Once a cheater always a cheater? The experts say this may not always be the case. One therapist, Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, argues that since behavior is learned, it is possible to do a turnaround when it comes to cheating. “People certainly can change. Of course, I am an agent for change, so am a bit biased, but also a trained professional in human behavior. Behavior is learned, however, and whatever is learned, can be un-learned,” Irwin told The Cheat Sheet.
If you’ve ever been cheated on, your first instinct may have been to break up because you felt you could never trust the cheater again. But depending on the circumstances, you might have another shot at love with your partner. Here’s why.
Consider why your partner cheated
You may not think about this during the aftermath of the cheating, but the circumstances that led to infidelity could make all the difference. Teri Lynn Wilkins, a life coach specializing in infidelity, betrayal, and cheating, said the reason why your partner strayed may determine whether or not it’s likely to happen again. While it’s not an excuse, a reason can provide insight into what changes need to be made if you decide to stay in the relationship.
In addition, what the cheater sees as a positive intention may sometimes lead to a negative outcome when it comes to relationship needs. Sometimes, in an attempt to fulfill an unmet need (perhaps feelings of loneliness), the cheater may reach out to someone outside the relationship. Irwin proposed a warped sense of what is right may be what is underneath it all. “No one does anything to deliberately be bad, or wrong, or even evil. There is always a positive intent. In the clinic, we discover what the intent is, and find a healthy way to get that need met versus harming the self or others,” Irwin said.
A second chance?
Being cheated on doesn’t feel good, so it’s understandable to feel like you should flee the relationship. However, Wilkins said, in some cases, it might make sense to give your partner another chance. If he or she is truly sorry and willing to try harder at resolving issues before they mushroom, it may be worth it. “A cheater should be given a second chance if they are wanting to mend the relationship. My definition of that is if they are willing to do whatever it takes (including professional counseling), to help their partner heal, for however long it takes,” Wilkins said. “If not, they probably don’t really want to be in the relationship to begin with and that is why they are cheating, so they will cheat again.”
Even if you do reconcile, let your partner know that cheating is not OK. Don’t allow your significant other to mistake your forgiveness for permission. Also do some soul searching to take stock of why you want in the relationship. Wilkins warns if your reasons are rooted in fear, you may want to reconsider your decision. “Cheating is a huge red flag that something is fundamentally broken in the relationship, and it requires much work to dig into those things and fix them. People should not stay together if they are only staying for fear of being alone or not wanting to deal with the grief of a relationship loss,” Wilkins advised.
Deciding when to break up
Most of the time, there comes a point where you realize you can’t work through the infidelity. But before you make your decision, Wilkins said you should evaluate whether your partner is willing to move beyond simply apologizing and take action to make things right. “If all they are willing to do is apologize, but not work to heal [the relationship], you should leave,” she said. Wilkins also mentioned it’s best to part ways if the two of you have different definitions of cheating or if your partner isn’t willing to commit.
Follow Sheiresa on Twitter @SheiresaNgo.