Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science in Family Sciences (MSFS)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Family Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Jason D. Hans


Research on infidelity has suffered from inconsistency in how infidelity has been operationalized across studies. This study was designed to advance methodological considerations for defining infidelity and identifying offending spouses. A subjective definition of infidelity was obtained from each respondent via both closed- and open-ended items. The open-ended responses were applied to explore the definition of infidelity. Additionally, an indirect questioning method was adopted to identify offending spouses according to their own subjective definitions of cheating and test the effectiveness of this approach relative to direct questioning for identifying offending spouses. Furthermore, gender differences in acknowledging infidelity through both direct and indirect approaches in general as well as across the four self-defined categorical infidelity were examined. A community sample of 465 married or divorced individuals anonymously completed the survey via MTurk. Results showed two defining characteristics of infidelity that cut across modes of infidelity (sexual, emotional, computer-mediated, and solitary) were that infidelity occurs outside the relationship and without consent. The definition of infidelity of infidelity provided in response to an open-ended inquiry tended to be shorter among offending spouses—especially male offending spouses—than among non-offending spouses. More offending spouses were found via the indirect (42.9%) approach than the direct approach (12.7%), and more men than women acknowledged engaging in infidelity behaviors according to both the direct (16.6% vs. 9.1%) and indirect (48.2% vs. 38.0%) approaches. That said, gender-based statistical differences in propensity to commit self-defined infidelity were only found in sexual and computer-mediated forms of infidelity; propensity to commit self-defined emotional and solitary infidelity did not statistically differ between men and women; in all cases, however, gender differences were small. Results suggested that the indirect approach is better than direct questioning for identifying infidelity behaviors; the indirect approach elicited less social desirability bias. Implications for research and clinical practice are provided.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)