Dating & Relationships

Why Stealing Someone Else’s Partner is a Terrible Way to Start a Relationship

April 21, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

Attempting to steal someone else’s spouse or lover–a phenomenon known scientifically as mate poaching–is a common theme in both TV shows and movies. It happens a lot in real life, too. For instance, surveys of North American adults have found that about half of the respondents report that they have been poached successfully from a previous relationship before [1]! So what ultimately comes of romances that begin with poaching? And is it possible to form a healthy, long-term relationship with someone you’ve lured away from another lover? Based on the research that’s out there, not so much.

According to a set of three studies published in the Journal of Research in Personality, poached partners tend to have more dysfunctional relationships and make less reliable mates [2]. In the first study, poached partners said they were less satisfied with, invested in, and committed to their relationships compared to their non-poached counterparts. Moreover, not only did poached partners think they had better alternatives to their current relationship, but they also spent more time thinking about those alternative partners. Over the nine weeks this study lasted, the differences between poached and non-poached partners in terms of how they felt about their relationships actually become even more pronounced.

The second study replicated most of these findings, while also revealing that poached partners tend to cheat more often, too. Why is that? It appeared to be because poached partners tended to have two specific personality traits: they tended to be more narcissistic (meaning they were pretty self-absorbed) and they had a more unrestricted sociosexual orientation (meaning they tend to have an easier time separating sex from emotion and are more comfortable with casual sex).

The third study found further support for these results, while also revealing that poached partners tend to score lower on the Big Five personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness. In other words, and not surprisingly, poached partners are people who have less care and concern for others and tend to more irresponsible.

Together, what the results of these studies tell us is that stealing someone away from their romantic partner doesn’t seem like the healthiest foundation for an LTR. Poached partners don’t seem to be quite as happy with or committed to their relationships. They don’t seem to feel many qualms about cheating again in the future either. So, while the prospect of stealing someone else’s mate might sound pretty exciting and sexy (or at least the media might make it look that way), the truth of the matter is that it’s not a good way to find a partner who’s likely to stick around.

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[1] Schmitt, D. P., & International Sexuality Description Project (2004). Patterns and universals of mate poaching across 53 nations: The effects of sex, culture, and personality on romantically attracting another person’s partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 560–584.

[2] Foster, J. D., Jonason, P. K., Shrira, I., Keith Campbell, W., Shiverdecker, L. K., & Varner, S. C. (2014). What do you get when you make somebody else’s partner your own? An analysis of relationships formed via mate poaching. Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 78-90.

Image Credit: Media LTD

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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