You know the old adage "once a cheater, always a cheater"? People use it all the time without a lot of thought. Well now it looks like they may have been right all along.
In a recent survey of 484 unmarried 18- to 34-year-olds, people who say they cheated in one relationship are three-and-a-half times more likely to report being unfaithful again in another relationship. In other words, they tend to be repeat offenders. But here's what's even scarier: They aren't the only ones who get in a bad rut in that scenario.
People who were cheated on are also more likely to be betrayed again in their next relationship. And believe me, I can relate. So why does this happen -- and what can those of us who have been there do to break the cycle?
"It may be because some people have trouble choosing partners," study author Kayla Knopp, of the University of Denver, told The Stir.
Though the research didn't look at why infidelity is a pattern among those on the other side of it, she said the study subjects were sometimes "victimized in a variety of ways" -- including various forms of abuse. In other words, cheating can be part of an overall pattern of dysfunction.
That's bad news for women like me: My own marriage ended partly because of infidelity. We tried to work through it the first time, and the second time ... but eventually it became clear that the root of the cheating went much deeper than a careless indiscretion.
I took a year off to heal before beginning a new relationship, this time with someone who couldn't be more different from my ex. I admit, it took a giant leap of faith to learn to trust. What if I were just one of those people who attracts cheaters, again and again? How could I be smarter this time?
You can't control another person's behavior. But you can learn to identify the signs that someone might cheat on you, especially if that infidelity stems from a personality disorder or other underlying issue. The Stir spoke with a therapist for these 6 tips on how to engage your head before you lose your heart to another cheater.
1. Learning to be "streetwise" in love is a skill you develop. Some of us just happen to be more naturally trusting, less skeptical. And some serial cheaters will pick up on that and target you. But you can actually learn how to recognize someone with a tendency toward infidelity, says family counselor Dr. Laurie Moore.
2. Look for clues before you fall in love. When you're falling in love, it's easy to ignore red flags. "You're in a dreamy-eyed stage that makes it easier to ignore or miss important clues and signs," Moore says. That's why it's important to take a hard, critical look at someone you're interested in before you become invested in a relationship with them.
3. Examine their world view and value system. Moore suggests asking your potential partner "about his past relationships, why they ended, and what he learned from them." Listen over time to what kinds of stories he chooses to share with you. Does he seem to value honesty and loyalty?
More from The Stir: 6 Ways to Get Over Cheating
4. Beware of self-proclaimed victims. Always playing the victim allows a person to rationalize bad choices. Moore suggests taking notice if the guy you're interested in is always talking about problems as someone else's fault. Does he rarely admit to making mistakes? A person worth getting to know should be someone who learns from their mistakes and is able to evolve over time.
5. Notice if they are secretive or avoidant in other areas of their life. "People who cheat tend to hide other things in a relationship," Moore says. "They may avoid eye contact at times or act secretive in other ways." Do you feel cut off from certain aspects of his life? That should be a red flag.
6. Just because you cheat once doesn't necessarily mean you're a serial cheater. Having said all that, you shouldn't necessarily write off someone who admits to an act of infidelity once in his life. What matters most is that he accepts responsibility for that mistake, feels tremendous remorse for it, and intends never to do it again. Ask what he learned from his betrayal and what he's doing to make sure he doesn't become a repeat offender.
Of course, there are no guarantees in life or love. But you have more power and agency in your love life than you may realize. What's more, these tips are good guidelines for examining a prospective relationship in general, not just to avoid betrayal. You can learn how to be wise and protective of yourself before you open up and let someone in. Make sure he's worthy of the privilege.
Have you ever felt like you're a magnet for cheater? Or do you feel like you're pretty good at spotting a dishonest guy?
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