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Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Here’s the Truth


You’ve just started seeing someone awesome who meets all of your qualifications (smart, hilarious, good looking, willing to sing One Direction songs with you… you get the gist). Everything is going smoothly, and why shouldn’t it? You’re the exception.

What do we mean, the “exception”? Well, it turns out your new fling has some skeletons in his closet. He cheated on his last girlfriend; maybe he even cheated on her with you. Even if he cheated once, though, he’d never cheat on you, right? Right?

“Once a cheater, always a cheater”—is that really true?

These are the questions that keep you up at night as you try to figure out whether your new guy or girl is worth trusting. We can’t tell you for sure that he or she won’t cheat again, but we can definitely give you some advice about how to avoid it ahead of time. We spoke with Carole Lieberman, M.D., a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author, to figure out what being with a cheater really means for your relationship and whether it’s worth it or not to stick it out.

Can you trust him or her?

Any good relationship is built on trust. If you’re serious about pursuing a meaningful relationship with your partner, sit down with him or her and discuss past behavior, what your expectations are for your relationship and how you’ll deal with any issues that arise.

“If someone has a history of cheating, you need to tread very carefully before committing to a relationship with them,” Dr. Lieberman says. “It's not always true that, ‘once a cheater, always a cheater,’ but once someone has cheated, it is easier for him to rationalize why it's okay to cheat again.”

Basically, once someone has cheated, you should be on alert. It’s not a given that he’ll cheat again, but it’s probably more likely that he will.

“Some cheaters grow up and come to the realization that they want to commit to a deeper relationship, but you can't assume that this will happen,” Dr. Lieberman says.

How can you know he or she won’t cheat on you?

If your relationship is a new one, it’s a good idea to take things slow — especially if you know your SO has a history of cheating. Keeping your heart guarded a little isn’t totally crazy. If anything, protecting yourself is your smartest move.

You can’t know for sure that your SO won’t cheat. What you can do, however, is be open and honest about your expectations for your relationship.

“Talk openly to him about how you are aware that he has cheated in the past, and you want to know if he thinks he still needs time to date around,” Dr. Lieberman says. “There is no point in trying to make a guy commit to an exclusive relationship if he still wants or needs to sow his wild oats.”

In some cases, a second chance is worth it. Other times, however, a past cheater isn’t willing to put in the work to gain back your trust, or ultimately he’ll cheat again.

Lauren, a senior at Boston College, had a long-term boyfriend who had cheated on girlfriends before.

“I assumed that he had matured and that our relationship was more solid than his previous ones,” Lauren says. “In the end I was wrong. He cheated on me throughout our entire relationship. I didn’t even know about it until later.”

Successful relationships are built on mutual trust and honesty. If you feel that you can’t trust your partner based on his or her history, looking out for yourself isn’t selfish — it’s necessary. If you’ve been burned or know for a fact that your SO has done something shady, cutting ties may be the best thing for your sanity.

How can you prevent your partner from cheating?

There’s no foolproof formula to keep your partner from straying.

“Some girls think that if they simply do everything their guy wants — from having sex whenever he wants to doing his homework — they will keep him from cheating,” Dr. Lieberman says. Others will play hard to get; they feel that giving their SO some space will be enough to convince him or her to stay.

These tactics will eventually alienate your partner, however, Dr. Lieberman warns. The best way to keep your partner from cheating, she says, is to “keep yourself looking hot and being interesting. Don't wrap your world around him. And keep your options open.”

Whom can you really rely on?

If you get the feeling that your new guy or girl is genuinely a good person who made a mistake, then chances are you’re right. If, however, you get weird vibes or are inclined to distrust what your SO says, listen to what your heart is telling you! More often than not, what your gut instinct is telling you is true.

What’s more, it’s important to be honest with yourself about why you want to be in a relationship with someone who has cheated in the past. Summer, a collegiette at Boston University, says, “Under no circumstance should you stay in a relationship where there’s a lack of trust, just for the sake of holding on and having a significant other. I’ve done that in the past, and it’s no fun!”

Staying real with yourself and remembering to keep your own best interests at heart will keep you out of toxic relationships (and away from your own temptation to cheat).

So, is a cheater always a cheater? It works on a case-by-case basis. As long as you build a foundation of trust and honesty, maybe a second chance is worth it. If a guy or girl gives you reason to think he or she will cheat again, odds are that they probably will. Release people from your life who haven’t proven themselves worthy to be there — you deserve to have someone who can commit for real.

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