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"Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater" — Is It Really True?
Relationship Advice

"Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater" — Is It Really True?

Can cheaters change their ways and how do couples move forward? What are signs your partner is cheating again and how do you confront them?

Together Team
April 15, 2022

The phrase ‘once a cheater, always a cheater’ implies that people who are unfaithful once will continue to be unfaithful in the future. 

We tend to think infidelity is something that happens in relationships that are already struggling, but in reality, it can also strike in seemingly satisfying partnerships. Also, cheating happens much more often than you think. The Institute for Family Studies found that on average, 20% of men (and 13% of women) will cheat on their partners at some stage, and research suggests that women's infidelity rates are catching up to men's.

So, why would someone cheat?  

One of the most common assumptions made about cheaters are that they feel like their sexual desires are not being met and they go seeking fulfillment elsewhere. They could have a high sexual appetite or even be a narcissist

Lesser explored reasons include seeking release from life stresses (such as work) or their attachment style, which was formed in childhood. They could even get hooked on the adrenaline rush and high they feel from getting away with their secretive behaviors.

A distinction needs to be drawn between those who cheat because of character traits and those who feel pressure from external factors. 

Yes, some people are more predisposed to cheating than others, but a combination of circumstances, personal and relational factors can cause someone to cheat. Not that we’re trying to minimize the cheater’s behavior. Ultimately, they made a choice.

Is "once a cheater, always a cheater" true?

A 2017 survey asked 484 unmarried adults about their relationship history, going back five years. Almost 45% of them reported cheating in their previous relationship and 44% in their current relationship. In addition, almost 1/3 said that they had known that their partner had been unfaithful in the past, although repeated infidelity is certainly not guaranteed.

Infidelity is a complex topic. Some people who cheat may commit to never doing it again while others continually do it. We'll explore this in more detail throughout the next sections.

Signs that your partner may cheat again

If you have been cheated on previously, you are understandably more vigilant. Without asking your partner directly about it, keep in mind that there’s a possibility you may just be feeling paranoid. Here is a list of potential red flags that may indicate your partner is likely to cheat again, or perhaps already is:

  • They have a history of bouncing from one relationship to another
  • Avoiding talking/answering questions
  • Hesitation or avoiding reassuring you of their “good” behavior
  • They tend to think that rules don’t apply to them
  • Being unwilling or losing interest in working at your relationship
  • Continuing to guard their use (or "right" to use) technology
  • A new hobby that they’re vague about
  • They are dishonest about other areas of their life
  • Blaming everything and everyone else for their unhappiness
  • Apathy or no consideration of how you’re dealing with their unfaithfulness
  • Less sex or new sexual practices
  • Ignoring boundaries you made after they last cheated
  • Overcompensating/lavishing you with unusual levels of attention

How to confront a cheater

If your partner has cheated again, keep in mind that usually, a cheater will deny their behavior unless they’re confronted with explicit evidence. You need to voice your suspicions as calmly and firmly as possible and allow your partner to respond. 

Before confronting them, consider your response to the variety of possible reactions they may have. If they have cheated before, is now the time to lay down ultimatums? Are you prepared to go your separate ways or are you willing to try again?

Establishing how you feel before you confront them, and before you are influenced by them and their actions, is important so you know what outcomes are best for you.

Without absolute proof, it may be hard to get beyond the denial and avoidance, and could push the cheater deeper into their dishonesty. Therefore, it may be necessary to seek outside help, such as a relationship counselor, to act as an objective intermediary to help you understand the situation.

If your partner admits to cheating, here are questions to ask to understand their motives and determine whether or not you want to stay in the relationship.

Whether you decide to tackle it on your own or seek help, it will undoubtedly bring up a heap of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Be sure that your own mental and physical health is taken care of through sleep, hydration, diet, exercise, and emotional support.

Can cheaters change their ways?

The answer mainly depends on whether the cheater will take responsibility and reflect on their behavior. As we have explored, there are many reasons someone cheats and some situations may leave them feeling like they never really had a choice at all. If you and your partner can identify the reasons why they cheated and take steps to address this issue, a cheater certainly can change their ways.

It may be easy to assume that cheaters think highly of themselves. In reality, people often cheat because they have low self-esteem and are seeking validation. 

This is why communication is key. If they could communicate their need for attention to their partner, and their partner is willing to communicate that they are valuable and deserve their love, then the trigger to cheat is removed.

This is just one example of how a cheater may not always be a cheater. They can break the cycle if they are willing to make an honest and thorough evaluation of their circumstances.

How to move past cheating

It is important to establish exactly how invested each party is in salvaging the relationship and what their motivations are. It’s possible that when the cheater is confronted with what they stand to lose, they may have a change of heart about their primary relationship. 

It is also common for the cheated partner to pull away from the relationship after infidelity. Moving past cheating is possible, but only if both parties are prepared to work at it. Cheaters can mend their ways and be faithful in the future, but keep an eye out for the potential signs that your partner may be cheating, as mentioned earlier.

Honesty is paramount to moving forward. There’s a saying that “secrets keep us sick”, and infidelity thrives with secrecy.

Where there was once trust, there may now be walls built up, designed to protect from more heartache. Re-establishing this trust will take time and a willingness to state needs, establish boundaries, and figure out exactly what each person requires to feel like they are secure again.

Finally, the ability to move past infidelity relies on the partner’s capacity to forgive. Indeed, people who have been cheated on in previous relationships are 4x more likely to be uncertain about their current partners’ fidelity. 

Sometimes it simply is not possible, but without forgiveness, the relationship has a slim chance of regaining a platform of mutual trust and respect.

The answer to whether "once a cheater, always a cheater" is true...is complex. A person’s ability to remain faithful in the future and repair their primary relationship depends on a variety of factors. The cheaters’ motivations and circumstances that led to their behavior influence these, and whether both sides of the couple will work hard to save the relationship.

Together Team

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