A study, which was performed by Prague’s Charles University, found that sons of unfaithful men were more likely to cheat than men whose fathers were faithful. Genetics might play a role in this familial proclivity for infidelity, but it is also likely that witnessing such behavior can influence a son’s future relationship behavior.
From an early age, boys watch their fathers and try to mimic their behavior. On a conscious level, they might find themselves idolizing Dad’s favorite baseball team or adopting Dad’s political or religious beliefs. But, on a subconscious level, boys will also adopt Dad’s attitudes toward marriage, monogamy, and women.
If his father is respectful, kind, and affectionate to his mother, then the boy will likely grow up to exemplify the same mature and compassionate behavior in his own relationships. If his father has difficulty expressing emotions or opening up to his partner and his family, it’s likely the son will similarly struggle. And, if his father has a wandering eye and a seeming inability to stay faithful, this could influence the boy to undermine monogamy.
It seems that this influence is strongest in the father-son bond. Interestingly, the study found that while women with cheating fathers were also more likely to cheat than women who grew up with faithful parents, they were not affected to such a large degree as men. This is possibly because boys model their beliefs and behaviors after the men in their life, while women tend to model their beliefs and behaviors after the women in their life, such as their mothers or their grandmothers.
Yet this doesn’t mean that parental infidelity has no impact on a woman’s future relationships. If a young girl routinely sees her father cheating on her mother (or otherwise treating her disrespectfully or carelessly), she might grow up believing that women must take a submissive or silent role in their relationships. Children use their parents’ relationship as a model for when they later build relationships as adults, and this can either work to their benefit or their detriment.
For example, it is not uncommon for women who grew up in abusive homes to struggle with abuse in their own adult relationships, because from an early age, they learned that “love” and pain go hand-in-hand. Without a healthy relationship model, they don’t have the tools or the support they need to establish their own healthy relationships as adults, and this causes the cycle of abuse to continue.
The same seems to be true of infidelity as well. While we are all ultimately responsible for our own decisions, particularly when it comes to our marriage vows, the truth is that a childhood affected by infidelity can complicate a man’s future ability to love, trust, and commit to his partner.
Of course, with communication and a little bit of effort, every couple can safeguard their relationship from infidelity. However, studies such as these are a good reminder for parents everywhere: The best gift you can give your children is a happy marriage and a stable home, which is why working on your relationship (and your sex life) is actually one of the most selfless things you can do!