Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

This article dissects the saying “once a cheater, always a cheater”. People aren’t serial cheaters by trait. This articles explains why people cheat.

Photo by ola symolonon Unsplash

The studies say yes, but is that written in stone?


I have cheated before.

It took me a long while to accept I’d actually cheated. I’d filed for divorce three months prior. My now ex-husband had screwed up royally after I’d given him chance after chance to get it together.And the affair didn’t become physical before I officially left him.

But for eight days, my ex-husband thought we were reconciling while I was embroiled in an emotional affair with the man who eventually became the crowbar I needed to wedge myself out of that terrible marriage.

I still probably wouldn’t have called it an “affair” if I hadn’t started reading about cheating or if I hadn’t seen the look of horror pass over my current partner’s face (who has previously been cheated on) when I’d told him about it.

Next week, I am going on a ten-day long work trip with the man I had an affair with. I sometimes make really great choices, and one of those particularly great ones was to cheat on my ex-husband with a man I work with, who actually works like five feet from me, and whom I was signed up to attend this trip with back before we even dated.

We haven’t spoken in months.I’ve kept very very strict boundaries. I tried to be friendly with him after a period of no-contact months ago, and, within a week, he left flowers on my desk and crossed an extra two feet to touch my arm, which made my skin crawl. I knew at least hewasn’t ready to have a friendship with me, so I went back to a no-contact.

My partner is worried about me going on this trip with my ex. He trusts me, but he’s been cheated on multiple times, so that’s a fear he has to work through.

am worried too. My ex and I will be two of about twenty people going, so I should be able to continue to avoid him, but I’m still worried. It’s probably silly since, in all of my history of relationships, I can count on two fingers the number of times I was unfaithful: on my ex-husband and once on a high school boyfriend because I wanted to end things and I went the immature route (“Hey, I cheated on you.” “Oh, okay, well, that’s it then.” “Yup. See ya later.”).

But I’ve felt nagged by that phrase, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” like when I’d engaged in that affair, I’d somehow flipped a switch to mean I’d never be able to be faithful to another partner again.


A study published in Archives of Sexual Behaviorin 2017 asked 484 people in relationships about their behavior. I need to qualify some things here: it’s a very small sample, they only asked unmarried/never married people, and they did not differentiate between those who had sex outside of the relationship consensually vs. non-consensually. In other words, we don’t know how many of these people were actually cheating and how many were in some kind of open relationship. Likely, though, they were cheating, but it’s important to note.

The study found that people who had cheated before were a lot more prone to unfaithfulness againPrevious cheaters werethree times more likely to cheat again in their next relationship.

What gives me comfort is that, while about half of the supposed cheaters repeated their behavior the next time around, the other half didn’t. So the phrase, “once a cheater, always a cheater” only actually only held up around 50% of the time in this particular study.

It’s also important to recognize whysomeone cheated. One of the most common reasons people cheat is because they aren’t happy with their relationship.

People who are driven to cheat by circumstance aren’t necessarily bound to do it again as long as they find a partner they’re more compatible with the next time around.

Some, though, those actual “once a cheater, always a cheater” folks don’t do it because of circumstance, but something to do with their personality. Research has reliably foundthat infidelity is more common among those who have less care and concern for others and those who have less self-discipline. People with these traits are probably more inclined to cheat no matter what their relationship is like.

Again, I’m comforted by the fact that I deeply care about my partner. I’m happy with my relationship with him. I love him in a way that looks like trying to help him be the best person he can be. My needs are being met in a way they have never before, and I don’t have any worries as far as self-discipline goes either.

The studies also revealed another interesting fact. Not only were cheaters more likely to be cheaters again, those who were cheated on were more likely to be cheated on again. Twice as likely, in fact, than those who hadn’t been cheated on previously. Not only did they find that there are serial cheaters, they also found that there are also serial victims.

My current partner is a serial victim. He’s forty-two years old and nearly every partner he’s had since he was twenty-five has cheated on him. I know many men who this is true for. There’s definitely something to this, and I think it’s probably that they seek out what’s familiar, and therefore keep choosing partners that will cheat on them. It’s something I have to be cognizant of and gentle about with my partner. He fears me doing the same thing to him. That is his issue to work through, but I get to do my part in continuing to be faithful, honest, and consistent to help him continue to feel secure as he works on that.


I process things through my writing. It’s that old idea of “our secrets keep us sick.” If I continue to let things live within my head and not put them on paper or tell a friend about them, they get bigger and uglier and can take over me in every way possible. But writing them out, seeing them set on a computer screen or on paper, and then reading corresponding studies helps me see them for what they are: baseless silly worries.

Just because I’ve cheated before doesn’t mean I ever have to again. I’m not someone who doesn’t care or have concern about the people I love. I’m not someone impulsive and with little self-control. I did cheat before and I can honor that for what it was, but I can and do make better choices today.