18 Personality Traits Of A Cheater, According To Experts

#1: They have difficulty controlling impulses.

by Carina Wolff and Lexi Inks
Originally Published: 
The many characteristics of a cheating man or woman, according to experts.

Most people don't suspect that their partner is going to cheat on them — after all, there's no one obvious indicator of a cheater. However, there are a number of factors that make someone more likely to cheat in a relationship according to experts and research. Although you can't always predict when someone is going to be unfaithful, it can be useful to know what to look out for when dating someone to ensure you're in a loving, committed relationship.

"Certain people are more likely to cheat because of personality traits, learned behavior from role models and due to money, career, social status and the social circles they travel in," psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC tells Bustle. "Any of these, or any combination of these, make cheating an option they could consider, whereas someone with different personality traits, strict values, a simpler lifestyle, smaller social networks, and/or who is satisfied with their primary relationship would be unlikely to consider infidelity."

Not all people who exhibit these factors will necessarily cheat, so there's no need to panic just because your partner demonstrates a few. But many cheaters tend to have the same behaviors or personality traits that often overlap, experts say. Here are 18 characteristics and traits of a cheater to watch out for, according to relationship therapists.


They Have Difficulty Controlling Impulses


Those who crave an adrenaline rush might use cheating to get it. "Being with someone who is not only new and different, but forbidden, and avoiding detection can be a thrill ride," says Coleman. "They are living on the edge, trying to keep their two lives from colliding."

Those who have difficulty with impulse control in particular — whether it be because of ADHD, or experiencing a head injury that altered their personality — might be more prone to cheating as well, because they have a hard time letting a tempting moment pass. Of course, this is not a guarantee, but may be the case for some people.


They Work In Trades Or Medicine


Data from extramarital affairs website Ashley Madison found that 23% of female cheaters on the site worked in the medical field along with 5% of male users. These jobs typically have long hours and high stress, and these factors may leave workers in this field more likely to stray. Other careers that top the list for women include education, finance, and social work. For men, the most unfaithful professions include trades, information technology, and retail. Entrepreneurs topped the list for both as well.


They Have Narcissistic Tendencies


Someone who is a narcissist exhibits extreme selfishness, a need for flattery and attention, and an inability to consider the needs and feelings of others. "These folks are at high risk of cheating, as they often rationalize that their partner does not treat them as they deserve or that they are neglected or unappreciated," says Coleman. "They also have little to no capacity to consider the hurt their behavior will inflict on their partner." One study published in 2014 also found that those who exhibit high levels of sexual narcissism — defined as a lack of sexual empathy, an inflated sense of sexual skill, and sexual entitlement — were more likely to cheat.


They Have A Longer Ring Finger


There are plenty of behavioral traits that can predict cheating, but sometimes, physical characteristics can be revealing as well. In fact, as strange as it seems, all you have to do is look at someone's ring finger. Research out of Oxford University found a link between ring finger length and likeliness to cheat. Longer ring fingers indicate greater testosterone exposure in the womb, and previous research has found that higher testosterone levels can go together with greater sexual promiscuity as an adult. While this isn't always a foolproof indicator, it's something interesting to think about.


They Have A Family History Of Cheating


People who grew up in an atmosphere of betrayal and cheating are more likely both to cheat and to select partners who are unfaithful, psychotherapist and relationship expert Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. tells Bustle. "Sometimes, anxiety about being cheated on can motivate a partner to cheat," she says. A study published in the Journal of Family Issues found that participants who experienced one or more parent cheating while growing up were more likely to cheat themselves. While this correlation might not be direct, or definitive, familial experiences can certainly impact how we navigate relationships later.


They're Dependent On Others


A dependent person may be more likely to cheat, as they need affirmation, possibly more than can be gotten from a long-term committed relationship. "As we know, long-term relationships take work, and if they are not nurtured regularly, then people, especially dependent personalities, tend to be ripe for attention from someone outside the relationship that is more attentive," clinical psychologist Dr. Cherry D. Weber tells Bustle. That's why making your relationship a priority, and ensuring everyone feels listened to is the best way to keep a relationship healthy.


They Have Fewer Oxytocin & Vasopressin Receptors In The Brain


Oxytocin and vasopressin are two hormones that play a role in social bonding, so it should come as no surprise that people with lower levels of these receptors in the brain are more likely to cheat on their partner. A study published in Evolution and Human Behavior found that having fewer receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain was linked with a higher likelihood of infidelity. For these people, cheating is more likely to be much more physical than emotional.


They Fear Emotional Intimacy


Developing a relationship that is loving and welcoming may foster a degree of emotional intimacy that feels like too much for some people, and cheating is a way to self-sabotage. "They may cheat to interrupt that intense connection," clinical psychologist Liz Gustafson, Ph.D. tells Bustle. But in this instance, it's important for the person being cheated on not to blame themselves, but rather realize that infidelity most likely came from the other person's inability to maintain that close connection.


They're Afraid Of Breaking Up With Someone


Some people may feel a relationship no longer satisfies their needs, but they do not feel like they can assert themselves and bring it to a close. "They might then cheat in order to gain a satisfying connection with someone or in secret hopes that their cheating will come to light and cause their partner to end your relationship for them," says Gustafson.


They Have A Certain Hair Color


Hair color might also indicate who is more likely to become intimate outside of the relationship. According to a report by CheaterVille, Inc., women with blonde hair are the most likely to cheat, while men with brown hair tend to stray the most. It's not a definite, but it is a noticed trend.


They Don't Have Many Friends Or Family


If someone feels lonely, they may cheat to seek connection, especially if they have a lack of family or friends. "There is no one to be responsible to or to spend extended time with," psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D. tells Bustle. "An affair can then feel like a new best friend." If your partner doesn't have an extended network of friends and family, that doesn't guarantee they will cheat. But be on the lookout if they seem to feel unfulfilled by the attention or connection of your relationship, as that is usually a catalyst.


They Have A Completely Separate Social Life


Although it's good to have your own activities you enjoy, when couples spend a great deal of time apart, they are spending it with someone other than their partner who is offering companionship, friendship, and fun. "This time with others weakens the couple bond and increases the bond with these other people," says Coleman. "There is also much greater opportunity as the person is alone, often where no one knows them and they have a sense of anonymity."


They're Commitment-Phobic


Some people are addicted to the excitement of the initial chase, but then grow bored when a relationship levels off and that early courtship phase is over. "They tend to be 'commitment phobic' and start to feel physically and mentally stressed when relationships start to get too serious," clinical psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D. tells Bustle. "It's not uncommon for a commitment-phobic person to cheat around the holidays, Valentine's Day, a birthday. Milestones make them nervous." The best way to gauge this is to find out from the beginning what your potential partner's intentions and needs are. If they don't seem to want a long-term, monogamous connection, it is definitely something to pay attention to.


They've Cheated Before


Turns out, people tend to say "once a cheater, always a cheater" for good reason. Research out of the journal Nature found that people who had cheated in their first relationship had triple the chances of cheating in their next one. The reason is that when people cheat once, they tend to come up with reasons to justify their infidelity, which makes them more desensitized to cheating in the future.


They Don't Have The Tools To Address An Inevitable Relationship Rut


Those who cheat when a relationship inevitably falls into a comfortable, potentially boring pattern, do so because they may be ill-equipped to handle lulls and struggles. "They stir up drama, and then regret it or revel in it," says Hafeez. But a person who is both confident in their relationship, and has the emotional maturity to deal with these ruts will know that boredom happens, and that it can be dealt with in healthy ways. "People who love themselves will steer clear from the stress and heartache that comes with cheating," Hafeez says. "They'll channel any boredom into a new hobby and will speak up with love and kindness when needs aren't being met."


They Are Focused On A Fantasy


Whether they’re feeling romantically or sexually unfulfilled in their relationship, or they simply live with their head in the clouds, some partners fixate too much on what could be in their love life, rather than what is right in front of them, according to certified matchmaker and relationship coach Daphney Poyser.

“People who are attracted to someone outside of their immediate relationship sometimes have a tendency to fantasize about a romantic relationship with the other person until it becomes a reality in their minds, and then leads to emotional and physical behavior that could be considered cheating or micro-cheating,” Poyser says.


They Want Payback


Even if you are not the one who cheated on them, if your partner has ever been the victim of infidelity in the past, they might feel entitled to revenge regardless. Poyser says, “Sometimes the payback for being cheated on results in people cheating, and even though there is no great reward it sometimes just seems like the only option to unjustified behavior.” Despite knowing it’s wrong, they might view it as “an eye for an eye” to justify their choices.


They Are Bored


If a partner feels bored because they don’t have their time occupied — or even if they are feeling bored or stagnant in the relationship — Poyser says that they might be tempted to reach out for attention or something to fill that void. “People with too much time on their hands so to speak sometimes test the waters by using dating apps to give them the attention they need, which sometimes leads to a form of virtual cheating that appears to be harmless but is cheating nonetheless,” she says.

Although cheating can happen for a multitude of reasons, and varies based on the circumstances, experts and research have found that people with these traits are more likely to be unfaithful.

Studies referenced:

Garrett, N. (2016). The brain adapts to dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience. doi:10.1038/nn.4426

Leone, R. (2020). The Moderating Role of Infidelity on the Relation Between Oxytocin and Conflict Behaviors Among Substance Misusing Couples. Exp Clin Psychoparmacol.

McNuity, J. (2014). Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Weiser, D. (2015). Family Background and Propensity to Engage in Infidelity. Journal of Family Issues.


Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, psychotherapist and relationship coach

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and relationship expert

Dr. Cherry D. Weber, clinical psychologist

Liz Gustafson, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., psychotherapist

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., clinical psychologist

Daphney Poyser, certified matchmaker and relationship coach

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