Distance from a partner can put a strain on romantic relationships, especially when one is surrounded by attractive alternatives, as is often the case when moving away to college. Long distance relationships are often associated with increased stress, less relationship stability, and lower levels of relationship satisfaction. Distance may also be associated with cheating on one's romantic partner. The few studies that have examined cheating behavior in college students have found an increase in cheating over a very short, non-representative interval of time when partners were separated (e.g. spring break) but did not control for important variables such as alcohol use or relationship satisfaction. We were interested in determining if these effects could be replicated over a longer, more representative period of time (a full college semester). We examined whether distance predicted cheating among college students in committed relationships while accounting for relationship satisfaction and binge drinking, variables likely to play a role in cheating behavior. Using a large, aggregated sample (N=1,333) of college students in exclusive dating relationships, 10% percent of respondents reported physical cheating, 15% reported emotional cheating, and 6% reported both. Being 11-200 miles from a romantic partner was associated with a 31% increased likelihood of physical cheating compared to those in the same city as their partner. However, being 200+ miles from a romantic partner was associated with a slight reduction in the likelihood of physical cheating. There were no significant difference in the rates of cheating between men and women in our sample; however, these effects were moderated by gender such that distance was only related to an increased likelihood of physical cheating for women. For emotional cheating, distance was associated with an increased likelihood of cheating for both men and women. These results suggest that there is a distance danger zone for college students. Being in the same town and being very far away are associated with less likelihood of physical or emotional cheating than being in a middle zone in which your partner is around 100 miles away. Perhaps because those who have chosen to continue a relationship while living across the country are very committed to their partner, whereas living within driving distance but not the same city creates conditions that make cheating more likely.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





cheating, geographic distance, romantic relationships, relationship satisfaction



Included in

Psychology Commons