Cheating, the word no one wants to hear in a romantically committed relationship. Finding out that your romantic partner cheated on you can leave you feeling completely blindsided. You may find yourself feeling paralyzed as questions about what went wrong flood your mind. Many will find themselves wrestling with continuing or ending the relationship. For those who decide to continue the relationship, like me once upon a time, we will mend the shattered pieces of our hearts and desperately cling to the belief that it will never happen again. Right?
Where Do I Place the Blame?
When I discovered that my partner cheated, I felt completely devastated. I found myself struggling to process how this could have happened. When I provided space to process the severity of the situation, I found myself looking inward to comprehend how cheating occurred in my relationship. I was looking for a person or situation to place the blame. What was wrong with me that would lead my partner to cheat? What could I have done more to ensure my partner would never stray from our relationship? The person to blame has to be me. I must have done something to lead my partner to look for love outside our relationship. Sound familiar? Self-blame has been found to be a common response after discovering that your romantic partner has cheated (Bird et al., 2007).
Filled with self-blame, I found myself grappling with the reasons to stay and continue the relationship. I thought about our marriage, our daughter, and the overwhelming fear that we would become yet another statistic. My partner promised me that nothing happened and that nothing would ever happen again. I desperately clung to these words. I believed I was in love and that it would never happen again. Despite the decision to stay, the lingering question that flooded my mind was will my partner cheat again? Before you decide to leave or stay, it is important to understand how cheating is defined and what makes someone more likely to cheat again.
Is it Really Cheating?
Before diving into why someone cheats and if they will do it again, it is important to distinguish what is classified as cheating. Several studies have proposed the importance of examining perceptions of infidelity, a term used to distinguish various behaviors like cheating, as vital in understanding the why and how cheating occurs in romantic relationships (Rodrigues, Lopes, & Pereira, 2017). In the 2017 study by Dr. Quin Monson and Scott Riding, 1000 participants were asked to label behaviors that they perceive as infidelity, the behaviors categorized as cheating ranged drastically. On the low end, 16% of participants perceived following a previous romantic partner on social media as cheating. About 55% of the study believed that being emotionally involved with someone besides your partner was cheating. A majority of participants (76%) labeled being sexually involved with someone other than your partner as cheating (Monson & Riding, 2017).
Although this study was able to identify several behaviors that are perceived to be cheating, there has yet to be an overall consensus on what behaviors constitute as cheating (Weeks & Fife, 2009). A lack of consensus and vague definition of infidelity coupled with an evolving culture that has become more accepting of cheating creates an environment with greater chances for cheating to occur. It is important to explore you and your partner’s perceptions of cheating, and discuss the specific behaviors you each believe constitutes as cheating to prevent future infidelity (Fife et al., 2020).
What Makes Someone Likely to Cheat?
Although there is never an excuse to cheat, research has shown that some people may have experiences or characteristics that put them at a higher risk for engaging in cheating behaviors. Stanley (2013) in a blog post states that a person who has greater sexual partners before their current relationship, parents who never married, and greater use of alcohol are more likely to engage in extradyadic sex. Additionally, Stanley (2013) found that characteristics in a relationship are more likely to predict cheating than experiences or characteristics of an individual. For example, the relationship variables associated with extradyadic sex are low levels of commitment to their partner, higher levels of negative communication, a history of physical violence in the relationship, not agreeing on when marriage should occur, and suspecting that your partner is having sex with someone else.
In regards to biological sex, Wang (2018) found that men are more likely to cheat when compared to women, as 20% of men candidly admitted to having sex with someone other than their partner while only 13% of women admitted to engaging in extradyadic sex. It is important to note that research has found that men are more likely to admit to infidelity when compared to women (Frisco et al., 2017). Women are also more likely to report their partner’s infidelity than men, which could skew the current statistics (Frisco et al, 2017). Overall, Stanley (2013) found that the quality of the relationship is the greatest factor for cheating.
Will My Romantic Partner Cheat Again?
According to the research, there is a good chance that if someone cheated once they will do it again. In fact, when individuals reported that they had cheated in a romantic relationship, they were 3 to 4 times more likely to report that they had also cheated in their next romantic relationship (Knopp, 2017). Stanley (2017) in his most recent blog post on cheating found that 45% of those who admitted to having cheated in a previous romantic relationship, reported to cheating in their next romantic relationship. Whereas only 18% of those who reported not cheating in a previous romantic relationship, reported cheating in their current relationship. So, the question remains, will my partner cheat again? According to the research, the answer points to yes, most likely your partner will cheat on you again.
However, you need to examine all factors that not only contribute to cheating but also the factors that may influence if your partner will cheat again. Ultimately, the decision is up to you. You are the only one that can decide if you should continue the relationship or end it all. Someone’s past does not have to be the haunting tale of their future. You can have healthy relationships where cheating does not occur. If you are currently in a relationship where cheating is still occurring, you deserve so much more than that. Never forget that you are a person of value. If you need more information on the next steps, check out one of our previous blog posts on whether you should stay or leave.
- Bird, M. H., Butler, M. H., & Fife, S. T. (2007). The process of couple healing following infidelity: A qualitative study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 6(4), 1-25.
- ElHage, A. (2017, April 26). Is digital media complicating how we define infidelity? Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/is-digital-media-complicating-how-we-define-infidelity
- Fife, S. T., Stewart, C. M., & Hawkins, L. G. (2020). Family-of-origin, sexual attitudes, and perceptions of infidelity: A mediation analysis. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 48(2), 142-159.
- Frisco, M. L., Wenger, M. R., & Kreager, D. A. (2017). Extradyadic sex and union dissolution among young adults in opposite-sex married and cohabiting unions. Social Science Research, 62, 291–304.
- Knopp, K., Scott, S., Ritchie, L., Rhoades, G. K., Markman, H. J., & Stanley, S. M. (2017). Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 2301-2311.
- Monson, Q., Ph.D, & Riding, S. (2017, April 20). Adultery in the digital age in the U.S. Desert News. https://media.deseret.com/media/misc/pdf/2017-Adultery-Study.pdf
- Rodrigues, D., Lopes, D., & Pereira, M. (2017). Sociosexuality, commitment, sexual infidelity, and perceptions of infidelity: Data from the second love website. The Journal of Sex Research, 54(2), 241-253.
- Stanley, S. (2017, September 26). Cheating then and again. Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/cheating-then-and-again
- Stanley, S. (2013, December 12). Who cheats? Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats
- VerBurggen, R. (2016, November 3). Infidelity: What they don’t know won’t hurt them? Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/infidelity-what-they-dont-know-wont-hurt-them
- VerBruggen, R. (2016, August 4). Millennials: Generation infidelity? Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/millennials-generation-infidelity
- Wang, W. (2018, January 10). Who cheats more? the demographics of infidelity in America. Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/who-cheats-more-the-demographics-of-cheating-in-america
- Weeks, G. R., & Fife, S. T. (2009). Rebuilding intimacy following infidelity. Psychotherapy in Australia, 15(3), 28-39.
- Wolfinger, N. H. (2018, April 18). Promiscuous America: Smart, secular, and somewhat less happy. Institute for Family Studies Blog. https://ifstudies.org/blog/promiscuous-america-smart-secular-and-somewhat-less-happy
I am a first year graduate student at Northern Illinois University in the Applied Human Development and Family Sciences program. I graduated from Northern Illinois University in May of 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences with a Child Development: Parent and Infant Studies emphasis. My plan is to become a Certified Family Life Educator and be an advocate for healthy family systems. I am a mommy to a beautiful 6 year old daughter. I also got married in May of 2020 to a firefighter.