Attachment insecurity in one or both partners in a relationship can predict marital infidelity, according to new research from Florida State University. Attachment insecurity, also called insecure attachment style, comes in two forms: attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance. Both forms of insecurity involve the belief that the people who are close to you are not emotionally or physically available to you. People who doubt the availability of those close to them typically play out this insecurity in one of two predictable ways.
Attachment Anxiety vs. Attachment Avoidance
Those who develop attachment anxiety in their marriages often respond to their attachment insecurity by clinging close to their partners and seeking constant reassurance. These individuals may feel that they are not receiving sufficient reassurance and intimacy from their spouses, and some seek additional emotional and sexual intimacy outside their marriage as a result. In contrast, those whose attachment insecurity takes the form of attachment avoidance respond to the perceived lack of availability by distancing themselves and avoiding intimacy. People who develop this attachment style are often less committed to their relationships and more open to intimate activity outside their marriages.
Risk of Infidelity
Infidelity is more likely to occur in marriages that contain insecure attachment styles. However, it is not simply the partners with attachment insecurity who are more likely to stray from their commitment. The non-insecure partners are also more likely to be unfaithful as they cope with the behaviors displayed by their insecure partners. The study from Florida State University found that both individuals with attachment anxiety and the partners of those with attachment anxiety were more likely to be unfaithful in their relationships. It may be that some people respond to clinging and constant demands for reassurance by detaching themselves and seeking less demanding relationships.
In Marriages, Attachment Avoidance Did Not Lead to Infidelity
However, contrary to expectations and to previous findings, the Florida State team found that neither attachment avoidance nor a partner’s attachment avoidance increased the odds of infidelity. In fact, people whose partners had avoidant attachment styles were actually less likely to engage in extramarital affairs. Previous studies have primarily focused on dating couples, and the Florida State research team hypothesizes that the new study’s focus on married couple may explain the different results when it comes to attachment avoidance. The difference between dating relationships and married relationships may also account for the fact that the new study found a much stronger connection between attachment anxiety and infidelity.
Attachment Insecurity and Infidelity
There may be other factors that are contributing to the connection between attachment insecurity and infidelity that was found by the Florida State researchers. For one thing, a number of personality characteristics that are commonly found in individuals with insecure attachment styles are also associated with higher rates of marital infidelity. For example, low levels of agreeableness are positively associated with attachment insecurity as well as infidelity. Neuroticism is also more common in people with attachment insecurity, and people who cheat on their spouses are more likely to view their partners as having high levels of neuroticism. Attachment-insecure people have lower overall levels of conscientiousness, as do people who are more likely to cheat on their partners. Finally, attachment insecurity is associated with lower levels of openness and extraversion, and these traits are also more common in people who engage in marital infidelity.