Our Fragile Relationships: Relationship Threat and Its Effect on the Allure of Alternative Mates

Gurit E. Birnbaum, Moran Mizrahi, Linda Kovler, Bar Shutzman, Adva Aloni-Soroker, Harry T. Reis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Long-term romantic commitments may offer many benefits. It is thus unsurprising that people employ strategies that help protect their relationships against the allure of alternative partners. The present research focused on the circumstances under which these strategies are less effective. Specifically, four studies examined the effect of internal relationship threat on expressions of desire for alternative mates. In Study 1, participants reported perceptions of relationship threat, their desire for their partner, and expressions of attraction to alternative mates. In Studies 2–4, participants underwent a threat manipulation and then encountered attractive strangers. Their reactions during these encounters (expressed interest, provision of help, and overt flirtation in Studies 2, 3, and 4, respectively) were recorded. Results showed that experiencing threat led to increased expressions of desire for alternatives. As indicated in Studies 1 and 2, decreased desire for current partners partially explained this effect, suggesting that desire functions as a gauge of romantic compatibility, ensuring that only valued relationships are maintained.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-713
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Attractive alternatives
  • Infidelity
  • Relationship threat
  • Romantic relationships
  • Sexual desire


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