Divorce

New Study Reveals Why You Should Think Twice Before Stealing Someone's Partner

11/05/2014 01:33pm ET | Updated November 5, 2014

If you're a single adult in America and you're eyeing someone from across the room, there's about a 50/50 chance that person is also single. But do you even care? A new study suggests that, if you don't, maybe you should.

According to research published in the latest issue of the Journal of Research in Personality, individuals who've been poached from an existing relationship tended to be "socially passive, not particularly nice to others, careless and irresponsible and narcissistic." They also tended to perceive romantic alternatives to be of higher quality than their current partner and look outside of their relationships sexually.

In other words, if you steal someone's partner, you're more likely to subsequently have a dysfunctional relationship with that person.

"People who are poached, on average, were willing and desirous of sex outside committed relationships," Dr. Josh Foster, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Alabama and one of the authors of the study, told The Huffington Post. "They tended to be less committed to their future relationship; they tended to be less satisfied, less invested in the relationship. In general, based on the qualities of relationship function that we measured, people who were mate-poached generally fared somewhat worse than people who were not mate-poached by their current partners."

"People who are poached, on average, were willing and desirous of sex outside committed relationships.'"

Foster and his fellow researchers came up with a working definition of mate-poaching -- "when somebody who was in an exclusive relationship is lured away from that relationship to be with somebody else" -- before conducting two longitudinal studies and one cross-sectional study. In all three studies, surveys were completed by one partner in a relationship lasting from zero to 36 months.

The questionnaires measured whether or not the subject was poached by their current mate, their commitment to the relationship, relationship satisfaction, investment in the relationship, perceived quality of alternatives, attention to alternatives and infidelity. The first study included 84 participants; the second study included 138 participants; and the third used a cross-sectional sample of 219 participants.

In the last two studies, the researchers added in explanatory variables, like personality traits that could explain why someone would be more likely or more willing to be poached from their current mate.

Narcissism and sociosexual orientation -- a.ka. "desiring and engaging in sexual activity outside of the confines of committed relationships" -- were the most significant variables behind dysfunctional relationships resulting from mate-poaching. In layman's terms, that means partners who were poached tended to be narcissistic and lax about monogamous sex and are, therefore, more susceptible to being poached yet again by a mate outside of their current relationship.

"One of the things we see with narcissists is that, compared to other people, when times get tough in the relationship, they tend to bail out of them and look for something better," Foster said. "So certainly if someone exhibited this sort of trend in their lives, where whenever times got tough in the relationship, they started hooking up with somebody else, that would be clearly troubling."

"Compared to other people, when times get tough in the relationship, they tend to bail out of them and look for something better."

But Foster warned against making hasty judgements based solely on if someone's been mate-poached, especially since the act itself can be pretty nebulous. Foster himself couldn't say for certain whether or not he'd ever poached or been poached, since the definition can encompass a variety of relationship behaviors.

He said that someone might consider themselves "on a break" from a partner and therefore not think poaching was a cause of their ultimate breakup and subsequent relationship with a new partner, while someone else may interpret that exact scenario as a pretty straightforward mate-poaching incident.

Plus, Foster said that the trend he observed is more theoretical and shouldn't be taken too seriously on a personal level.

"I think that this paper can be taken as me suggesting that people who are mate-poached are, as a group, bad people and not good partners, and I really don't believe that," he said. "If all you told me about two people from the population is that one was mate-poached and one was not, and you said, 'Which one is more likely to commit infidelity?' I would wager on the mate-poached person. But it really would be a bad bet. It would be a little more than guessing, based on that alone."

He added, "People are much more complicated than one thing that they've done."

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