Infidelity and Its Associated Factors: A Systematic Review

J Sex Med. 2019 Aug;16(8):1155-1169. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.04.011. Epub 2019 Jun 10.


Background: Infidelity can be facilitated and/or inhibited as a result of interrelations among multilevel contexts. Despite the existence of numerous studies about infidelity, there is no developmental model that considers multilevel contexts of factors associated with infidelity.

Aim: To review published articles addressing factors associated with infidelity and to apply the ecological model to these factors.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was conducted using the PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and PsychoInfo. Literature search was restricted to articles published in English up to June 2018. All quantitative and full-text studies that addressed associated factors with infidelity were included. This study was conducted following PRISMA guidelines.

Main outcome measures: This article reports a review of the literature on the factors associated with infidelity based on the ecological model.

Results: We retrieved 5,159 titles, of which 82 were qualified after the qualitative synthesis. The Ecological Couples Systems Diagram (ECSD) is proposed as a developmental model similar to Bronfenbrenner's Bioecological Systems Model. There was an inconsistency between variables of microsystem and infidelity engagement. However, the results of some studies indicated the impact of demographic factors, personality traits, and sexual information on infidelity, considering partner characteristics. Variables belonging to a mesosystem had a more stable association with infidelity than those from other systems. In addition, the review reveals the complexity of infidelity, associated with following factors: 68.3% (n = 56) of the studies were based on microsystem variables, 48.8% (n = 40) used mesosystem variables, 19.5% (n = 16) used exosystem variables, 26.8% (n = 22) used macrosystem variables, 6.1% (n = 5) used chronosystem variables, and 50% (n = 41) included variables from 2 or more levels.

Clinical implications: The ECSD can be used not only for assessing couple compatibility in premarital counseling, but also for consulting couples who want to have a long-term romantic relationship. As a potential clinical application, therapists can use the ECSD to assess unfaithful clients and their partners, improving the quality of counseling.

Strengths & limitations: This study reveals different environmental layers of various variables related to infidelity. Determining the effect size of variables associated with infidelity was not possible due to the heterogeneity of infidelity assessment tools and test analysis.

Conclusion: Apparently, incompatibility of interpersonal characteristics is more likely associated with infidelity than incompatibility of intrapersonal characteristics. It is important to consider couple compatibility before starting an exclusive relationship, such as marriage, for individuals who intend to maintain a long-term exclusive romantic relationship. Haseli A, Shariati M, Nazari AM, et al. Infidelity and Its Associated Factors: A Systematic Review. J Sex Med 2019;16:1155-1169.

Keywords: Affair; Ecological Model; Extradyadic; Infidelity; Unfaithful.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*