Attention to an attractive alternative and romantic relationship trajectories in adults
University of New Brunswick
High quality romantic relationships tend to be psychologically and physically beneficial to those involved. Although most couples in romantic relationships expect monogamy, infidelity is common and often linked to relationship discord and dissolution. A tendency of attending to attractive potential alternative partners has been linked to poorer relationship quality in one’s primary relationship and infidelity. However, it is unclear under which conditions reports of attraction to potential alternatives are associated with impaired relationship quality to one’s primary relationship as some individuals successfully maintain monogamy over time despite occasional exposure and attraction to alternative potential partners. The current research used a longitudinal design to help clarify how attraction to an alternative is linked to relationship quality and termination of a relationship. A secondary goal was to examine how occasions of attraction to a potential alternative are linked to infidelity. In the presence of an attractive alternative, intensity of attraction to and opportunity to connect with this alternative are contextual factors that enhance the ability of the Investment Model to predict relationship commitment and longevity and these were examined here. Participants were 735 adults (22-35) in romantic relationships of at least three months’ duration who reported an attraction toward a potential alternative. They were recruited online from crowdsourcing websites and social media to complete two surveys, four months apart. Path analyses indicated that greater subjective opportunity to connect with an alternative and greater attraction toward an alternative were linked to lower relationship quality in one's primary relationship, particularly for those who had a propensity toward noticing attractive alternatives. In addition, lower relationship quality was linked to relationship dissolution four months later and reported desire to engage in infidelity. Very few participants in the current study became romantically or sexually involved with the person that they indicated was their attractive alternative so the links between attraction intensity, subjective opportunity, relationship quality, and infidelity could not be examined in full. The findings of this research are discussed in terms of their implications for other researchers examining maintenance of intimate relationships, educators who teach about attraction processes, as well as counsellors supporting couples in distress.