If you've ever been cheated on, the findings of a new study on romantic betrayal probably won't make you feel any better about it, but they might just help to put the shitty experience into context. Apparently, twentysomethings cheat because they're trying work out who they are, or "find themselves". Yes really, that old chestnut.
The study, led by psychologists from the University of Tennessee and published in the Journal of Sex Research, questioned 104 cheaters with an average age of 22 about their reasons for cheating. The researchers chose this age group so they could decipher the impact of development and growing up on people's decision to cheat.
Around 60% of the group were women and they had all cheated within the previous six months, whether that was emotional or physical cheating or a mixture of the two. Around 12% said they'd had no sexual or physical contact when they cheated, for example, while around a fifth said it was only physical and they weren't emotionally unfaithful, reported indy100.
The double-crossers were told to read a short passage about how common cheating is, which the researchers hoped would encourage them to be more candid about their selfish behaviour. They were then grilled about their current and past romantic experiences, their attachment to their current partner and their reasons for dicking around behind their partner's back.
So, what excuses did they come up with to justify their behaviour? Most participants gave reasons relating to independence (thinking their partner was holding them back from "finding themselves", basically) and interdependence (believing there were problems with the relationship itself, such as a lack of intimacy or shared interests).
"Because emerging adulthood is thought to be a time of exploration and experimentation, it is possible that engaging in infidelity is a path through which individuals seek to meet their developmental needs for independence and interdependence and promote their individual development," said the researchers, including Jerika C. Norona, who led the study.
Basically, many young adults cheat because they still don't know who they are – let alone how to treat another person. So, not only does the two-timing love rat not deserve you, they've clearly got their own issues to deal with as well.
This doesn't mean cheating partners should be let off the hook, however. Other reasons given for cheating, cited by 40% of participants, included because they were drunk, attracted to the person and novelty and excitement of cheating.
How can we prevent twentysomethings from wreaking havoc on their partners' lives? It comes down to education, the authors suggested. "Educating emerging adults about their needs for independence and interdependence can increase their awareness of how these needs might manifest in relational decision making.
"The awareness of these needs might help emerging adults evaluate whether their behaviours align with their personal growth prior to sliding into action."