Let’s bring into the light the persistent saying, “Once a
cheater, always a cheater”. I think this knee jerk response does not serve us.
First let’s agree that humans are very complex and varied
beings. There are lots of reasons that people have affairs. There are lots of
ways affairs play out. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are many
good people who love their partner and have cheated. For some of these people,
the affair was a breaking point or a wake-up call or an hour of bad judgement.
These people may feel horrible about what they did and are exquisitely aware of
how it could hurt their partner. Doing something outside of one’s own
integrity, crossing one’s own moral boundaries and beliefs, is something all
humans are capable of and it can cause us great pain. This is not to excuse the
risk taken or the potential damage done. But I think it is important to
differentiate this from someone who just doesn’t care about the damage done.
There are people out there who will cheat repeatedly. I
actually think they are the minority. In fact, the one study I was able to find
that tracked serial infidelity found that only .5% of people
who admitted to having affairs had engaged in multiple affairs. Surprised? Just
another example of the stories we tell about infidelity being different than
many of the realities.
So are you worried about a partner with infidelity in their
past? Some things you might want to pay close attention to:
Does this person lie
about a lot of things to a lot of people? A casual relationship with lying
speaks to a pattern and little lies make big lies easier. And bear in mind, if
they lie to others, they are likely to lie to you too.
Does this person treat you insensitively in general? Are
they mindful of your feelings and courteous about your needs? Patterns of
selfishness or inability to consider your feelings are perhaps larger issues,
including personality structures that may be resistant to change.
Does this person genuinely want to be monogamous or do they
seem motivated by the social expectations and social privileges that come with
monogamy or the appearance of monogamy? How can you tell? You can ask directly
but you can also note how they talk about relationships and sex, what benefits
they get from being in a romantic partnership and how they deal with their own
desires and inhibitions.
Does this person engage in bullying or pressuring to get you
to have sex with them? Do they pout or withhold affection if you are not
available for sex? These patterns may speak to some compulsivity or entitlement
that can affect your relationship.
Is this person very impulsive? Do they love someone one day
and then hate them the next? Do they use drugs or alcohol in ways that can lead
to bad decisions? Do they seem to always be searching for a new rush or new
intensity? None of these things necessarily will lead to infidelity but they
can make the stability of long term relationships challenging.
Does this person have a solid understanding of what led them
to cheat before? Does this understanding include an attitude of fairness for
everyone involved or is it blaming? Has something changed for this person?
In truth, there is no test to tell you if a person will
cheat (contrary to the many magazine articles out there). But a past experience
with being unfaithful is simply not a clear sign that someone will be
unfaithful again. We have great capacity to learn and grow and also great
potential to find partners who we love more deeply and with more passion than
we could have previously imagined. Look to the patterns you see now in your
partner. Don’t rely on generalizations; we all deserve more than that.