Here’s the thing: anecdotal evidence is powerful, but if you really want to prove what most of enlightened society already knows to be true, you need to get a scientific study going. So for all of you who’ve been denying the truth about cheating partners, or your cheating self, here’s real science that backs up what most people already knew: cheaters cheat. And if you’ve formed a relationship with a partner you snagged from someone else, just avoid signing any binding documents.
Mate poaching: stealing someone else’s significant other while they’re still in a supposedly committed relationship with said someone else. But even if you’re not familiar with the term, maybe you’re familiar with the practice, since according to the recent study, “What Do You Get When You Make Somebody Else’s Partner Your Own? An Analysis of Relationships Formed via Mate Poaching”:
About half of people surveyed in North America report that they have at some point succumbed to mate poaching attempts. In the present studies, between 10% and 30% of participants reported being involved in relationships that began when they left one romantic partner to be with another. This suggests to us that mate poaching is a common way that romantic relationships (both short- and long-term) form….
In this study, researchers set out to discover a little more about mate poaching, and whether or not it predicted future relationship outcomes. It did.
Prior to the study, researchers predicted that “participants who were mate poached would exhibit poorer functioning at the beginning of the study relative to non-mate poached participants and that these differences would grow as the study progressed.”
It’s not because a relationship that begins with poaching is inherently weak, though the research does show that. It’s that the person who was poached wasn’t simply poached by accident. There are certain people who are, based on personality, simply more likely to cheat, stray or find themselves poached.
So if you’re with Jack and you stole him from Jill, it’s not because you’re the one Jack was always looking for and now his search is over. It’s because Jack was the type of person who was open to cheating and open to being drawn away from the relationship. He likely had a lower level of commitment and a lower sexual ethic, also known as unrestricted sociosexual orientation. He’ll say you’re so much greater than Jill. He’ll claim this new relationship has everything the former one lacked. And you’ll both believe it for a while. Until Jane comes along…
Personality and Poachability
It’s important to note that gender was not a predictor of poachability; neither men nor women were more likely to be poached. But personality factored into the equation significantly. The study found that people who have been poached tend to fit a particular personality profile, tending to exhibit the following traits:
- Lower agreeableness (lower empathy, less concern for others’ well-being)
- Low conscientiousness (less motivated, lower impulse control, less organized)
- Narcissism (selfishness, self-absorption, concern for self over others)
- Avoidant attachment (minimize intimacy, maintain emotional distance, easily feel trapped)
- Unrestricted sociosexual orientation (more willing to engage in casual sex or sex outside of a committed relationship)
- Low extraversion (less socially involved, reserved, lower energy)
The interesting thing is that people who possess these traits in higher degrees typically don’t fare well in long-term relationships anyways. And you can probably see why. They tend to “think and act in ways that undermine the functioning of their current relationships.”
The Commitment Factor
Commitment is recognized as one of the best indicators of relationship health and functionality. And as researchers predicted, among those who are poached, commitment is low at all points in the relationship. These individuals always seem to have their ear to the ground for a new partner, noticing and attending to others they find attractive, and generally keeping their options open. Again, not conducive to a healthy long-term relationship.
Where the Relationship is Headed
What about the dynamics of the relationship formed through mate poaching? Which is to say, Person A is dating Person B, until Person C comes along and whisks Person B away from Person A. Now we have a couple formed of Person B and Person C. What can we say about the health of this relationship? Can we predict the outcome?
Yes. And if you go to a bar and ask around, most could do the same. What’s going to happen? Did Persons B and C find perfect bliss because they finally ended up with the right mate? Is it too bad for Person A, but it couldn’t be helped? Nope. Person B and Person C are living on borrowed time. Because guess who’s coming along? Person D. You know the drill. Soon we have a couple formed of Person B and Person D. Is anyone surprised by this?
Probably not, but now we have the science to prove it. Mates that can be poached once (meaning by you), can be, and probably will be, poached again by someone else. They are inherently susceptible to poaching and less likely to be satisfied with their relationships at any point. The study results were consistent with the researchers’ hypothesis: mate poaching has long term disadvantages.
The essence of the research is this: relationships formed on the basis of poaching are statistically weaker that relationships formed between two unattached, uncommitted individuals. In the end, the research demonstrates that poached partners:
- Are less committed
- Are less satisfied
- Are less invested
- Perceive higher quality of alternatives
- Attend more to alternatives
- Commit more infidelity
The researchers say it best: “To summarize, the results of the present analysis suggest that individuals who were successfully mate poached by their current partners tend to be socially passive, not particularly nice to others, careless and irresponsible, and narcissistic. They also tend to desire and engage in sexual behavior outside of the confines of committed relationships.” You may be waving the victory flag when you entice partner X out of someone else’s bed and into yours, but you’re also one more link in the chain of fools. In the end, cheaters cheat. A poached partner, while appealing, is a person who can be poached—not just by you, away from you too.
Source: Foster, Joshua D., Jonason, Peter K., Shrira, Ilan, Campbell, W. Keith, Shiverdecker, Levi K., Varner, Sydneyjane C. (2014). What do you get when you make somebody else’s partner your own? An analysis of relationships formed via mate poaching. Journal of Research in Personality, (52), 78-90.