Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

Relationships - Sanity & Self, Sex & Intimacy | 0 comments

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

Should Cheating Always be a Dealbreaker?

Dear Leah,

Am I stupid for even considering ever taking back the person who cheated on me? I love him and care for him so much and if I see a change within the next year I might consider but rn I told him to get it together and focus on himself bc I’m trying to do my thing, but if he truly changes and I know it… is it wrong to even consider?

Dear Julia,

It is definitely not “wrong to consider.” So many women have been exactly where you are at. After a partner cheats, there are so many conflicting thoughts and feelings, which can be really difficult to sift through. This is actually a hot topic of debate. Is the whole, “once a cheater, always a cheater” true?  It’s not a simple “yes” or “no.” We all wish things were more black or white, but unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, especially when it comes down to relationships. Some women can work through cheating, others can’t. There really isn’t a straightforward “right” way of addressing infidelity. Each person and relationship is different.

Let’s start with the concept of cheating. Cheating is not simply sex or intimacy outside of the relationship. Cheating is so much more than the physical. Cheating is also the breaking of trust and promise of commitment.  How I see it, the physical part is just the “tip” of the iceberg. There is so much more “Stuff” and layers underneath the act of cheating. Cheating can represent and highlight so many things. Cheating can represent lying and dishonesty, disrespect, insecurities, and low self-esteem, the need for validation, lack of commitment to one’s partner, etc. So if you are considering working through the cheating and rebuilding the relationship, you will need to address the act of cheating within the context of the relationship—the root cause or “why?”

In the event that the cheating was more or less a reflection of a lack of respect and carelessness by your partner, it’s so important for you to take inventory of what is important to you in a relationship and decide if this relationship is right for you or if you deserve something better (which you definitely do). I would encourage you to write down your values or expectations for a partner and then us this list to assess your own relationship–this will help you evaluate your relationship more objectively. Has your relationship with this person reflected or lived up to your personal values and expectations for a partner? If not. You deserve someone better. It may not be easy to end the relationship and you may experience a lot of pain or feelings of grief and loss, but in the grand scheme of things, you deserve someone that respects you and is just as committed to the relationship as you are.

So that is one scenario.

But what if your partner cheated because of a different, deeper underlying issue? For example, is there a fear of commitment? Is cheating a self-sabotaging behavior? Is there tension in the relationship that hasn’t been worked through or completed avoided?  While we should never “excuse” the behavior, it’s often worthwhile to try and understand the behavior. So if your partner is able to take COMPLETE responsibility and accountability for his actions, it can be possible to work through the infidelity and rebuild trust. But this will require time, patience and extremely open communication. You could even go to couples counseling—and yes, you don’t have to do this if you aren’t married. It can be extremely beneficial to have a neutral third party to facilitate hard conversations and give space for vulnerability.

Listen to Getting Past Infidelity in the Sanity & Self App

Also, it is so important to remember that you do not have CONTROL over your partner and how he chooses to get it together and focus on himself. You can express your expectations and what you need from him in order to get back together or get back to a place of trust, but at the end of the day, he is the one that needs to make some changes and re-commit to the relationship. This is REALLY hard for a lot of women, because they often see the potential in their partners and want to do the work for them. But change has to come from within, there has to be intrinsic motivation for deep personal growth and change to occur.

You mentioned earlier that you are willing to consider getting back together if he “truly changes.” What would that look like to you? I would try to be very specific, as well as realistic. If you, for example, need him to call more often and be in contact with you daily, that is a reasonable and realistic request that you can hold him accountable to. BUT, if you want him to want to completely change careers (again, just an example), there is so much more to that.  Something like one’s career is usually embedded with one’s values, goals and personality—and these things are generally static and hard to change.  So, again, it will depend on what you expect from him and also time and patience.

I know this wasn’t a hard “yes” or “no,” again, the world doesn’t work in binaries.  But at the end of the day, you know your partner and the relationship. You know best whether or not this person is capable of change and living up to your expectations (which can and should be incredibly high). I encourage you to lean into what your gut and intuition is saying, weigh the pros and cons, and also take a step back and ask yourself, “What advice would I give to a close friend?”

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About the Author

Leah Aguirre is a licensed clinical social worker & psychotherapist in San Diego, CA. Leah prioritizes mental health issues because she’s experienced issues with anxiety herself and believes every woman will face their own struggles with mental health at some point in their life. She specializes in helping individuals who experience challenges with relationships, dating, and self-esteem through both individual and group sessions. Visit Leah online at https://leahaguirrelcsw.com/


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