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Using Story Completion to Understand the Contextual Nuances of Imagined Infidelity

Victoria and Virginia, in collaboration with a student Kate Wooles, used SC to explore people’s understandings of same-sex infidelity. Little is known about this topic as infidelity research—including that using SC methods—focuses overwhelmingly on heterosexual relationships. We employed a comparative four-stem design that allowed us to explore differences and similarities between depictions of same-versus different-sex infidelity and, following Whitty (2005), between emotional and sexual infidelity (see design matrix)

(Fig. 13.1).

The A1 stem, same-sex emotional infidelity, read: Sarah wakes up early on Tuesday morning and follows the usual routine of getting out of bed while John,

Infidelity SCT design matrix

Fig. 13.1 Infidelity SCT design matrix

her husband of four years, remains sleeping. On her lunch break Sarah decided to try out a new cafe that a work colleague has recommended. As she walks towards the cafe, much to her surprise she notices John sitting at one of the tables outside with a man she has never seen before. As she gets closer she notices that John is holding hands with the man and he is smiling and gazing into the man’s eyes ...

In contrast, the B1 stem, same-sex sexual infidelity, read: Sarah wakes up early on Tuesday morning and follows her usual routine of getting ready for work while John, her husband of four years, remains sleeping. Later that day Sarah returns home early from work. As she enters the house, she notices John’s coat and work shoes in the hall way. Thinking he must have come home from work sick she walks upstairs to their bedroom. When she opens the door she is confronted with John in bed with another man ...

A convenience sample of57 women and men were each given one of the four stems to complete. A thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) of the story data identified revealing differences in the portrayal of same- and different- sex infidelity. John’s same-sex infidelity was typically explained by ‘unrealised homosexuality’; he was portrayed as essentially gay. Some participants framed John’s same-sex infidelity as (therefore) an understandable expression of his true self; others positioned this as a double betrayal, with same-sex infidelity effectively ‘even worse’ than different-sex infidelity. Heterosexual infidelity, in contrast, was primarily explained in terms of relational deficits, with these being Sarah’s ‘fault’. Different-sex sexual infidelity was depicted as involving casual sex; John’s same-sex infidelity was framed as involving a committed relationship, regardless of whether it related to an emotional or sexual infidelity. Monogamy was assumed: Sarah typically reacted to the discovery of infidelity with upset, sometimes aggression, and her discovery always resulted in the dissolution of the relationship. The separation was only amicable in a few same-sex scenarios—because infidelity was presented as an authentic expression of John’s true (gay) self. (Straight) people who are accepting of homosexuality are more likely to view it as something fixed and unchanging (an essential state rather than a chosen behaviour, Hegarty, 2002). John’s positioning in stories as essentially gay suggests this liberal account is currently the dominant one.

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