The Science Behind Infidelity

Helen Fisher’s 10 Facts About Infidelity

If you aren’t familiar with Helen Fisher’s work and you are in a committed relationship, you should be! Committed relationships are hard work and various forms of infidelity are occasionally reported in my practice with both individuals and couples.

As a guest author, Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist who studies the brain and love wrote a guest piece for called “10 facts about infidelity.

Many people often have questions, most commonly: “Are human beings monogamous?” “How does infidelity happen?” and “How does one even clearly define infidelity?”

There are multiple answers for these questions and every situation and couple is different. The interesting thing about human beings is that most of us have two conflicting desires: one is we are wired for attachment and security and because of that, we seek stability and familiarity. The opposing desire is the one in which we seek independence, autonomy and change when things feel like they are in a rut. There is a famous saying, “familiarity breeds contempt, predictability breeds boredom.” We are attached to our primary, significant relationships but all relationships go through ups and downs. Commitment is conscious and intentional work every day.

There are basically 3 different types of affairs: sexual infidelity, romantic infidelity and sexual and romantic infidelity. Infidelity does not have to be sexual- this is what’s referred to as “romantic infidelity” or as some call it, an “emotional affair.” Furthermore, the article discusses the three primary brain systems related to love: the sex drive, romantic love and partner attachment. These are thought to have evolutionary purposes- sex drive attracts us to a range of people, romantic love evolved so people could focus on one particular partner (also known as “the honeymoon phase”) and partner attachment serves the purpose of keeping partners together, at least through the infancy of one child. All of this, of course to keep the species going.

The article also delves into the concept of “mate poaching” (the study shows that 60% of men and 53% of women have admitted to doing this), which means when someone specifically goes after another person in a committed relationship with the intention of beginning a relationship with them instead. There is also potentially a gene that may contribute to infidelity.

I highly recommend checking out the article and Helen Fisher’s work in order to understand why Imago therapists often say intimate relationships are the hardest work you will ever do!