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Once a Cheater Always a Cheater – True or False?

Once a Cheater Always a Cheater – True or False?

Posted on January 26th, 2021 by Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C


Well, that was easy, right?

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that. Life is not black and white. So let’s understand what we’re looking at here.

For the purposes of this post I will suppose that the primary reader is someone who has been cheated on. You are probably feeling very torn, wondering whether it’s possible for your partner to change and whether this relationship has a future. You’re wary of being hurt again, but walking away from this relationship is something you really don’t want to have to do.

(The other person who is likely to be reading this post is the cheater themselves. If that’s you, you may be wondering if something is wrong with you and if you’ll ever be able to change. The good news is, if you are looking for that answer, then that answer is almost certainly yes.)

Let’s see if we can help you figure this out.

once a cheater always a cheater

How Do I Know If My Partner Will Cheat Again?

Of course, the answer is you don’t. Nobody can know the future. But humans don’t make decisions based on knowledge of the future, we make decisions based on our best judgment. How should you judge the risks here?

Here are some indicators that your partner is likely to cheat again:

They don’t seem sorry.

Maybe they’re sorry they got caught, but they don’t seem to have any remorse or empathy for the pain they’ve caused you. That is a bad sign. If they aren’t bothered by the hurt they’ve caused, they probably won’t be bothered to do it again.

infidelity remorse

They’re still not being honest with you.

Now that you’ve found out about the affair, you want to know the whole story. But you keep learning new details that come out a little bit at a time. It wasn’t once, it was twice. It wasn’t 3 months, it was 6.

A failure to be truly honest about what they have and haven’t done is an indication they haven’t taken full responsibility for their actions, and it means there is a greater likelihood this could happen again.

Another way this comes out is that they are secretive or protective about their phone, their internet use, etc. They insist nothing is wrong, but they close the laptop every time you walk by. It may be true that nothing shady is happening, but the very fact that they are acting in ways that don’t breed transparency should be a red flag for you.

can a cheater change?

They’ve already done this several times.

Saying sorry – even if it sounds genuine – doesn’t mean a whole lot if they keep doing the same hurtful action over and over. Ask yourself if you are turning a blind eye because the truth is painful to see. Are you allowing yourself to be taken advantage of by giving second, third, fourth, fifth, or six chances, without any concrete plan for change?

Even someone who is truly remorseful may be at risk for another affair if they are simply out of control. There are sex addiction 12-step groups all over the world for people with this problem – they want to stop acting out sexually but can’t. Such a person is likely to cheat again unless they admit they have a problem and seek help.

help for sexual addiction

They refuse to stop seeing the affair partner.

Sometimes the affair partner is also a friend of your significant other’s, or of both of you, and your S.O. doesn’t want to cut off the friendship. They insist that they can just be friends, and push back against your wanting them to cut off their friends.

Staying in contact with the affair partner is usually problematic. Even if they never cheat with that person again, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the boundaries of your relationship. Your discomfort with their relationship with this person should be a big deal to them and apparently it’s not.

One notable exception (sort of) is when the affair partner is a coworker. Even in this case, a person who really wants to save their marriage or relationship after they cheated should seriously consider doing what it takes to distance themselves from the affair partner – transfer to a different department, change work schedules, even possibly looking for a new job. But sometimes this simply isn’t possible and work needs to be done to carefully structure appropriate boundaries and safeguards.

That said, a refusal to discuss such options and a rigid insistence that nothing can change at their job but everything will be okay is not a good sign.

recovering after infidelity

Can I Trust My Partner Again?

Right now, no. Trust is only built over time. Don’t blame yourself for feeling mistrustful. It would actually be really weird if after getting cheated on you were okay to trust them again the next day.

Just like you didn’t trust your partner very much the first day you met them, but eventually you came to, so too now after time you can feel trusting again, if you both put the work in.

The fact that someone cheated is not in itself an indication that they are going to cheat again. It certainly makes sense to feel mistrustful in the wake of an affair, but don’t confuse that with the belief that a person can’t change. Once a cheater maybe be just that – a cheater, once.  People can change.

If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have much of a job. (Or a tag line: Things CAN be different!)

If you need help recovering after infidelity, contact us today to repair your relationship.


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