London – They get on like a house on fire, she laughs at all his jokes and he loves their cosy chats after work.
But there may be trouble ahead. The wife of a man who has a close friendship with another woman can feel a strong sense of betrayal.
In fact, she can find his platonic closeness just as upsetting as an affair.
Even if there is no sexual intimacy, becoming very friendly with another woman is considered ‘cheating’, according to a study. Men, by contrast, become more distressed if their wife or girlfriend actually sleeps with another man.
Researchers at the universities of Texas and Hawaii asked nearly 400 people what they regarded as infidelity.
Physical infidelity was defined as a series of acts with someone who was not their partner. These ranged from intimate kissing to sex.
The experts then assessed what they perceived to be emotional infidelity.
To do this, they asked their subjects to rate on a scale how much they agreed with the statements, ‘falling in love with someone other than your partner, but not acting on those feelings’, or ‘having an intimate emotional friendship’ was infidelity.
They also evaluated the importance of closeness in a relationship by asking how helpful and warm the subjects acted towards others. Fear of rejection and fear of intimacy were also measured through questionnaires. Using these indicators, the researchers found that women are just as worried about their partner betraying them emotionally as physically.
Writing in the journal Sexual & Relationship Therapy, they concluded: ‘Women are more sensitive than men to possible violations related to infidelity.’
They added that this was supported by findings that women scored higher on a trait they called ‘communion’ – or the extent to which a person wants to ‘form and maintain positive interpersonal bonds’. This means that women tend to invest more heavily and feel more committed towards their relationships, and would feel more threatened by any kind of infidelity.
The experts believe that women’s higher intolerance for unfaithfulness is a way of protecting the relationship.
This is because ‘women fear that a man’s emotional infidelity would result in him providing for the other woman’.
Summing up, the authors said ‘this study found that women, people high in communion, and people low in fear of intimacy [who feel connected to their relationships]’ are ‘more likely to perceive both emotional and sexual acts as constituting infidelity’.
They also found that those who were afraid of intimacy were less likely to consider that having sex with someone else was an act of infidelity.
The researchers said: ‘This pattern makes sense… someone who is fearful of intimacy would be less threatened by potential violations within a relationship, especially since their fear might be preventing them from forging a meaningful relationship in the first place.’