Are Cheaters Always Cheaters?

Once a cheater, always a cheater? There's been some debate on whether or not that sentiment is true or not. Heck, there are entire Reddit threads dedicated to finding out if serial cheaters are something we should be worried about. However, a study published in 2017 finally put the theory to the test and discovered that the answer is yes — but not always. Great. 

While the science did support the theory that those who cheat will cheat again, the researchers also found that there were no absolutes when it comes to serial cheating (via Cosmopolitan). Are cheaters always cheaters? It looks like the answer depends on the situation you're in. 

A study found that cheaters were more likely to cheat again

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute (which published the study on serial cheating), said, "That study was the first that gave us any scientific insight into whether there's any truth to the idea of 'once a cheater, always a cheater.' It's one of those things where there's a kernel of truth to it." While he acknowledges there is some scientific data to back it up, he notes that it's definitely not always true.

The Archives of Sexual Behavior study surveyed 484 adults who admitted to cheating in previous relationships, and ultimately, researchers found that people who cheated in one relationship were about three-and-a-half times more likely to cheat again. Dr. Lehmiller noted, though, there were many who were surveyed who said they've only cheated once and haven't cheated since. In a write-up for Vice, Dr. Lehmiller wrote, "Interestingly, being cheated on in the first relationship predicted being cheated on in subsequent relationships." 

Similarly, those who suspected their partner cheated on them in one relationship were more likely to suspect that their next partner cheated on them in the next relationship, too. "What this suggests is not only that there are serial cheaters," wrote Dr. Lehmiller. "But also serial victims when it comes to infidelity."

Why do people cheat?

There isn't one kind of cheater, and people don't always cheat for the same reason. In an interview with INSIDER, Tammy Nelson, psychotherapist and consultant for Ashley Madison, noted that people have tried to put cheating into specific categories, but more often than not, there are a bunch of different factors that go into why someone decides to be unfaithful to their partner. 

She says that there are a number of factors that can all influence infidelity. These can include where a person is in life, how they feel in a specific relationship, or how they feel about themselves at any given moment. Sometimes, someone might cheat if they're lacking confidence in themselves or if they're feeling stuck in their current relationship. Other times, as relationship expert Esther Perel points out in her TED Talk, people cheat not because they hate their partner, but because they feel like they've lost themselves as part of a couple

Still, Nelson says that serial cheaters likely exist because of something that's apparent in their personality, as opposed to an issue with the relationship. "Maybe they're turned on by dishonesty," Nelson told INSIDER. "[They have an] inability to commit to monogamy but are also not honest enough to ask for an open relationship." She mentions that these kinds of people might have an attachment disorder or might be narcissistic

Regardless, if you feel like you need to speak to someone about any issue in your relationship, there's no shame in going to a certified relationship therapist in order to help rebuild your relationship.