Once A Cheater, Always a Cheater?
If someone cheats once, are they sure to cheat again? Dr. Jess looks more deeply into this burning question.

Being in love can be simultaneously exhilarating, addictive and terrifying. This is because love exposes our most intense passions as well as our most intimate vulnerabilities. The fear of being betrayed, hurt or abandoned is a universal experience, and most of us will encounter the impacts of infidelity at some point in our lives, whether directly or indirectly. It follows that trust in intimate relationships is both essential and challenging, as we see the fallout of cheating all around us in the lives of far-off celebrities to our closest friends and family members alike.

But if someone cheats once, are they sure to cheat again? The answer may depend on why they cheated, how they dealt with it, happiness and communication within the relationship and their attachment styles...

Why We Cheat

People cheat for lots of different reasons, ranging from boredom and insecurity to lack of intimacy and narcissism. As a partner in a relationship, you can build a healthy bond, foster open communication, offer the best of yourself and respond to your partner’s needs; however, you cannot affair-proof a relationship. While one’s excuses for cheating won’t help mend a broken heart, one’s motivation for choosing to cheat may impact whether or not they will do so again.

For instance, if your lover chose to cheat because their sexual needs were not being met at home due to a lack of communication or intimacy, they can also choose to work on those issues and avoid cheating in the future. Similarly, if your lover cheated because they confused lust with love, neglected to set appropriate boundaries or were struggling with commitment issues which they have now resolved with professional support, recovery is possible.

We are defined by the sum of our actions, not by a brief snapshot of them. We all make mistakes and evolve, and cheating represents only one component of our rich personal history.

However, some people who cheat have little desire to change. Some actually get into relationships with the intention of cheating and others have affairs to seek revenge, hurt their partners or otherwise sabotage their relationships. Though everyone has the capacity to grow and change, these “cheater types” typically blame others for their actions and may be more likely to cheat again.

How They Deal With Cheating

There is no perfect formula for dealing with our mistakes, including cheating, but our emotional and behavioral reactions can indicate our likelihood to re-offend. Accepting wrongdoing and forsaking any rationalizations and excuses are effective first steps toward recovering and rebuilding. There are many understandable reasons why one may be motivated or tempted to cheat, but in the end, it is always a choice.

If your partner continues to blame you or their ex for their behavior, this is a sign that they have not fully accepted responsibility and may cheat again. Moreover, if they are willing to seek professional support to overcome and address the underlying causes of their cheating, this may suggest that they are less likely to cheat again.

Happiness and Communication

I do not subscribe to the universal deficit model of cheating, as all affairs are not the result of problems within the primary relationship. People with good relationships have affairs. And good people have affairs too! Accordingly, affairs can be both a cause and symptom of relationship problems. However, research confirms that relationship satisfaction is negatively correlated with the likelihood of both emotional and physical infidelity. Therefore, finding happiness through compromise, caring and open communication in your relationship after an affair can go a long way to rebuild trust and reduce the likelihood of infidelity.

Attachment Styles

There is no perfect formula to determine whether or not someone will cheat, but research suggests that people with certain attachment styles are more likely to do so. According to experts, those with avoidant attachment styles supposedly cheat to avoid intimacy and commitment. However, those who find themselves avoiding affection, open expression and intimacy are certainly not destined to cheat, as the behaviors related to our attachment styles are open to change.

Examining the root cause of commitment avoidance, reframing negative thoughts about others and learning to express feelings openly can help us learn to trust others and embrace commitment in new ways.

Cheating is a behavior, not a character trait, and most behaviors are overwhelmingly a matter of choice, not compulsion. Thus, the notion that cheating once will inevitably lead to cheating again is erroneous.

If you have experienced infidelity in your relationship and choose to work on mending your connection, it will take a good deal of time, effort and reassurance. It may even get worse before it gets better, but you can move forward and rebuild trust and intimacy if you are both committed to working at it. You have no obligation to stay with a cheater and some relationships are not worth saving, but whatever your decision, focus on learning to trust again so that you can embrace love and commitment.

Dr. Jess

"An award-winning speaker, Jess has worked with thousands of couples from all corners of the globe to transform their relationships via her wildly successful Marriage As A Business program. From Prague and Istanbul to Albuquerque and New York City, her relationship retreats receive rave reviews from some of the most powerful couples in the world who are drawn to her enthusiastic, practical and no-nonsense approach to happily ever after. Jess's doctoral research focused on sexual health and relationship education and she is passionate about accessible, classroom-based education. When she isn't globetrotting for speaking engagements, she volunteers with students, teachers and social service organizations to empower young people to embrace healthy, happy relationships. As a global ambassador for several brands, Jess contributes regularly to the biggest names in international media. You'll find her advice weekly in the likes of Women's Health, Men's Fitness, Cosmopolitan, SELF, Showtime and The Movie Network. Her insights into couple' issues reaches millions of homes across America as the host of the hit reality series Swing, which just capped its fifth season on PlayboyTV. Canadian-born and Chinese-Jamaican and Irish by descent, Dr. Jess loves ultimate frisbee, crab, airplane turbulence, cheese and red wine. Makes perfect sense, right?"
  • Anonymous
Nov 20, 2019
My husband and I were both unfaithful. Either of us knew about the other until years later. We only opened our marriage a few years ago, and I am 100% supportive of my husbands friendships/relationship outside our marriage, but he isn’t of mine. The best part of being open is that I can tell him, rather than hide it. But even so, it’s still tough for him. I wonder if he will ever truly come around.