As the saying goes, once a cheater, always a cheater. But is it true just because people say it? Your gut may tell you that someone who has cheated is bound to do it again, but in reality there have to be people who don’t. “Although some cheaters might actually be serial cheaters, it is not the truth for every person who has an affair,” Tammy Nelson, a sex and couples therapist and the author of When You're the One Who Cheats, tells Brides. In fact, according to a survey from Ashley Madison, the extramarital-affair dating app, 67 percent of cheaters do not believe that once someone cheats, they’ll definitely cheat again—and that’s from cheaters themselves.
So how can you spot a serial cheater? Well, it’s not always easy. Someone isn’t going to come right out and say that they don’t think cheating is a big deal, especially to someone they’re in a relationship with. “There are a few red flags that indicate if someone could a serial cheater,” Nelson explains. Here’s how you can know where to look—especially if they have a history of cheating already.
1. They Lie About Other Things
Here’s the thing about lying: The more you do it, the easier it gets. You’ve probably met people who seem to lie about little, pointless things for no reason—it can be confounding, because you just can’t understand why they would feel the need to fib all the time. But once you start lying, it’s easy to keep going. If you notice your partner lying or skirting the truth, that’s always cause for concern. “If they continue to lie about their behavior, over and over, whether they are having sexual or emotional affairs, then it may be a sign of compulsive behavior,” Nelson says. If you know your partner has cheated before and you feel like you can’t trust their version of the truth now, that can definitely indicate a serial cheater.
2. They Don’t Take Responsibility for Their Actions
For someone to be a serial cheater, there has to be some way that they justify this behavior to themselves—and often, it’s just by not taking responsibility. If your partner is never accountable, if they always have an excuse, if they act as though they couldn’t have possibly left 10 minutes earlier to be on time or could never possibly have been expected to remember you had a friend’s birthday party, those are all signs—especially if they never feel the need to apologize for upsetting you.
Also, if you know that they’ve cheated in previous relationships and they talk about it as being “complicated” or say that their ex was “crazy,” pay attention because that could mean that they’ll cheat again.
3. They Don’t Recognize the Gravity of Hurting Someone
We all make mistakes sometimes, and it’s definitely true that nobody’s perfect. But most of us feel horrible if we hurt someone or let them down; We understand the gravity of hurting them. But serial cheaters won’t want to look at how their actions affect other people This might mean they don’t even comprehend that their actions have an impact or they might treat you like you're overreacting or being melodramatic when they upset you.
This is especially true if they continually pursue relationships that make you uncomfortable or if you sense something is inappropriate. “If someone perpetually seeks an outside relationship they may be more prone to cheat on a regular basis,” Nelson says. If they try to act like the problem is in your head, don’t buy it. This is them avoiding looking at the consequences of their actions action or, even worse, straight-up gaslighting you.
4. They Accuse You of Cheating
OK, this one seems a little weird, but in some cases, it can definitely happen. Some people, in an effort to mask their own bad behaviors or thoughts, project them onto others. If they are cheating or are thinking of cheating, they may accuse you of straying or wanting to stray. If you know that they’ve cheated before and yet, for some reason, keep acting like you’re the one cheating, it may just be that they have cheating on their mind. It’s a clumsy way to hide it, but sometimes it can be so unnerving that it can actually distract you from their own behavior. Rather than feeling guilty or off guard, try to remember it could mean their cheating is an ongoing issue.
5. They Have Low Self-Esteem
Although low self-esteem is something that many of us struggle with, it’s also important to be aware that it can be a common trait among serial cheaters. “If they have low self-esteem and a history of chronic affairs it may indicate that one affair isn’t enough,” Nelson explains. Some people use affairs to bolster their own self-esteem, which matters to them far more than the fact that they're hurting other people.
Not everyone who cheats is bound to cheat again, but there certainly are serial cheaters out there. Look for patterns of behavior when it comes to lying and taking responsibility. And when in doubt, trust your gut—often, you know when something's really off.