9 Thought Patterns & Beliefs Serial Cheaters Have In Common
There are countless reasons why people cheat on their partners, which is why it can be tough to pinpoint exactly what's going through their head when they strike up an affair. There are, however, a few thoughts and beliefs many serial cheaters have in common, that may help explain why they turn it into a habit.
For some people, it can be chalked up to how they view the world, and everyone in it. "Some serial cheaters meet the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder or have many of the characteristics of a narcissist," therapist Virginia Williamson, LMFT, of Collaborative Counseling Group, tells Bustle. "These serial cheaters believe it is their right to cheat [and] view themselves as superior to their partners." These folks rarely think twice before cheating — and are even less likely to feel bad about it.
There are people, though, who turn to cheating due to low self-esteem or unhealthy attachment styles, Williamson says. They may try to sabotage their relationship, even though it's going well, because they expect it will end anyway. Or they may turn to others for a quick confidence boost.
Whatever the case may be, it is possible for a serial cheater to turn things around if they want to, usually by going to therapy. As Williamson says, "The bottom line is that anyone can alter [their] behavior if [they're] truly invested in doing so." Here are a few thoughts and beliefs many serial cheaters have in common, according to experts.
1. They're Able To Justify Cheating
Many serial cheaters blame their partner when things go wrong in the relationship, as a way of justifying going behind their back.
"A serial cheater will blame [their] partner for lack of sex, lack of growth, lack of attention, lack of support, and so on and therefore feel entitled to look outside of the relationship to have [their] needs and wants fulfilled," Williamson says.
This habit can send relationship after relationship down in flames, until the cheater decides to learn how to better communicate. Once they start reaching out to their partner — and sharing how they feel — cheating may not feel so necessary.
2. They Believe Their Partner Is Responsible For Their Happiness
"Serial cheaters often do not take responsibility for their own unhappiness nor do they give their partners' an opportunity to make meaningful change if there are legitimate difficulties in the relationship," Williamson says.
They might think it's their partner's job to make things work, so the moment things go wrong, they often don't know how to handle it other than to cheat. They also don't know how to make themselves happy, which is another reason they often turn to others.
3. They Feel Entirely Misunderstood
"Serial cheaters often believe that their partners simply can’t understand them at a level that is needed," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "So they look for the understanding elsewhere."
The thing is, it's often because they fail to speak up about the things they don't like in their relationship. And they don't give their partner a chance. They tend to jump right to cheating, because it's easier.
4. They Feel Unlovable
It's easy to view serial cheaters as cold, heartless people. But many times, these folks turn to cheating as a way of dealing with their own inner demons.
"Some people cheat repeatedly due to their own insecurities and a deep-seated fear that they are unlovable," Williamson says. "This means that they never challenge themselves to be vulnerable enough to truly experience connection to another person. While they wreak havoc on other people's lives, they themselves remain dissatisfied and do not allow themselves to be loved."
When that's the case, therapy can be a big help. Once they uncover why their self-esteem is so low, they may feel more comfortable in a relationship — and less likely to cheat.
5. They're Scared To Be Alone
Similarly, people who habitually cheat may do so as a way of dealing with a fear of abandonment, which again may stem from low self-esteem.
"Cheaters irrationally think that by [being] with multiple people they won’t be abandoned," therapist Katie Ziskind, LMFT, tells Bustle. "However, they end up creating surface relationships with many people and still feel lonely and insecure [...] deep inside."
They turn to others as a way of feeling better, but it often ends up backfiring. "Abandonment is the source of cheating along with insecurity, rejection, and shame," Ziskind says. "Cheaters can be helped through therapy and counseling to help them understand the emotions behind their behavior."
6. They Don't Want To Hurt Their Partner
Believe it or not, some serial cheaters believe going behind their partner's back is actually the nicest thing they could do.
"Even though the cheating is a huge betrayal, the idea is that the cheater can’t face hurting their partner by confronting them with difficult topics, problems in the relationship, etc.," Dr. Klapow says. "They steer away from the conflict into an act that is even more damaging rather than address it."
7. They Always Think Someone Else Will Make Them Happier
Many cheaters get into the habit of thinking another person will be what finally makes them happy. So they remain on a constant lookout for anyone who can thrill, excite, and "complete" them.
"Rather than finding that with their current partner, they take a 'grass is greener' approach, focusing on their partner’s shortcomings, while assuming a stranger will provide them with more excitement and fulfillment," Jonathan Bennett, relationship and dating expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle.
It may work in the short-term, but this isn't a habit that tends to provide them with the sense of connection they're really looking for.
8. They Believe They Can't Help It
"Serial cheaters sometimes think of their situation as a problem they are afflicted with," Dr. Klapow says. "That they have no control over their cheating and that they need more out of a relationship and they can’t be fulfilled with one person."
But this may not be the case. If they want to be in a committed relationship, they certainly can. It may just take some effort to reframe how they think, while also working on themselves.
"The key to breaking the pattern is to understand why they are doing it and what is preventing them from turning towards their partner to resolve issues, versus turning away to cheat," Dr. Klapow says. "Serial cheaters who recognize there is a problem need intensive psychotherapy to work through patterns of behavior, automatic thinking, and coping skills that often land them in acts of betrayal."
9. They Believe Their Partner "Made Them Do It"
"Serial cheaters often take out frustration, anger, embarrassment, or feelings of inadequacy on their partner by cheating on them with the mindset that it is their partner’s fault," Dr. Klapow says. "While their partner may indeed contribute to the problems, the serial cheater sees the act of cheating as the result of what their partner has done to them."
Serial cheaters may get stuck in a rut of reacting negatively in relationships — and finding ways to justify cheating. But it is an unhealthy cycle they can break — if they so choose.