Secret Affairs Cause More Hostility in Relationships Than Coming Clean

Extradyadic involvement (EDI), also known as infidelity, occurs in many relationships. At times, the infidelity is known to both partners, and at other times, only the participating partner is aware of the EDI. Regardless, EDIs have significant negative consequences. “Many negative emotional and behavioral correlates of EDI have been documented including partner violence, acute anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and symptoms similar to those of posttraumatic stress disorder,” said Christina M. Balderrama-Durbin of the Department of Psychology at the University of Colorado. “Relationship distress and dissolution are also commonly associated with EDI, with infidelity being the most frequently cited cause of divorce.”

Poor communication, often exhibited in couples with EDI, can also be a predictor for infidelity. “Dissatisfied couples are more likely to engage in negative conflict communication behaviors including criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and withdrawal,” she said. The most common pattern of communication in conflicts is known as the demand/withdraw pattern. “During conflict interactions, distressed couples often display a dyadic conflict pattern in which one spouse blames, nags, criticizes, or pressures the other for change, while the other spouse withdraws or avoids conflict,” said Balderrama-Durbin, who observed demand/withdrawal behaviors in couples who had a disclosed EDI, couples with an undisclosed EDI, and couples with no EDI.

After observing 170 couples during a conflict, Balderrama-Durbin found that the couples who had undisclosed EDIs used demand/withdrawal behavior the most frequently. “Specifically, male and female demand behaviors, and male withdraw behaviors, were significantly higher within couples where there had been an unknown EDI compared with those in a relationship with no history of EDI,” said Balderrama-Durbin. She also discovered that the participating partners with undisclosed EDIs were more demanding than those with disclosed EDIs. “Conversely, demand behaviors were higher for nonparticipating partners who knew his or her partner engaged in EDI compared with nonparticipating partners who did not know his or her partner engaged in EDI.” Balderrama-Durbin added, “The present study affirms that even undisclosed aspects of a couple’s relationship can be associated with observable negative conflict communication behaviors. Findings indicate the importance of investigating unique interaction patterns in relationships when an EDI has not yet been revealed or discovered.”

Balderrama-Durbin, C. M., Allen, E. S., & Rhoades, G. K. (2011, December 26). Demand and Withdraw Behaviors in Couples With a History of Infidelity. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026756

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  • Cara D

    January 5th, 2012 at 1:40 PM

    Secret, not a secret, whatever- anything that has to do with one partner cheating on another is going to hurt


    January 5th, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    The main reason why infidelity causes so much damage is because it not only shakes one partner’s belief upon the other but also put the cheated partner down. Not an easy thing to forgive or get over; no doubt infidelity is one of the most common causes for divorce and separation!

  • Anna

    January 5th, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    There’s plenty of pointers to say your partner could be cheating on you.But when this happens,identifying the pointers is an important step.Yes,finding out about something like that will cause you heartache but then its better to know and attempt to fix it than be ignorant and then be struck by it one fine day when its too late…!

  • Sydney

    January 6th, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating research. It seems to confirm common sense that there is an impact on couples- and in particular their communication style- when one or both partners are withholding a secret. The challenge is to help couples that experience EDI to find effective ways to communicate so they can recover and heal from the pain they have caused.

  • beth thomas

    January 7th, 2012 at 3:19 AM

    “Conversely, demand behaviors were higher for nonparticipating partners who knew his or her partner engaged in EDI compared with nonparticipating partners who did not know his or her partner engaged in EDI.” Well heck yes of course! If I knew my husband had had an affair I’d sure be demanding. I’d be laying down the law!

  • A. Blessed

    January 7th, 2012 at 3:53 AM

    @beth thomas: Amen to that, beth! My husband cheated on me and because I let it slide instead of doing that, he did it again before we separated. The second time I didn’t tolerate it like I did the first. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  • Anthony M.

    January 9th, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    A relationship can not begin without communication, how would you know to hook up, if he or she likes you, and or get married? A relationship can surely end without communication.

  • PaultheGaul

    January 11th, 2012 at 12:51 AM

    My wife is a habitual cheater. Not that I blame her as I have a very low sex drive but it does hurt when I find out. She hardly bothers to hide it anymore. All she feels for me is either pity or contempt. I think about divorce and then I think about being alone. I decided long ago I don’t want to be alone, so I put up with it.

  • Colleen

    August 23rd, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    If you are going to be unhappy you are better to be alone an unhappy, you at least have a chance of not spending a life time unhappy. An finding someone who respects your feelings. Betrayal, is enough to take away any persons sex drive. Leaving is harder than staying but.when your with the wrong person you can’t find the right person. You owe to yourself to be happy, remember how you felt when you were truly happy. You will find that again, though it’s a little hard to see that far ahead when you are unhappy. Believe in yourself , you deserve it an you will find the happiness . When we are happy we attract people of like.

  • Robin Clearwater

    January 11th, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    @PaultheGaul: You don’t need to put up with it. What makes you think you’d not find a new partner to love? Living in a loveless home will kill you slowly but surely. I’ve been there. It crushes your self-esteem and energy. When you start thinking there’s no options like that, it’s time to move on because it’s not true and you’re so low that you cannot see there’s more out there.

    Do it for yourself because trust me, even being alone is less soul-destroying. I was for nine months until I met my new partner and have never looked back.

  • Megan Samuels

    January 11th, 2012 at 12:58 AM

    Oh dear, please don’t give up on life and stagnate there! You deserve better. Not every woman attaches as much importance to sex as your wife seems to. For me love and kindheartedness means way more than a roll in the hay ever will. Sex I could do without. Love and kindness I couldn’t. Those are lasting, genuine qualities. Sex is just physical.

  • Jasmine

    January 11th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    It doesn’t matter how you do it. If you cheat on your partner there is going to be a lot of fighting about it and an eventual divorce. Most will not forgive it, and many more make a mountain out of a molehill. It’s no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

  • Tom K. Swain

    January 12th, 2012 at 12:57 AM

    PTSD-like symptoms from hearing your partner cheated on you? That has to be the most absurd thing I have heard. I have lived a long life and I have seen car accidents, men get shot, children attacked by out of control dogs…they are the ones who will suffer from PTSD. You will not get PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms from finding out she/he cheated on you.

    I swear, researchers just love to label everything!

  • hannahwalden

    January 12th, 2012 at 1:23 AM

    @Tom Swain-PTSD can have any kind of a trigger. See, the stress is built up over all the years from various events, and at some point, something happens that causes the stress to peak. It is absurd what can cause it, and there is a stigma due to how many lie about it, but it’s not unheard of. So don’t be so sure that’s impossible.

  • J. Sullivan

    January 25th, 2012 at 9:22 PM

    It’s a strong betrayal of trust, especially if you swear during a wedding to have them and only them until death do you part (*cough*). There will either be huge disappointment or hostility after infidelity is unearthed unless you’re the rare kind of married couple who doesn’t think sex should be exclusively between them.

  • Lynn S

    June 28th, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    This is a comment for the “lovely” Tom K. Swain…..I have been raped and I have been cheated on. I can personally guarantee that infidelity can cause PTSD just the same as being raped can. I suffered PTSD from both events. (thankfully, a master accupuncturist has sucessfully helped me heal!) Perhaps you do not realize that abuse/lying/deception and so on accompany most cheating & causes just as much psychological damage as the other types of trauma you mentioned. Another woman shared her experience with cheating—she grew up in a war-torn country. One day, she & her sister were walking along the road. An enemy plane swooped down & gunned down her sister. That was horrific & triggered PTSD in her. Yet, she explained that the horror of her closest, most intimate friend (her husband) cheating on her caused her far greater & lasting emotional trauma. So, it was not just some “researcher trying to label everything”! Rather, it was a compassionate human trying to express to others the horrors of infidelity!

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