You and your girlfriend are at a party. You’re both having a great time, chatting, laughing, dancing. Until you notice something. You realise here eyes are wandering across the room, and she’s checking out a guy from college. At least that’s what you think she’s doing. But when you confront her, she says she doesn’t even know who you’re talking about, which only makes you angrier. In the end, the two of you get into a fight and leave the party.
Flirting and fantasising
Is there a chance your girlfriend was telling the truth? Let’s think about it this way – could her wandering eye be a figment of your imagination? A group of researchers believe that this could very well be the case. People who check others out are more likely to suspect their partner of doing the same – whether or not it’s actually true!
To test out their theory, the researchers asked 100 heterosexual couples to answer a questionnaire about how attracted they were on that day to someone other than their partner. It was time to come clean: had they been checking out someone of the opposite sex? Fantasising about having a relationship or sex with them? Or even flirting with them?
Next, they had to say how often they thought their partners had been doing any of these things. The participants said it made them angry if they thought their partner was attracted to someone else other than them, and they would criticise their behaviour.
As bad as me?
Sure enough, people interested in romance or sex with someone other than their partner are more likely to suspect him or her of wanting the same, the study found. This was true even if the person’s partner wasn’t at all interested in cheating.
Let’s see how it works. According to researchers, we all tend to assume that our partners think and act like we do. This can have real consequences in a relationship. On days when a person projected their attraction to someone else onto their partner, they were more likely to be angry at him or her and act negatively towards them. This had nothing to do with whether their partner was actually into another guy or girl.
Why do people not feel good when they imagine their partners are attracted towards someone else? The answer is simple, say the researchers. When they place themselves in their partner’s shoes and imagine being attracted to someone, they can’t help but imagine how good they themselves felt checking someone out.
They may feel insecure and believe that their partner too is going to feel good for thinking about someone else, just like they do. But it could also be a question of guilt, the researchers point out.
If a person is regularly attracted to someone other than their partner, believing he or she is also into another person might make them feel less guilty or even be a way of justifying their feelings.
Reference: The wandering eye perceives more threats: Projection of attraction to alternative partners predicts anger and negative behavior in romantic relationships. Published October 10, 2017 in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
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