When most people talk about cheating, they think of sexual infidelity. But cheating is the act of going outside of any of the agreed-upon rules of a relationship, not just sexual ones. That means that cheating is a lot less cut-and-dry than a lot of people think.
Emotional infidelity often doesn’t involve sex. These affairs are a form of intimacy that interferes with a couple’s ability to connect with each other. They often are hard to spot. And you might feel like a crazy woman trying to address it. Because… nothing physical happened.
But whether the affair was a one-night stand or an emotional relationship of over a year, infidelity is a huge blow to a relationship.
Sexual and emotional infidelity is consistently one of the leading causes of divorce1, studies show. But what if you give him a second chance and try to stick it out?
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It’s important to note: most people don’t cheat on their partners. In a healthy relationship, partners communicate about dissatisfaction or temptation. They take time to reconnect deliberately.
If you are reading this article, you’re probably trying to improve the health of your relationship after a betrayal. You most likely don’t feel secure in your marriage. You’re here to figure out if he’s fully committed to you, or if he’s lying again.
People who have cheated before are 3 times more likely2 to cheat again.
Take a deep breath. Breathe in for 4 seconds. Hold it for 2 seconds. Breathe out for 6 seconds.
Take another deep breath.
That statistic is scary, and it’s a reason that people look for warning signs he will cheat again. But it’s just as important to know that there are signs to look for that can reassure you that he’s with you for the long haul.
Justifications are how we show ourselves that what we’re doing is not that bad. When people don’t want to stop doing something they come up with reasons why continuing is justified. We see this with spending money (“Well, it’s on sale!”) and unhealthy habits (“I’ll try to stop smoking next week, things are too hectic right now”).
A serial cheater is likely someone who looks at cheating as a reasonable option to solve a problem.
There are obvious sexual justifications, like going outside of the relationship because he feels he’s not getting enough sex or intimacy. But there can be other justifications, like claims that infidelity was his only option for feeling heard.
Conversations about healing your relationship should address mutual hurt and needs. But if the conversations are focused on addressing his justifications, be cautious.
A common trait of serial cheaters is that they blame everyone else for their past behavior. By doing so, they shift responsibility off of themselves and onto others. He may blame the other woman, his wife, or even his biology for his behavior.
Not taking responsibility for his actions is a form of acting helplessly.
A man who views others as responsible for his emotions and actions will not prioritize making efforts to change. He may say and do the right things for a while, but it might not last. When healing the relationship gets uncomfortable, he may go back to his old ways.
I don’t believe that completely denying the attractiveness of other people is healthy for a relationship. In fact, flirting with someone other than your partner can be healthy. But that’s only if both you and your partner are comfortable with those interactions.
Some people are naturally flirty. But who is he flirting with? If your partner is flirting with coworkers, his female friends, and other women he encounters, he should also be flirting with you.
An unfaithful partner is going to be looking at other people with more than a passing interest. These may be women he runs into when he’s out of the house. He may also use social media accounts to have sexually explicit or overly intimate conversations.
(I don’t advise sneaking behind his back to check his phone and his online presence. Trying to fix a lack of trust by sneaking about is not helpful. (More on this later!))
If you’re watching him pay attention to other women and not to yourself, that’s a red flag.
Projection is a way to avoid dealing with unwanted thoughts or feelings by pointing the finger at someone else. A lot of people do this, but someone who has cheated multiple times is likely to specifically accuse their partner3 of cheating.
There are a couple of reasons why he might do this.
For a cheating spouse who feels guilty, projecting is a way to avoid recognizing guilt. He may be angry and disappointed with himself for breaking promises to you again. Shifting accusations to you allows him to express those emotions.
For serial cheaters who don’t intend to change, projection is a tool to keep their actions hidden. They accuse their partner of cheating as a form of manipulation. If you are fighting to prove that you’re not cheating, you don’t have time to be critical of his actions.
If you haven’t ever cheated, being accused of cheating is a red flag.
Since your partner cheated, you might feel anxious about him being around other women. But something else to look out for is if he’s avoiding you. Especially if he avoids sharing what’s going on in his life. (Do you feel it a little too deep when you sing along to Say My Name?)
It might surprise you to know that a lot of people who cheat try to avoid hurting their partner. They’re anxious about confrontation and difficult conversations.
A man who isn’t able to handle discomfort by communicating may turn to unhealthy ways to cope. If he’s cheated before, he is more likely to cheat again, especially when it comes to emotional infidelity.
Anxiety can be a difficult issue to work on by yourself. These are situations where I recommend working with a therapist or professional coach individually and as a couple.
When many people cheat, they don’t intend to leave their long-term partner, it’s one of the serial cheater traits. In fact, less than 25%4 of cheaters will end a marriage for their affair partner. Instead, he’ll return to his monogamous relationship and start love bombing.
Love bombing happens when one person floods the other with loving gestures and words as a way to control the relationship. The outpouring of affection is meant to help them regain trust without actually putting effort into changing.
If he can convince you that he wants to make your relationship work, he gets to keep the stability of the marriage. And he can do it without actually stopping his serial cheating.
Finding out that your partner has cheated is a horrible feeling. Grand gestures won’t change the fact that you were deeply hurt. If he’s giving gifts and not actually addressing what he did wrong, that’s a sign that he doesn’t actually feel bad about his behavior.
Now that we’ve gotten the scary things out of the way, take another deep breath. Now we’ll be answering this question – Do cheaters ever change?
Just because someone cheated on you before doesn’t mean that you’ll have a cheating husband for the rest of your life. You can build a healthy relationship after infidelity. Often, it takes couples counseling. But if both of you are committed, you can get through this rough patch to smooth sailing.
Here are some of the signs that he’s invested in moving forward.
The very first thing that must happen to heal from infidelity is that the affair ends. The second is that the offending party no longer sees or speaks to the affair partner.
If he’s serious about making your relationship work, he will respect the fact that any contact with her is unacceptable. That may take the form of blocking her on social media or requesting not to work with her anymore.
If he cuts off other relationships that didn’t discourage him from cheating, that’s a real sign that he wants to stay committed to your relationship. Cheaters tend to stick with people who won’t make them feel guilty for their behavior. A man who is dedicated to his marriage leaves those relationships behind.
Sexual and emotional infidelity thrives in secrecy. The lack of honesty is a major part of the betrayal. In order to repair trust, a lot of counselors recommend full transparency. This often means willingly giving up privacy for a time.
If social media or late-night calls and texts were a part of the affair, he might practice that transparency by promising not to lock his phone. By giving you free access, he can show you in real time that he’s focused on your marriage.
If the affair occurred at work, a daily debrief of his day might make you feel better. If alcohol played a part, he could take you with him to the local bar for a drink instead of going on his own.
These are ways for him to show you his new routine and prove himself.
Trust is easy to break, and difficult to build. But over time, your marriage can thrive with open honesty.
Anxiety about communication can have people ruining one relationship by trying to start another in secret. A married man can make a huge mistake by taking sensitive topics to another woman in an effort to keep his wife’s feelings from being hurt.
A good sign that he’s changed is that he makes an effort to talk to you. Many people have difficulty speaking to their spouses due to low self-esteem, so speaking up takes a lot of courage. Discussions about the future of the relationship, rekindling your sex life, and providing an honest answer to a hard question in therapy can signal that he’s made real progress.
Someone who takes deliberate steps to improve themselves in this way is not likely to cheat anytime soon.
People tend to start affairs because there is something they aren’t getting in their relationship. It might be sex, companionship, intimacy, or communication. Whatever the case, it’s important to address the root of the issue.
This is a chance to go back to the very foundations of your relationship. Revisit your agreements and assumptions. Are you monogamous? How do you want to handle conflict? What isn’t too intimate to share with others, and what is off-limits?
If he is willing to work with you to answer these questions, that’s a good sign that he’s taking this seriously. It’s also an opportunity for both of you to assess your compatibility and commitment.
These conversations are vulnerable and easy to get emotional about. This conversation is not about blame or shame. It’s about both of you taking accountability and responsibility for the ongoing health of the relationship.
A red flag for me when I’m working with a couple is when the cheating party tries to set the terms of reconciliation. Someone who actually wants to improve the relationship will follow their partner’s lead. Even if he’s feeling hurt, he will respect that he was in the wrong.
In order for him to follow your lead, though, you have to know what you want him to do.
It’s a simple question, but the answer is probably complicated.
Was it that he was lying to you? Did he confirm some of your worst fears and insecurities? Did the affair make you feel like you don’t know who he is?
In order for the two of you to move forward, you have to know what it is he needs to make amends for. Often, I see wives focus on what they think they should be most hurt by. Or they only ask for what they think their partner will agree to.
But if you don’t communicate to him (and your couples counselor) what the real problem is, it will be very hard for him to make amends.
Are you still angry? Hurt? Anxious?
A lot of people want to skip right to the forgiveness and healing stage of relationship work. But unfortunately, you can’t rush through the unpleasant emotions and skip to the good part.
Emotions help us to understand what is going on in our environment and how that affects us. Anger is the emotion that says “something needs to change.” When we stifle that emotion, we end up lying to ourselves.
Pretending you’re not angry won’t make you feel less betrayed. It won’t help you build trust. All it does is frustrate you, because the actual source of the anger, the thing that needs to change, is being left exactly the same.
Ultimately, what would be a sign to you that your marriage will survive? What would show you that you and your partner are back in sync? Be as specific as you can. Think of the things you would like for him to say or do.
Knowing exactly what you want to see will help you make a plan going forward. It will also help you to see if he’s truly making an effort or if his changes are just for show.
If you’ve ever been cheated on in past relationships, being cheated on again can be devastating. All of the past hurts can come rushing forward in an overwhelming wave.
It’s important to ask yourself if you’re looking for signs he will cheat again based on his actions, or a past partner’s. This can help you to be fair to both him and yourself.
Are you making him pay for the mistakes of others?
The choice to make amends has to be made on both sides. It’s important to ask yourself some tough questions. Are you ready for the tough road ahead? Do you believe he can change?
Are you keeping yourself in this relationship when you need to move on to heal?
Only you can answer these for yourself.
Relationship history plays a big role in predicting and giving statistics on cheating a second time. Someone who has cheated in the past is significantly more likely to cheat than someone who has never cheated. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope. Someone fully committed to never cheating again won’t cheat.
A cheating man is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. He most likely doesn’t want to get a divorce. He wants the stability of his first relationship and the external validation of the affair.
If your partner cheats more than once, it’s an unfortunate warning sign that he’ll continue cheating. You have to decide for yourself if you want to continue to give him chances to change, or if that’s a sign that the relationship is over.
He can! While someone who has cheated before is likely to cheat again, that doesn’t mean that he absolutely will. With the support of a couple’s counselor (and potentially an individual therapist), he can change his ways.
Cheating is devastating. You may find yourself looking for signs he will cheat again, and I hope that you don’t find them. I hope that instead, you can see the signs that he’s done lying to you. If you are staying with your partner, talk about what you need and give him the opportunity to give it to you.