Yasmine Ross
Written & Posted by Yasmine RossRelationship Coach, Writer

Cracking the Code: Understanding Mate Retention Behaviours

01 Feb, 2023
Featured for Cracking the Code: Understanding Mate Retention Behaviours

I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time or two where we’ve felt the instinctual need to place our arm over our partner, to greet them with a kiss in front of a group of people, or to even sit closer to our partner, these behaviors are known as mate retention behaviors. In other words, a way to “mark one’s territory” and reduce the chance of infidelity or a breakup. When feelings of jealousy or insecurity arise, or if we perceive someone as a threat to our relationship, we’re more inclined to display a range of behaviors in order to keep our partner’s attention, interest, and love.

From an evolutionary and monogamous standpoint, we as humans naturally get protective over our partners and therefore may behave and seek strategies to ensure that our partners won’t leave us. According to Arash Emamzadeh from Psychology Today, there are two types of tactics when it comes to mate retention strategies: benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting.

Benefit- provisioning are behaviors that are often positive and help emphasize the good aspects of the relationship, such as showing affection or providing various types of support, in hopes that our partner will recognize how great the relationship is and therefore will not be tempted to look elsewhere. “Benefit-Provisioning behaviors reduce the risk of partner infidelity by increasing a partner’s relationship satisfaction” (Y. Sela, T. Shackleford, M. Pham, V. Hill). The cost of losing the benefits in a relationship becomes greater than any threat or person outside the relationship. These behaviors are low-risk and can be healthy for the maintenance of the relationship. On the other side of the spectrum we have cost-inflicting behavior, which are often high-risk, making it costly for the partner to leave the relationship due to deception, intimidation, threats, and other negative behaviors. “Cost-Inflicting behaviors reduce the risk of partner infidelity by lowering a partner’s self-esteem, causing the partner to feel unworthy of the current relationship or any other potential relationship” (Y. Sela, T. Shackleford, M. Pham, V. Hill). To get a better sense of these behaviors, below consists of all the categories for benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting tactics and examples. Provided by Evolutionary Psychology Volume 12, article “Husband’s Esteem Predicts His Mate Retention Tactics”.

Every relationship is unique and complex and therefore may display a bit of both benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting behaviors. As we enter into relationships it’s important to become aware of which method we tend to fall into, therefore a study by Lopes and Shackelford identified three clusters of mate retention strategies: disengaged, benevolent, and exhaustive.

The disengaged mate-retention cluster involved couples that rarely displayed neither benefit-provisioning or cost-inflicting behaviors because they don’t experience a ton of threats to their relationship and believe their partners are less likely to be unfaithful. This is common amongst long-term committed couples, like marriages, where there is a strong sense of trust and safety within the relationship. However, people who feel emotionally detached may also fall into this cluster as there is no strong emotional need to retain their partners.

The benevolent mate-retention cluster involved couples that regularly use only benefit-provisioning tactics to secure their partners. These couples tend to have high levels of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction, they value the relationship and do not fear infidelity.

The exhaustive mate-retention cluster involved couples who use both benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting behaviors. When the risk of infidelity or the cost of losing the relationship seemed high, they may have leaned towards cost-inflicting behaviors out of insecurity and deep fear of losing the relationship. People with children were also seen to be more inclined to fall into this cluster, as having children increased the need for having a secure partner.

When we look back at our relationships or bring awareness to our current partnership, we may recognize that we have subconsciously participated in such tactics. While there are many factors that cause couples to perform mate-retention behaviors, it’s interesting to bring awareness to the different types and clusters and how that may impact our relationship dynamics. Now we know why we decided to put in a little more effort into how we dress, or why we bought that expensive gift for our partner. Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all participated in some form of mate-retention behaviors.

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