Research published in Personal Relationships journal surveyed 741 adults over the course of three samples, looking at what they called “monogamy maintenance strategies”. The researchers asked the participants how they had handled temptation, especially when they felt a strong attraction to someone else. The 24 different methods that the participants gave fit into one of three categories. “Relationship enhancement” was a technique used by 75 percent of participants and included putting more effort into your relationship, whether sexually or through treating your partner to dates and affection. Around the same number of participants used what was called “proactive avoidance“, which essentially involved avoiding the temptation. Slightly less popular was the “derogation of temptation“, which involved negatively viewing the temptation and focusing on the guilt you feel — basically trying to turn yourself off of the temptation, by thinking about how wrong the whole situation is.
Though all of these three methods were used frequently, the depressing truth was that none of them actually affected the rate at which people cheated. Although the “derogation of temptation” strategy did lead to slightly less flirting, none of the three strategies made a significant impact when it came to whether there was actually any infidelity — whether romantic or sexual — and whether the relationship survived that infidelity. Sounds pretty bleak, huh?
But what was perhaps surprising is how ineffective these strategies are. “I was surprised [by the study results] myself!,” Brenda Lee of the University of New Brunswick, one of the study authors, tells Bustle. She was also struck by how pervasive these techniques were — and what that says about our relationships. “Given our strongly held convictions about staying monogamous, and given our relative ignorance about how common (and strong!) attraction to others can be, are many of us responding when we are already in too deep?” Lee says. But maybe the answer lies less in monogamy maintenance strategies — and more in strengthening our relationships.
How To Strengthen Your Relationship Every Day
The fact that monogamy maintenance strategies prove ineffective may sound worrying, but you could look at these findings another way. Although it may seem slightly upsetting that none of these techniques prevent infidelity, it also seems like these techniques are only applied when the participants were already very tempted — and tempted by a specific person. If you’re feeling extremely tempted by someone, it seems likely that the relationship is already floundering. Sure, being attracted to someone else, fantasizing, even flirting might not be the sign of problems in a relationship — but being so fascinated by another person that you need to distance yourself belies a pretty big relationship weakness.
“I believe our current findings are only one initial piece of the picture,” Lee says. “We found that most individuals can identify conscious efforts to try to avoid temptations. We are actually in process of publishing other pieces of the picture, including how the context of the attraction affects what people do, as well as the context of the relationship. Past research has found that self-control depletion (for example, having grabbed a beer after a long day at the office) may affect your ability to stick to your intentions to avoid an attractive other person. Even more other pieces, such as our motivations when considering the pros and cons of approaching or avoiding an attractive other, are likely going to play a big role”
So rather than focusing on “maintenance strategies” for monogamy, maybe we should look more at strengthening our relationships regularly. That isn’t about a strategy — that’s about how we live our lives and how we share our lives, every single day.
“Spending time together means sharing in experiences together,” Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. “Experiencing things helps you grow as a person, and when you can share those experiences with someone — particularly someone who loves doing the same things as you do — you grow together. Ultimately it is our experiences and memories that help shape us as people — when you share experiences with your partner, you are in effect being shaped, evolving, and growing together.”
There may be no monogamy maintenance strategy that actually work, but maybe that’s because a strategy isn’t going to fix an unhappy or broken relationship. Instead, focusing on your relationship every day and keeping the communication open can help lead to a much stronger foundation.
Originally posted on Bustle