As the saying goes, "once a cheater, always a cheater." But is it actually true? If
your partner has cheated before, you might be wondering if anything's stopping them doing it again. Will they continue their old patterns from past relationships? And sneak around behind your back?
Well, the tough truth is this: there really is no way to know. "The reality is that a partner who cheated once can cheat again,"
clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, tells Bustle. "That being said, a partner who never cheated can cheat for the first time at any time, too. So the risk we take in any relationship is infidelity."
There will always be some degree of unpredictability, since you can't control what other people do. There are also so many
factors that can contribute to cheating, making it even more difficult to fully understand. If a person has a history of infidelity, it might increase the risk that they'll fall back into old patterns. But it also might mean they've learned from their mistakes.
"Our past shapes us but it doesn't define us,"
couples therapist Theresa Herring, LMFT, tells Bustle. "So your partner cheating in a past relationship doesn't necessarily mean that they will cheat on you." If they've done some soul searching, and know why it happened, there's definitely hope. Here are a few signs they'll be able to leave that all behind, so you can have a healthier relationship.
They're Honest About What Happened In The Past
While you two don't need to discuss everything that happened before your relationship began, it is a good sign if your partner is willing to talk about their past, and wants to be honest about any mistakes they've made.
"Owning their mistake is the first step to making different decisions," Herring says. If your partner opens up about their history of infidelity, and doesn't try to brush it off as no big deal, it shows a level of honesty that may mean the chances of them cheating again in the future will be far less likely.
They've Figured Out The Root Cause
Hardly anybody cheats just because they want to
have a little sex on the side. Most people do it for deer reasons, or due to underlying issues. So if your partner can figure out why they cheated, and if they're working to resolve those problems, they may be less likely to do it again.
"Perhaps the affair happened because they were feeling more like roommates than partners," Herring says. "And now they are making sure to keep the romance and
connection alive in this relationship. Or maybe drinking was a trigger and they've decided to get help. Or perhaps they've noticed they have a pattern of cheating and now they're in therapy to figure it out. No matter what the root cause, you want to see that they are addressing the issue so it doesn't happen again."
They Can Talk About It In An Articulate Way
"In order to make different decisions in this relationship, they need to know where they went wrong in the last one," Herring says. If your partner has gotten to the root cause of why they cheated, and understands why it was wrong, there's hope that they're trying to break old habits.
And this is even more likely to be true if they can talk about it in an articulate way, meaning they really and truly understand what led up to the affair, and why they went through with it. If they understand and can express the role they played in it all, it means they'll be able to notice those same thoughts, should they start to form again, and put a stop to them.
They're Down To Go To Therapy
If they haven't gotten to the root cause, are they down to go to therapy? If so, that's a great sign. As marriage therapist
Courtney Watson, LMFT tells Bustle, a willingness to go to therapy — either individually or as a couple —shows they're ready to address the underlying issues that led to an affair. And that they're committed to having a healthy relationship, and helping you to feel secure going forward.
They Really Want To Be Better This Time Around
In order for your partner to change, they have to
want to change. And not just because they got caught in the past, or because you're forcing them to.
"People have to care,"
Alex Dimitriu, MD, a California-based psychiatrist, tells Bustle. "The cheaters who are truly hurt and impacted by their own actions want to get better, and will continuously work on this."
That might look like your partner consistently taking steps to change and make up for the past, possibly by going to therapy, or talking about being more open and honest with you. If they're into the idea of growing and making the relationship work, then it certainly can.
They Don't Blame Anyone Else
One way to tell if they've learned from their past? They don't blame anyone but themselves. "Listen to what this person’s narrative is around the cheating," author and
marriage therapist Dr. Caroline Madden, tells Bustle. "Is it blaming the former partner because [they weren't] meeting their needs: sex, attention, affection. appreciation?" Or are they willing to accept they were the ones who made the decision to cheat, and that it caused a lot of pain?
As Madden says, there's a big difference between those two narratives. "One is someone who continues to blame others, so when you fail in the relationship — which we all do at some point — this person feels entitled to get it elsewhere," Madden says. "The other is someone who made a poor decision that they didn’t fully understand the pain and devastation they would cause their partner, and also the toll it would take on their own personal character." If your partner has the latter perspective, there's a good chance they won't cheat again.
They're Incredibly Open And Honest
While you're both entitled to your own privacy, there's hope if your partner is cool about sharing their life with you, and having open and honest communication.
"A partner who has nothing to hide, hides nothing. You ask, they tell," Klapow says. "A partner who proactively communicates to you about their concerns with the relationship, what they like and don’t like, and what they want to work on is a partner who is telling you what they need and how the relationship can get better."
Ongoing communication, "transparency about their life, and a dedication to the relationship are good signs of fidelity," Klapow says.
They Aren't Afraid To Have Tough Convos
Another sign your relationship will remain strong: if your partner is ready and willing to talk about the tough stuff. Because that's often what it takes to keep infidelity at bay.
It's all about "openness and rigorous honesty,"
clinical sexologist Dr. Stacy Friedman, DHS tells Bustle. "Not just being honest about little things but all things — even if it may be hurtful."
If your partner feels comfortable discussing relationship issues, they'll be far less likely to solve their problems by depending on other people, including turning to them for emotions and physical affairs.
They're OK With Being Vulnerable
An affair is more likely to sound appealing to a partner who feels unheard or misunderstood. So if you two can foster a situation where it feels OK to share feelings, and you both trust each other with those feelings, Klapow says cheating is less likely to happen.
They're Actively Working On Your Relationship
Relationships take work, whether your partner cheated in the past or not. So it's a great sign if they're doing everything they can to keep things happy and healthy. "A partner with a cheating history who actively chooses to be transparent with you about their life, to dedicate their communication, time, and emotional energy to the relationship with you, and who trusts in themselves and you enough to share with you 'vulnerability' is far less of a risk," Klapow says.
Infidelity can happen at any time and for any reason. But if you're both making an effort to be open and trusting with one another,
you really don't have to worry.