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Infidelity is commonly defined as being unfaithful in a married or committed relationship.  It can include a range of behaviour such as emotional and sexual infidelity, and inappropriate physical contact.

Research suggests that emotional affairs are more common than sexual affairs.  This may be because the person engaging in the behaviour does not perceive the behaviour as infidelity.  However, if one partner is getting their emotional needs satisfied outside of the marriage and thinks more about the other person than their partner, the behaviour may be considered as being unfaithful.  According to a one study, women are more hurt by emotional infidelity, while men are more hurt when the infidelity is sexual.  The study asked 64,000 people whether they would be more upset by their partner having sex with someone else without falling in love with them, or falling in love with someone else but not having sex with them.  More than half of heterosexual men surveyed would rather have their girlfriend fall in love with someone instead of having sex with them, while only 35 per cent of women felt the same way.

While the prevalence of infidelity is difficult to measure, rates have been found to vary by country and culture.  In one study, for example, 59 per cent of Italian men and 35 per cent of Italian women admit to betraying a spouse or partner at least once, while, almost half of British men and one-fifth of British women admit to cheating on their partner at least once.

In Australia, while societal norms around relationships are changing, some authors argue that the overwhelming majority of people have the expectation of fidelity of sexual and emotional connection in committed relationships.  In furthering our understanding of the relationship expectations of people accessing Relationships Australia’s website, in January 2018, Relationships Australia’s monthly online survey asked visitors to our website to report on their understanding of infidelity.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites