Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

As a counselor I have seen my fair share of marital infidelity. Unfortunately few cheaters I have dealt with actually come clean without being caught. Most feel deep remorse, after they are found out. They are prone to weep and plead and promise the world, but can you ever trust them again? Do you even want to?

This week Americans were surprised to learn that the director of the CIA in the United States resigned after confessing to having an affair. I found it ironic that the head of the most secret organization in the country didn’t see that coming. That is often the way of it, unfortunately. Few of us set out to ruin our lives or our relationships. Fewer still realize the cost. As a person who has felt the sting of infidelity firsthand I know how painful and horrific it can be to find out that the person you have given your heart and body to has thrown your trust and future away.

I recently came across this article in Psychology Today which I found helpful and informative:

So you’ve been cheated on. It was devastating–like being kicked in the gut and thrown into the gutter. You couldn’t eat or function at work. Or maybe you were up all night watching old movies, crying and eating pints of Ben & Jerry’s. The affair creates such heartache and pain that you do not want to be in a relationship again. Definitely never again.

The questions loom large. Is the cheater going to cheat again? Should you trust again or not? Is it true, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”? You may feel torn, like you want to take your cheating partner back but feel like it is a point of pride not to. You think, maybe you should just dive into that online dating pool, start looking for some great profiles and forget all about it. Or maybe not.

Well, I have some critical relationship advice for you: Research studies show that even among married couples, cheating is relatively common: about 22% of men and 13% of women cheat. According to recent studies, even spouses who describe themselves as “happy” with their marriage have affairs.

But the good news is this: Many people who are in committed relationships that have decent chemistry and benefits for both partners can actually work through the crisis of affairs. Not only that, their relationship can become more intimate and they can put an end to cheating once and for all. This means that, “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is just not true. There are people who learn and grow from the painful emotional hurricane and the loss of closeness in the relationship that are the aftermaths of cheating.

Of course there are players or sex addicts that will cheat and cheat and cheat again. These are the ones your truly have to watch out for. How do you tell if you are dealing with a chronic cheater? Here are five signs of relationship advice that indicate your cheater is not a chronic case and that the couple still has hope:
1. Your partner is truly remorseful and regrets having cheated. Look for heartfelt apologies that ring true when you hear them.
2. Your partner cuts off contact with his or her lover.
3. The cheater shows a renewed appreciation and devotion towards you.
4. You wind up having deep, open and honest conversations with each other about your relationship, what was missing in it and where you’d like to take it in the future.
5. Your partner wants to enter psychotherapy or counseling either individually or with you to understand his/her own dynamics and to make your relationship better and more intimate.

If the cheater shows these signs and the relationship is good for you in many ways, consider taking your partner back. One caveat: If your partner continues the affair or starts a new one, in spite of showing the above signs, you may be dealing with a player or a sex addict.
And just how do you know if the cheating is going on again? Here are some common signs:

• he/she’s working late a lot
• he/she’s’s suddenly taking trips you can’t go on
• he/she’s got new hobbies that don’t include you
• mysterious phone calls with hang-ups
• credit card bills for unexplained hotel stays or gift-type items
• less sex
• he/she’s more distant, angry or picky

If you find out your partner is cheating again, it’s time to protect yourself from any further heartbreak by breaking up with this person. There are wonderful new matches waiting to date right there on your computer screen!
In sum, if your partner strays, it doesn’t absolutely mean he or she will do it again. Once a cheater, always a cheater isn’t necessarily true. Forgiveness and a new coming together are possible. If you have been betrayed but want to see if it can work, just stay heads up for a while and see which way the train is heading!

Diana Kirschner, Ph.D. in Finding True Love

30 thoughts on “Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

  1. I get a kick out of psychologists, everything is a literal myth that has to be debunked. Once a cheater always a cheater doesn’t mean the cheater is going to run out and have an affair tomorrow just because they were forgiven, and there is some evidence to suggest many who commit adultery don’t do so a second time. What it does mean is these people have been exposed for having a horrible set of character defects which allow them to murder love, find easy answers, repel decency, and ignore their responsibilities. When someone cheats we change our perception of them forever. If they take so little care in their daily lives to be committed, to be honest, to embrace deceit with abandon, then they are likely to apply this mentality to other things they do as well. How many cheaters, once discovered, hang onto jobs long term, build long term relationships easily, create a dynamic life centered on ethics and commitment? These are horribly broken people, and it’s shocking to spouses, friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances, because these broken people were so effective at self deception and deceiving others that people bought off on what they perceived, and not the reality. Once that deficiency is revealed, people start to wake up to the true nature of the person and realize the massive amounts of self deception have impacted everything in their lives, including their spirituality, their work ethic, even their politics. Suddenly, non-judgmental, relativistic, and soft sell religions are the answer, why??? Because the cheater doesn’t want what they’ve earned…like judgment? The awakening of their faults to the world? Or the scorn of people who now realize they propped up a fake? Why do you think so many people move after an affair?? To escape the now pervasive and overwhelming perception that everyone has of them, now that their secret is in the open.
    Once a cheater always a cheater means the world’s perception of you has changed and will not change just because you want it to. You steal and do time, you’ve paid the price, right? But it’s not going to stop someone from making you the first suspect when their wallet disappears. Once a cheater, always a cheater means you can spend the rest of your life being a good and faithful person, and no one will ever fully believe you are capable of it…and guess what? You asked for that judgment! No one likes or trusts a cheater, once they know. Not even their spouse. Which is why it might be fun to sell the “marriage can be better than ever” crap, but decades later, spouses won’t ever truly trust their cheater partner again, and until there is a long term study to prove that reconciled post affair marriages last longer BECAUSE of the infidelity, I simply won’t believe it, because it’s anecdotal psycho pap.
    The other convenient truth left out in all these articles, which I’ve seen first hand in many of the couples I’ve talked to, is the infidelity, not the mutual love and admiration, trust, belief, or even partnership, becomes the centerpiece to the marriage. Is that anecdotal? Sure, and I’d like to see a long range study on that as well. 4 couples I’ve spoken to in the last 14 months, where I knew about the infidelity, and all of them tell me the same thing, their marriage, what’s left of it, is built on the infidelity. Not love. The betrayed take literally years to overcome the pain, and if they stick with their spouse the infidelity is the defining moment of their marriage forever. I’m a huge proponent of divorce after infidelity. It appears almost impossible for betrayed spouses to ever truly get past what has happened. If it’s not resentment they carry forever against their wayward spouse, then it’s lack of trust, belief, love, in some cases, the betrayed go to the same well, and have revenge affairs, inflicting more damage to the relationship. The cheaters rarely commit to the hard work not for weeks and months, but for years, to not only fix their marriage but honestly work through their own disturbed behavior issues. The damage becomes even more glaring when the level of lying, the lack of engagement post affair (due to fog), and refusal to do uncomfortable things to fix the relationship further hinder the progress couples can make. The obstacles are almost too many to count. The wayward thinks the affair ending is the end of the hurt and doesn’t freely give the details the betrayed so deeply need. The betrayed look for lies in everything and usually find it.
    When it becomes clear to both parties that cheating is a form of severe emotional abuse by the wayward spouse, the anger, regret, hurt, and so forth almost invariably eat away at any real progress both parties make. Cruelty from the wayward is in every act, every word, every breath. They become monsters in the eyes of the betrayed. Better to spend that time as a betrayed spouse healing, getting better, and finding someone who has values and ethics, and let the wayward spouse do what they so desperately want to do, which is wallow in their own filth. So once a cheater, always a cheater? I say yes. That’s what they want, then that’s what they become.

    1. I want to thank you for taking the time to write such a great post
      I have been cheated on by my two exes the first one has learned and most likely would not do it again. I just could not forgive her at the time or forget the betrayal my last wife and all her female friends from Ukraine and Russia that is a different story. They seem to see nothing wrong with cheating and lying. My ex was on 4 dating sites and listed herself on face book as single all while we were married. She went out with at least 19 men and slept with over half of them. She even had her son lie and go on dates to cover up her cheating she was looking for a richer and maybe better person then myself. I made the mistake of taking her back after she moved out with another man (this was when I uncovered the cheating.) I talked to this man and he thought I was this horrible person and that the wife and I were separated. I informed him the truth about her lying and 3 weeks later he threw her and her son out of his apartment. He also told her if he was in Ukraine with her he would have killed her for her lying and cheating. I took her back because I loved her and her son. What a mistake I made. We went to counseling (never make a person go to counseling. They have to want to go.) While trying to put the piece back together and trying to give her a chance it became apparent she was a lost cause. To this day she says there is something wrong with my thinking and I am the only one that thinks this way. She let my daughter that was 15 at the time be punished by me. I thought my daughter was trying to ruin our marriage when she told me dad Alina is cheating on you. My Ex let my daughter get in trouble and be punished for her cheating and that I can never forgive her for. Anyone that would let another be punished and not care for my child is worthless in my eyes. Any man or women that teaches their children to lie and cover up cheating for them are sick people and worthless to society. Her friend also was cheating on her husband and these two women both went to the mountains (Big Bear ) with their children in to cover that they had there lovers. This was to not let either one of us suspect their cheating. To me these are worthless and selfish sick women. And to hear the world no one was hurt by my cheating has made me a person that is having trouble trusting Women. I would suggest to divorce anyone that cheats unless they can own up to their deeds and show true remorse. By the way My ex is now renting a room in a double wide trailer that her and her 15 year old son share. She has not found her rich husband yet. This is the same person that told her son don’t worry lie to your step dad and hide my gifts from my dates and I will find a richer husband. He was the one that turned her in to my daughter he is a good child overall. Sad thing she will not let him see us because I divorced her and she did not get a penny from me in the divorce. This act against my children and her son make me hate her and her friends. I am working on forgiving it is a tough road. by the way this has hurt women I have dated as there are some really good ones out there. it is just I can not show them or say the words Love and that is sad. so my exes cheating does hurt me and others even after the cheating is over and in the end I believe it will turn her son in to a cheater as we are the molders of our children’s minds, ethics and morals

      Thanks again Peter Z

  2. I see these other blogs & forums where these woman have had 2, 3, 4 or more DDays & have chosen to stay & I just shake my head, like WTF are you doing? Are you mental? My sister’s husband cheated on her several times & after the 2nd time of forgiveness it was hard to support her. How do you respect someone who doesn’t respect themselves? And who am I to judge right? Well it has happened to me, that is why I judge. I’m a 3 strikes your out kind of person. My ex cheated on me twice that I knew of & when I suspected a 3rd time, I didn’t even stick around to find out, I bolted & it was the best decision of my life. I don’t know why so many women focus on the OW when you can use the OW as a great tool. A tool to get information out of a as well as a key to unlocking the mysteries of what a piece of crap your husband is or can potentially be. I thanked the OW’s in my sitch. They saved me thousands of dollars in what I would’ve spent in private investigator and decoy fees. I eventually was fortunate enough to see the bastard for who he is & got out. Ten years later he is now remarried with a new child. (Not even to any of the OW’s) A totally new clueless female…that poor girl. My DDay are definitely a celebration day. A “thank your husband’s mistress” day!

  3. Hi Dr. Williams , I have been in a relationship with someone who tells me he use to cheat on his ex-lover because he knew his ex-lover was cheating on him . He told me that he use to do it often because he knew the same was happening with his partner, but now that he is in a relationship with me he told me he would never do this to me.
    I am very confused without knowing if I should believe him or not, is he more likely to cheat on me because this was a pattern in several relationships he had?

  4. Hi all, well I believe that the saying once a cheater, always a cheater is true. There were so many red flags in my relationship that the man I was with was cheating on me. The thing was whenever I asked him why he was acting distant or why he needed space for no reason, I even asked him why he was hanging out with his friend and coworker, he would deny it. In fact he would call me a name, tell me that he needs someone who is able to trust him and that I was paranoid. One girl came forward and told me she was with him, when I asked him, he told me that he didn’t know her and that I was paranoid. Then his mother talked to me and told me to trust him and his new friendship with his coworker. The holidays came and he told me needed to rest and we saw each other after Christmas. He went on and on about how the new year would bring us closer. I believed him went on with my week and then his sister texted me telling me that my former boyfriend was now in a relationship with his “coworker”. I called him up and he told me he was so happy to hear from me and we talked for half an hour, I asked him once again about her and he shut down. Told me to leave him alone. Long story short he had been secretly dating her for 7 months while I was with him. He had told both of us that he wanted to marry us. Last I spoke to him he told me he hated me and never wanted to hear from me. Ouch. Last I heard, they worked things out and are together. Which hurts a lot but I am so much better without him.

  5. I do find it funny strange that a cheater would be so surprised after finally getting caught. My hubbie lied and lied and lied over and over until I had proof and he couldn’t deny it anymore. I had his voice recorded talking to her, yes you can outsmart them during cheating because they aren’t thinking clearly. It doesn’t make it any less painful to find out the truth. It is devastating. I still to this day get compliments by men quite often, and can’t figure out why he cheated on me! It was a case of the grass is always greener over there, but if you aren’t living with the person how do you know what they are really like. Your fairytale bubble will burst, because living with someone is way different than sneaking around in infatuation! I am trying to recover my self esteem from this, and I tell myself it was his weakness, and bad decision and had nothing to do with me….

  6. I agree with your article, in my case my husband cheated while I was pregnant, he left, came back, I forgave him, and he continued his affair during my second pregnancy,when I discovered this, I packed my bags and left him, one chance is enough for a person to realise they made a mistake, but the second time round its no mistake. Its your choice ti carry on living with a cheater or leave. I left, and was the best thing I did for myself and my kids.

  7. Listen carefully, children. There is a good reason why you are forewarned not to trust a cheater. There are so many old sayings (leopards, zebras) and others that are very wise. It’s black or white. That means either you are a cheater, or you aren’t. You can’t really be both. To me the expression “Once a cheater always a cheater”, means you can rely on them as much as you could a broken clock. Too risky.

    1. I am inclined to agree with your statement. My wife seems to have a slight problem with fidelity and ultimately blames me for her actions because I either wasn’t “listening” or I wasn’t “there” which I now know is crap. You do not serial cheat, compromise your families financial resources just because your husband wasn’t “listneing”. I reject that notion. It is plain immaturity and wanting your cake and eat it too. I was there and did ask if everything was alright but it was easier for her to lie and say everything was fine as to use my “not listening” as an excuse for her behavior. I see it now plainly though for the longest time I allowed her to make it seem as if it was all my fault. I was once a gentleman and a good husband but now I have to treat her like a pimp does a prostitute in order to get her to straighten up and do the right thing. I don’t want to be this kind of husband because I want a woman, a wife, a partner that can be trusted and helpfull. I do not need another child to look after but that’s what I have now. Cheaters are immature and narcissitic by nature and have no concept of anything but their own desires. They live only in the moment with no thought of consequences to their families. They must be treated with a firm hand if you are to work it out no matter what the psycho bable tells you about communication. However, I am no longer willing to do so. I am filing for divorce after the New Year so the kids can at least have a good Christmas vacation before it all goes to shit. I hate her more because of what she has done to our kids and involved them in her lies and cover ups. Never trust a damn cheater ever. They will do it again trust me. Especially a woman who fancies herself as one of the “real housewhores of Orange County”.

      1. Jeff. Nothing justifies adultery. You may have been emotionally unavailable, and that is hard to deal with (you may not have been, how would I know), but there are tons of healthy options besides sleeping around.
        I wouldn’t carry that guilt. Good on you.

  8. I’ve been there. Lived it. Grew strong and moved on!
    If I knew then, what I know now, it would have made the whole ordeal a little easier.
    You are spot on with your advice!!!
    Thanks for sharing. ~ Sarah

  9. I think that a cheater has a higher capacity to be dishonest and cheat again, because they have already proven that in order to deal with a relationship problem they will look elsewhere before either working in the problem or without addressing the problem and attempting to fix it. I think these people have a fear of being alone, and don’t really care that much about the people they are with if they are willing to violate such an intimate trust. They are in relationships for selfish and self-serving reasons and don’t really have a bond or attachment to the person they are with, which is why they can so easily cheat and move on to their next victim. If they were not selfish, they would care enough to realize how cheating would hurt and affect their partner and either work to solve the problems, or simply break up and then move on.

    As for the people who enter into relationships with these cheaters, I feel sorry for them. How do they know they won’t be cheated on? Why do they feel such low self-worth that they are satisfied with being the “other person.” Most of them do not end up being the person the cheater stays with. Many serve as a means to exit the cheater’s current relationship and then when that is accomplished, the cheater usually moves on to a new relationship.

    I’m sure it’s entirely possible for a cheater to be faithful at some point in time… but chances are that if they feel that cheating is an acceptable means to an end, all it will take is a problem in whatever relationship they are in for those desires to flare up again.

  10. I don’t necessarily think that a person who has cheated in past relationships always has the “cheater personality”. I’ve cheated in all of my relationships prior to my marriage. I know why. Those men were not fulfilling my needs in some way. I’ve thought at great length as to where the fault lies, and I realized that it doesn’t really matter. The point is that they weren’t working.

    My marriage is very different from all of those relationships. My husband is very sensitive to my needs, even if I don’t always think so. The only time he fails to fulfill a need is when that need just can’t be fulfilled by anything, really. And that’s probably due in part to my disorder. However, it is never enough to make me want to cheat. I couldn’t imagine doing that to him. Even more importantly, I couldn’t imagine wanting or needing any other man in my life. (He is more than enough! Ha!)

    So, I would say, yes, once a cheater – in that relationship. Because, I’ve been a serial cheater to those that weren’t fulfilling my needs. And the dysfunction of those relationships was so systemic that it wouldn’t have mattered if we actively tried to fix it. The point is, it would have kept happening. Things were the way they were and we can’t always change who we are and how we behave.

  11. I’ve often thought about that question … and after reading your post I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter to me if he will do it again. What matters is my perception and my attitude towards him … I’ve got a bit of a sadistic side (I think) and I would be too afraid that if I took a cheater back I might think I’ve forgiven him but there will be resentment there and that resentment will eventually bear it’s ugly head in the relationship. Perhaps counseling would do, but honestly it would only work if I wanted to fix the problem. Oh my, I certainly have issues, but my biggest issue is that I would never want to hurt someone as a result of my own resentment … especially myself. My MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP IS THE ONE I HAVE WITH ME!!!!!!

    I might post lots of whacky hypothetical revenge posts on schlongs in my blog, but I do still keep in touch with some of my exes and I think it’s because I let go of the relationship before it got too bad. So in a nut shell what would matter to me is that he did it in the first place … and that would turn my sweetness and light into bitter darkness 🙂

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