8 Childhood Experiences That Make Someone More Likely To Cheat, According To Experts
Going through tough times as a kid certainly doesn't guarantee someone will grow up to be unfaithful — but it may make a person more likely to cheat. What we witness as children, the problems we go through, and the types of lifestyles our parents model for us all play a role in how we conduct ourselves as adults.
If someone grows up with parents who were unfaithful to eat other, for example, it may create the mindset that cheating is acceptable, and thus make it more likely that a person will cheat themselves.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. And it's always possible to overcome trauma, neglect, and the negative stories we grew up with. "We create our own destiny, and we all have a lot of choice about our behavior," Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of How to be Happy Partners: Working it out Together, tells Bustle. "Becoming self-aware and able to analyze one’s behavior and compare it to one’s ethics leads people to change ideas and assumptions acquired in childhood."
Therapy can be a big help there, both for the person who is more prone to cheating and their partner. "When we get therapy to help in our self-understanding and to process and resolve the trauma, pain, and confusions of childhood, we can then decide how we want to define ... ourselves," Dr. Tessina says. "That means we can choose to have integrity, to define whether we’re monogamous or not, and not to have to cheat."
Here are a few childhood experiences experts say can make someone more likely to cheat — especially if they have yet to come to terms with the issues they witnessed or the traumas they experienced as a kid.
1. Witnessing Cheating
Kids learn about relationships — and relationship dynamics — from the adults in their lives. So if someone grows up in an atmosphere where cheating is the norm, experts say it may make them more likely to emulate that behavior as an adult.
"If multiple, important people in a child's life ... regularly cheat on their spouses or significant others (especially if those spouses and significant others don't talk about or otherwise confront the behavior or end the relationship), it's easier for a child to see infidelity as a normal part of romantic relationships," Tanesha L. Curtis, LMSW, tells Bustle. "They may take the view that 'everybody cheats.'" And not see a problem with doing so, themselves, as an adult.
2. Being Told They Should "Never Settle"
Parents often teach their children to strive for the best and seek happiness at all costs. And yet — while that's a great lesson when applied to certain aspects of life — it can have a negative impact when it comes to future relationships.
"Children who grow up believing they should not 'settle,' must be happy, musn't be frustrated, etc., tend to learn that life is more about them and often do not develop the skill of building frustration tolerance, [or seeing] the importance of reciprocity and flexibility in their relationships," clinical psychologist Dr. Paul DePompo tells Bustle. "In adulthood — when they are not feeling they are getting what they should out of their partner, or when they require more admiration from the outside world — [they] can develop the belief they deserve to have what they want, when they want it, and go get it."
This can result in an inability or unwillingness to navigate the ups and downs of a relationship, which may lead them to jump ship or seek validation from others whenever they get frustrated. Of course this is something that can be overcome through being cognizant of their behaviors, but it is something to note.
3. Being Told Their Feelings Don't Matter
When it comes to parenting, there's a fine line between giving a kid the right amount of emotional support, and giving too much or too little. Of course, an unhealthy amount of attention doesn't always result in a person growing up to be a cheater, but it can increase the chances.
"If a child grows up with an invalidating, highly-emotional, or controlling parent, they often do not grow up believing their feelings matter," Dr. DePompo says. "And in relationships, it can be difficult for them to advocate for themselves and set clear limits and boundaries because they can learn love is [about] making your partner happy. A consequence can be that, over time, this person feels they have to 'steal' what they want, as they often avoid conflict to the point they are lonely, or feel deprived in the relationship."
Instead of turning to their partner and communicating their need for more support or love or attention, they may be more inclined to get it the easy way — outside the relationship.
4. Witnessing A Divorce
If someone witnesses a divorce as a kid, they can certainly come out of it unscathed and go on to have a happy, healthy relationship as an adult. But for some kids — especially if their parents handled the breakup poorly — a divorce can have a lasting impact.
"Divorced parents can cause children to not trust relationships and marriage, and therefore not be faithful," Dr. Tessina says. "In addition, infidelity is a frequent catalyst for divorce, and single parents may go through problems seeking new partners. Children observe and learn from these dynamics, and often emulate them."
There's also the fact these kids might grow up without an example of what a healthy relationship might look like. And, as Dr. Tessina says, this can result in the child missing out on "observing the skills involved in maintaining faithfulness and monogamy."
5. Being Cheated On
As we all know, it's fairly common for kids and teenagers to have relationships that mean a lot to them — despite the fact they're so young. And how they play out can have a lasting impact.
"Even as young as elementary school, children can form relationships that mimic marriage or exclusive romantic couplings," Curtis says. "Discovering a 'best friend' playing a game with a child other than yourself; finding out your 'girlfriend' went to someone else's house to study after school instead of your house; or realizing that your high school sweetheart has been kissing a classmate behind your back are all ways in which even young people can experience betrayal in a relationship."
While some kids navigate these moments in a healthy way, others may go on the offensive. "Once this [betrayal] is felt ... a child may grow to believe that they must cheat on their partner before their partner cheats on them," Curtis says. "At this point, they view their partner's infidelity as inevitable and the question isn't whether or not they'll be cheated on but how they are going to deal with the 'fact' that their partner is unfaithful."
It can take a long time for someone to unlearn this habit. But through therapy, they can begin to trust again.
6. Growing Up With An "Absent" Parent
Growing up with a parent who was physically or emotionally absent can certainly play a role in how someone views relationships once they're an adult.
"The reason these traumas can create a cheater is because these experiences disrupt the natural need for safety and normalcy that is essential for a developing child," Dr. Amelia Kelley, PhD, MS, LPC, ATR- P, RYT, of Kelley Counseling & Wellness, tells Bustle.
Without that safety net, kids can grow up to feel insecure themselves. "When a child experiences this lack of security it can force them to look either inwards, potentially leading to insecure or avoidant attachment styles later in life, or outward to others for validation to help reestablish a sense of safety and self-worth, leading to anxious attachment styles," Dr Kelley says. "Later in adulthood these children who did not know where to seek attention ... will have a harder time coping with the inevitable stress that comes with long-term, intimate relationships" And that can send them out into the world seeking affairs, in order to feel better.
It is possible to overcome, however. As Dr. Kelley says, "The wonderful thing about attachment styles is that they are not static; they can be changed with the introduction of a healthy relationship." By finding a supportive partner, having open communication, and going to therapy, cheating doesn't have to happen.
7. Going Through A Trauma
Quite understandably, any type of trauma or abuse can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. And that might lead to a desire to cheat in some people.
"A common side effect of PTSD is numbing/avoidance symptoms, so then a hyper-focus on states of hyper-arousal are actively sought out, an example of which being high(er) risk sexual encounters," Logan Cohen, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, tells Bustle. "On a much deeper level, the survivor who is cheating is oftentimes consumed ... by internalized shame, which if not addressed and worked through directly can only pull survivors away from themselves and their loved ones, therefore increasing the likelihood of cheating."
That's one reason why it's so important for survivors of abuse to seek out treatment, and realize it's not their fault. In doing so, they can have healthier relationships as an adult.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
8. Experiencing The Death Of A Parent
If a child's security is threatened when they're very young — especially by the death of a parent — it can set the ball in motion for cheating later on in life.
"Attachment disruption along with adverse childhood experiences tend to make people more addictive and to do things that feel good in the moment, but are bad in the long-run — like smoking, drinking, using drugs, and cheating," psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Carroll tells Bustle. Similar traumatic experiences include having a parent with a severe illness, the incarceration of a parent, witnessing a parent with a drug addiction, and so on, Dr. Carroll says.
Keep in mind, though, that nothing is ever set in stone. If any of these experiences ring true for you or your partner, it doesn't mean cheating is guaranteed. By going to therapy, and uncovering childhood experiences like these, it is possible to feel healthier — and have a healthier relationship.