True or False? Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater
We’ve all heard the phrase “Once a cheater, always a cheater.” We hear it so often many people take it as truth. And while cheating is never an excusable offense, this old adage is not necessarily true. While there are serial cheaters out there (aka people who have a consistent history of cheating and aren’t making the necessary changes to avoid cheating in the future), not everyone who cheats will cheat again in the future. Serial cheaters are often narcissists or people that are turned on by dishonesty. For people with these issues, cheating doesn’t ever seem like that big of a deal, no matter how much emotional harm they inflict on their partners, so they are unlikely to change their behavior. And while a lot of us might consider our exes to be narcissistic, narcissism is actually a diagnosable personality disorder and not common in the grand scheme of things...
Alternatively, serial cheaters have attachment issues that cause them to seek ways to break the rules in their relationships. People with attachment issues (which are often developed due to childhood traumas) may seek to establish safe relationships, then ‘rebel’ from these relationships in the same way a teenager would rebel against their parents. Rebellion in this case may involve cheating on a romantic partner. Again, while attachment issues may explain why a partner has cheated in the past, this is normally not the case. All this is to say that most people that cheat are not serial cheaters, meaning that they can probably be reformed through some hard work and introspection.
There are a lot of different factors that can drive someone to cheat in a relationship, whether it’s the circumstances of the relationship itself or other, external factors like stress, a temporary (or permanent) disbelief in monogamy, personal self esteem issues, etc. etc. Just because someone has cheated before, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a cheater for life. It is possible for a couple to work through their past (and even their current) relationship to overcome issues of infidelity. If you are dealing with someone who has cheated in the past, or a partner that has cheated over the course of your relationship, there are some things you should consider as you move forward.
Here is a relationship coach’s perspective on the phrase, “Once a cheater, always a cheater” - in addition to a few myth busting scenarios when it comes to cheating and how it’s possible for couple to work through their pasts:
- Humans makes mistakes
It’s always important to remember that humans make mistakes, and that includes your partner. There is no use in holding your partner to the standard of perfection, because you will always be let down. And while infidelity is far from perfection, you should not totally write off your partner because they have cheated in the past, or they cheated before in your relationship. A lot of the time, people cheat because of low self-esteem. They might feel as if they need attention from someone outside of the relationship to feel desirable or worthy. This could be because they are not getting enough attention from their partner in the relationship or it could be because they are struggling with confidence issues. It’s important to recognize that while the cheater is ultimately at fault, there are things that can drive someone to cheat. So while we are evaluating the mistakes that cheaters are making, it’s also important to consider the types of mistakes that lead people to cheat. If you are in a relationship, you should be sure to encourage your partner and communicate to them that they are good enough and deserving of your love. After all, you play a role in your partner’s security in the relationship. Helping to build up your partner’s self-esteem and self confidence can prevent them from acting on the need to turn outside of the relationship for validation. Creating security in the relationship has the same effect. And while it’s important to recognize the role you play in the situation, it’s also important not to bear all of the responsibility.
Sometimes building up your partner’s validation is not something that you can do on your own, and they will need to do some self improvement to make this happen. If that is the case, the ball is kind of out of your court. You can always nudge them in the right direction and be supportive of them if they start putting time and energy into their self improvement. Throughout your relationship, you should always encourage your partner to take time for self care and self improvement. This space is especially important when trying to deal with the aftermath of infidelity in your relationship.
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- Attitudes towards being in a relationship can change
Sometimes people are unfaithful because they have a relaxed attitude about the commitment level in the relationship. If someone is feeling lackluster about their relationship, they may be tempted to cheat because they are not that emotionally invested in the relationship. Some people lack the maturity to end a relationship, and will instead sabotage the relationship, forcing their partner to end things by making the relationship untenable through infidelity. If your partner has cheated in the past because they were in a relationship they just weren’t that into, it’s not necessarily a sign that they will cheat again. If your partner is more invested in this relationship than they have been in past relationships when they were unfaithful, then there is nothing to worry about, because your partner’s attitude about your relationship is different than in the past. This can hold true infidelity within your current relationship as well. Sometimes the saying, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone can also hold true. An unfaithful partner might come to their senses about how important the relationship is if they see it flash before their eyes. Sometimes it takes almost losing a partner to realize how important the relationship is to you. It is totally possible for someone’s attitude to change about a relationship WHILE they are in the relationship. If your partner’s commitment level changes and they are suddenly all in, it’s totally possible to move past a situation of infidelity. It’s important to recognize that infidelity can cause the person that was cheated on to pull away from the relationship and build up walls to try and protect themselves from another breach in security and trust. While it’s possible for one person to become more invested after infidelity, it’s also possible for the other party to become less invested. Gauging both parties' attitudes about the relationship after infidelity is super important so that you can understand if things are worth salvaging, or it is better to just move on from the situation entirely.
- You/your partner are willing to put in the work
If you experience infidelity in your relationship there are things you can do to recover the trust you lost. Infidelity does not have to be a deal-breaker if both you and your partner are willing to put in the work. A lot of people believe that infidelity automatically signals the end of a relationship, but if you are able to re-establish trust and address why the infidelity occurred in the first place, then it is possible for your relationship to recover. Bouncing back from infidelity can take a serious commitment on behalf of both people in the relationship. Working on your relationship always takes time and energy, so when you are working to bounce back from infidelity, be prepared to commit a significant amount of work towards the cause. The cheater will have to understand what, if anything, drove them to infidelity in the first place, and address that need/insecurity/lack of commitment in a meaningful way. This can often mean communicating their sexual and intimate needs to their partner to make sure that those needs are being met in the relationship. They will also need to actively work to gain back the trust of their partner. The partner who was cheated on will need to establish boundaries with their partner and outline what their partner should do to gain their trust back. Successfully working through infidelity will require patience and open communication. There is often a lot of secrecy wrapped up in infidelity, so re-establishing trust in the relationship will require a ton of open communication about your feelings, trust levels and belief in the relationship. Sometimes people think that they are able to work past infidelity, but in reality, are never able to get over the lapse in trust. Even if you and your partner both put in the necessary work, it comes down to a partner being able to forgive the infidelity, which is not always possible. There is no established timeline for how long it will take to build back trust in your relationship, or when it’s okay to give up because you have tried and failed to make amends. Recovering from infidelity (if you are able to) is really about believing in the process and being honest about where you stand with your partner.
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- Differing levels of infidelity
When trying to work past infidelity in a relationship, it’s important to consider that not all infidelity is the same. Up until this point, we have mostly been talking about physical/sexual infidelity, which is what normally comes to mind when we talk about cheating. But it’s important to recognize that emotional infidelity exists and is often just as damaging to a relationship at sexual infidelity. Emotional infidelity occurs when a partner invests more emotional energy in someone (often a close friend) that is not in the relationship than they do in their partner. Emotional infidelity can often lead to sexual infidelity, but even if it does not, it breaks the trust in a relationship in a similar way as physically cheating on someone. People often find that recovering from emotional infidelity is more difficult than recovering from physical infidelity, because the connection is stronger and more long term. Whether you’re dealing with emotional or physical infidelity, the length and frequency of the unfaithfulness is also something to take into consideration when you are trying to recover a relationship. Months or years of infidelity is a lot different than a one-time lapse. It is easier to move past a single incidence of infidelity than it is to grapple with months or years of cheating and lies. Again, every relationship is different, and some relationships are able to recover from long term infidelity while others are not.
- Reason for cheating goes away
We want to start off here by again reiterating that cheating is never the answer in the relationship. But, like we mentioned above, there are some things that may cause insecure or even average people to cheat in a relationship. If someone is not getting the sexual desires met in a marriage or a relationship, they might turn outside of the marriage. This cheater might justify this behavior by saying something along the lines of “I’m cheating to stay in my marriage”, believing that they need a sexual outlet in order to be there for their partner in other ways. If you and your partner are not having frequent sex, it is important to check in with them about the sexual wants and needs. You may have a lower sex drive and feel totally fulfilled with the amount of sex (or lack thereof) that you are having, but that might not be the case for your partner. Talking openly about your sexual needs will help you work to address those needs in the confines of your relationship.Addressing your sexual needs in a relationship will often take away the temptation of looking outside of the relationship. If you both decide that you need to open up the relationship so that your sexual needs can be totally fulfilled, then that is also a conversation worth having. But opening up a relationship is ultimately something that both partners need to consensually agree to, otherwise, it’s just infidelity.
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