Economically Dependent on Your Spouse? You Just May Cheat

Now this is a surprise (at least, to me).

You're more likely to cheat if you're economically dependent on your spouse.

Hmm, when I was, I was terrified to do anything that put me at risk.  Having no income, and nowhere to go, with a small son, when things got shaky I just had to hold on.

Now a new study is saying that, in an average year, there is about a 5 percent chance that women who are completely economically dependent on their husbands will cheat, whereas there is about a 15 percent chance that men who are entirely economically dependent on their wives will have an affair.

OK, I can see the male point (feeling less manly, maybe).  But women? 

“You would think that people would not want to ‘bite the hand that feeds them’ so to speak, but that is not what my research shows,” says study author Christin L. Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, at “Instead, the findings indicate people like feeling relatively equal in their relationships. People don’t like to feel dependent on another person.”

Oh, I can relate!

Now that I'm back to work, things are fine between us.  But when I wasn't working, I not only had the lack of money to worry about, but also the way I felt about myself.

Although Munsch found that economic dependency increases the likelihood of engaging in infidelity for both men and women, there appears to be something that makes men who are not primary breadwinners even more prone to cheating compared to women who are not primary breadwinners.

“Extramarital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat — that is not being primary breadwinners, as is culturally expected — to engage in behavior culturally associated with masculinity,” Munsch says (guess I was on to something). “For men, especially young men, the dominant definition of masculinity is scripted in terms of sexual virility and conquest, particularly with respect to multiple sex partners. Thus, engaging in infidelity may be a way of reestablishing threatened masculinity. Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their higher earning spouses.”

The story's a little different for women.

“Women who out-earn their husbands challenge the status quo,” says Munsch, who notes that women are least likely to engage in infidelity when they make 100 percent of a couples’ total income.  (And yes, I felt that way, during the brief time I out-earned my husband.)

“Previous research finds that women who are primary breadwinners are acutely aware of the ways in which they deviate from the cultural expectation that equates men with breadwinning. Consequently, previous research finds these women suffer from increased anxiety and insomnia and engage in what sociologists call ‘deviance neutralization behaviors,'" she says.

For example, she said women who are the primary breadwinners in their marriages often minimize their achievements, defer to their spouses, and increase their housework. “This emotional and physical work is designed to decrease interpersonal conflict and shore up their husbands’ masculinity,” Munsch says. “It is also aimed at keeping potentially strained relationships intact.”


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