Anyone who’s ever been cheated on knows the destruction it can leave behind: it can damage your self-esteem, make you swear off future relationships and sometimes, leave you questioning what you did wrong.
But the research also highlights that our attribution of blame - whether we blame ourselves for a partner straying or blame the partner - impacts our behaviour.
Those who blamed themselves were found to be more likely to engage in “risky health behaviours”, such as drug and alcohol abuse or disordered eating.
Researchers from the University of Nevada surveyed more than 230 students who had been cheated on within the past three months, either by an ex or current partner.
The participants had an average relationship length of 1.76 years.
The team found that being cheated on was linked to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and said “people who experienced more emotional and psychological distress after being cheated on engaged in more risky behaviours”.
“They were more likely to eat less or not eat at all, use alcohol or marijuana more often, have sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or over-exercise,” study author M. Rosie Shrout told Psypost.
“Being cheated on seems to not only have mental health consequences, but also increases risky behaviours.”
The researchers also found that people who blamed themselves for their partner cheating - such as feeling like it was their fault or that they could have stopped it - were more likely to engage in risky behaviours.
They found that these effects were stronger for women than men.
Shrout added: “This gender difference is consistent with previous research showing that women experience more distress after being cheated on. We think this is because women typically place higher importance on the relationship as a source of self and identity. As a result, women who have been cheated on might be more likely to have poorer mental health and engage in unhealthy, risky behaviour because their self-perceptions have been damaged.”
The researchers noted that the majority of the study participants were young, with an average age of 20, so more research is needed to see if the findings are consistent with older people in relationships.
But one thing is clear from the study: we need to stop blaming ourselves when other people cheat. Cheating is down to the perpetrator and learning to recognise that could improve your physical and mental health.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org