Behavior

Trade-up effect: How a sexy stranger can wreck your relationship

May 9, 2014 at 2:18 PM ET

Just because you’re coupled up doesn’t mean that you won’t still get butterflies when a tall, dark stranger asks for your phone number. But surprisingly, this kind of attention can change the way you feel about your current bond. When people in committed relationships believe attractive outsiders are interested in them, their relationship satisfaction and commitment actually decreases, according to a new study published in The Journal of Social Psychology.

Researchers recruited 81 participants averaging about 19-years-old from a New Zealand university. They were all either in a monogamous relationship, living with their significant other, or engaged. Each participant was asked to rate their current self-esteem, relationship satisfaction, and relationship commitment before participating in a video interview with three attractive strangers of the opposite sex. The participants thought they were being interviewed by developers for a new dating program that wanted the input of people already in relationships; but in reality, the other side of the "interview" was actually just a pre-recorded DVD.

Then the participants received feedback about how the interviewers viewed them as a potential date. The researchers manipulated this, giving half the participants positive feedback (yes, they would date them) or negative feedback (no, they wouldn't date them) from the interviewers. Then the participants filled out their self-esteem and relationship questionnaires again.

Here's what they found: The people who got glowing reviews from the interviewers (even though it was all fake) had an increase in self esteem, and a decrease in relationship satisfaction and commitment. Basically, they were feeling pretty good about themselves and it probably made them feel valuable—like they could trade up. On the other hand, the participants who were seen negatively by their interviewers had a decrease in self-esteem along with a boost in relationship satisfaction and commitment.

Obviously rejection leads to a bruised ego while compliments from an attractive stranger can give you a confidence boost. But what's really surprising is the effect this has on how you view your relationship. Now, this doesn't mean that every time a hot guy throws a wink your way you'll want to call off your wedding, but it's interesting to see that certain situations may make cheating a little more tempting.

The study proves that it's completely normal to get a little giddy in response to attention from an attractive stranger. That said, it also shows the importance of taking yourself out of a situation if you're feeling tempted. Sure, it feels great to be hit on by that Chris Evans-lookalike at the bar, but you shouldn't let it cloud your judgment if you're in an otherwise wonderful relationship. 

But hey, if you ever get the chance to chat up Channing Tatum and then immediately want to dump your boyfriend, at least you'll know why.

Obviously a little flirting isn't the only way to boost your self-esteem—and it shouldn't be.

More from Women's Health: 

5 Ways to Feel Freaking Amazing

3 Surprising Factors That Predict a Happy Love Life

The Weirdest Way to Meet the Love Of Your Life

The Best Ages to Move in Together, Get Married, and Have Babies


© 2013 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

TOP