model. However, differences in responses to the two potential rivals are more consistent with a model based on learned social beliefs than evolutionary processes. The fitness advantage established by attracting the current partner away from a previous relationship should make that rival seem less of a threat for both men and women. Yet, none of the results indicated that a new person was clearly a greater threat than the former partner. In fact, for women, the former partner was obviously the greater threat, while men

Infidelity and forgiveness


were generally indifferent to the rival differences. Furthermore, the fact that, for women, the beliefs about commitment explained more of the differences in distress expected than did the infidelity type suggests that social beliefs are more critical in determining these responses. Males tendency to be more influenced by the type of infidelity indicates that social beliefs about commitment are much less of a factor in determining their expected distress. Forgiveness, however, as a response to infidelity, was related to commitment for both women and men. Forgiveness represents a more socially constructed concept. Therefore, its relationship to the social beliefs that affect commitment seems logical.

Limitations of the Current Study These findings represent only participants expectations about how they would respond to a hypothetical relationship situation that lacked specific details about the actual behaviors the partner engaged in and the exact nature of the request for forgiveness. Differences in details certainly could alter the responses to infidelity, in terms of both distress and forgiveness. Given the potentially severe disruption that an incident of actual infidelity would cause in a romantic References
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relationship, it will be important to see how well these findings are replicated when the relationship is actually threatened and details are available. In addition, the judgments of the current sample of young adults who are in relationships that lack a formalized commitmentmarriagemay not be representative of how strongly committed couples respond to actual or imagined infidelity. The variables associated with commitment would probably be even more critical in a more committed sample, but this remains to be shown. The current investigation has attempted to compare predictions about responses to relationship infidelity from two different perspectivesevolved gender differences and learned social expectations. The results provide support for predictions from the social expectation model and demonstrate an important role for relationship beliefs in predicting reactions to relationship infidelity. Both evolutionary pressures and socially learned ideas about relationships must be relevant to the ways in which women and men relate. These results should encourage researchers to incorporate elements of both approaches into their investigations, so that we might eventually appreciate the complex ways that evolution and our social experiences combine to influence how romantic relationships develop and dissolve.

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