May 21, 2024

New study reveals insights into how narcissism shapes attitudes towards infidelity in romantic couples

New research provides evidence that grandiose and vulnerable narcissism play different roles in shaping attitudes toward infidelity within couples. In particular, women’s favorability towards infidelity was found to be tied to their own grandiose and vulnerable narcissism and their partner’s grandiose narcissism, while men’s favorability was associated with both their and their partner’s vulnerable narcissism. The findings, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, offer new insights into the potential effects of narcissistic traits on relationship dynamics.

Infidelity, which occurs when someone in a monogamous relationship engages in secretive sexual and/or emotional activity outside of that relationship, is a common issue in many partnerships. The motivation behind this study was to better understand the role of narcissism personality traits, specifically grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, in shaping individuals’ attitudes toward infidelity within committed relationships.

Grandiose narcissism refers to a personality trait where individuals have an inflated sense of self-importance, crave admiration and attention, and have a sense of entitlement. Vulnerable narcissism, on the other hand, is characterized by individuals who have a fragile self-esteem, are highly sensitive to criticism, and often seek reassurance and validation from others.

“This study explores the long-time interest in understanding how narcissism impacts aspects of human sexuality within the context of enduring romantic relationships,” said study author Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan of the University of Haifa. “The unique dyadic perspective taken in this research adds a super interesting angle to the investigation, as it allows us to explore how both an individual’s own narcissistic traits and their partner’s narcissistic traits may jointly influence their attitudes toward infidelity.”

The study recruited 135 heterosexual married couples from Israel, all of whom had been married for at least three years and had children. The researchers wanted to focus on couples in stable relationships to examine how attitudes toward infidelity might develop in long-term partnerships.

To conduct the study, the participants completed a survey that assessed their levels of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism and their attitudes toward infidelity. The survey was designed to be anonymous, and participants accessed it through an online platform.

The participants’ attitudes toward infidelity were assessed using the “Attitudes Toward Infidelity Scale” (ATIS), which measured their beliefs and thoughts about infidelity using 12 items. Participants rated their agreement with statements such as “Being unfaithful never hurt anyone” and “I would have an affair if I knew my partner would never find out.” Higher scores on this scale indicated more favorable attitudes toward infidelity.

To measure grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, the researchers used the “Brief-Pathological Narcissism Inventory,” which had 28 items assessing the two subscales. Participants rated their agreement with statements such as “I find it easy to manipulate people” for grandiose narcissism and “When people don’t notice me, I start to feel bad about myself” for vulnerable narcissism.

The researchers also collected demographic information from the participants, such as age, number of children, duration of marriage, economic status, religiosity, and educational background, to control for any potential influences on the results.

The researchers found that men reported more favorable attitudes toward infidelity than women on average. This finding is consistent with previous research that suggests men may be more accepting of infidelity in relationships.

For female participants, their own grandiose narcissism was associated with more favorable attitudes toward infidelity. Additionally, female participants reported less favorable attitudes when their partners had higher levels of grandiose narcissism. However, there were no significant associations between grandiose narcissism and attitudes toward infidelity for male participants.

Both male and female participants with higher levels of vulnerable narcissism reported more favorable attitudes toward infidelity for themselves. However, only male participants showed more favorable attitudes when their partners had higher levels of vulnerable narcissism.

“The study suggests that attitudes toward infidelity in romantic relationships can be influenced not only by an individual’s own narcissistic traits but also by their partner’s narcissistic traits,” Gewirtz-Meydan told PsyPost.

“Specifically, it highlights that females’ favorable attitudes toward infidelity are associated with their own grandiose and vulnerable narcissism, as well as their partner’s grandiose narcissism. On the other hand, males’ favorable attitudes toward infidelity are associated with their own vulnerable narcissism and their partner’s vulnerable narcissism.”

“The study emphasizes the importance of considering different aspects of narcissism when examining infidelity in relationships and underscores the potential impact of narcissistic traits on intimate relationships,” Gewirtz-Meydan explained. “Individuals with narcissistic traits may be more prone to infidelity due to their sense of entitlement, lack of empathy, need for validation, impulsivity, emotional detachment, and thrill-seeking behavior.”

But the study, like all research, includes some limitations.

“One major caveat of our study is that we did not assess actual infidelity among the couples,” Gewirtz-Meydan explained. “Instead, we focused on examining attitudes toward infidelity as a proxy measure. This decision was made to avoid potential biases and to maintain the integrity of the research. However, future studies should aim to find ways to examine actual infidelity in addition to attitudes. Combining both measures could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the interplay between narcissism and infidelity in romantic relationships.”

The researchers also noted that people in Israel may have different opinions about marriage and committed relationships, which could affect how they see infidelity. In Israel, people generally prioritize their family and community over their own individual desires. They value strong family and marital relationships. Because of this collectivist nature, infidelity (cheating on a partner) is seen as a major breach of trust and a violation of social norms.

“Consider the study findings in the context of Israel, which is a conservative country,” Gewirtz-Meydan said. “Cultural norms and attitudes toward relationships and infidelity may impact the results.”

Furthermore, they noted that the definition of infidelity has expanded to encompass other forms of breaches of intimacy.

“Moving forward, it is essential to acknowledge the evolving nature of the concept of ‘infidelity’ in today’s media-driven world,” Gewirtz-Meydan told PsyPost. “As researchers, we need to better articulate and define what constitutes infidelity in the context of modern relationships. The traditional view of infidelity as a purely physical betrayal may not encompass the various dimensions of emotional intimacy and the impact of technology on intimate relationships. Cybersex, pornography, and emotional connections online are becoming increasingly prevalent, raising questions about whether they should be considered forms of infidelity.”

“Our clinical work has revealed that different couples and individuals within couples often define infidelity differently based on their values, cultural backgrounds, and personal experiences. Thus, future research should take a nuanced approach to explore how perceptions of infidelity vary across different individuals and how these varying definitions may influence relationship dynamics.”

“Also, remember: not all narcissists will cheat, and infidelity is influenced by various factors,” Gewirtz-Meydan added.

The study, “The Relationship Between Narcissistic Traits and Attitudes Toward Infidelity: A Dyadic Analysis“, was authored by Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, Roi Estlein, and Ricky Finzi-Dottan.

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