The phrase 'once a cheater, always a cheater' isn't always true, but serial cheaters do exist. Here's why they do it.

AMC/HBO/Universal PicturesJust because someone cheated one time doesn’t mean they will do it again.
  • The phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” suggests that anyone who has ever had an affair will cheat again in the future.
  • But there isn’t one all-encompassing profile of a cheater, and people cheat for different reasons. So psychotherapist Tammy Nelson says the phrase isn’t necessarily true.
  • Serial cheaters do exist though, and their actions may stem from narcissism.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.


The phrase “once a cheater, always a cheater” has been used time and again to suggest that any person who has one affair is sure have another in the future.

Although these types of people exist, they are also cheaters whose actions really are a one-time occurrence, according to Tammy Nelson, a psychotherapist and independent consultant for Ashley Madison.

“People have tried to put cheating in categories, but I think there’s different kinds and different needs and reasons for cheating,” Nelson told INSIDER.

Factors like where a person is in their life, how they feel in a specific relationship, or how they feel about themselves at any given moment can influence cheating motivations.

A person may cheat, for example, if they are lacking self-confidence; getting attention from a person outside their relationship can make them feel important and desirable. A cheater may also have an affair out of resentment for their partner, according to Nelson.

But those circumstances aren’t constants and can be changed, so the idea that any person who has cheated will definitely do so again in the future doesn’t necessarily hold true.

Sex gay couple kissingiStockSerial cheaters do exist.

At the same time, serial cheaters do exist. But they tend to do so for reasons that have more to do with their personalities than their circumstances.

“Maybe they’re turned on by dishonesty,” Nelson said. “[They have an] inability to commit to monogamy but are also not honest enough to ask for an open relationship.”

She said these folks could also have an attachment disorder or narcissism. Narcissists are characterised as selfish yet charming, so while it may seem they have your best interests at heart, they’re likely just thinking about themselves. An affair may seem like no big deal to a narcissist.

“Their need for attention and admiration is never-ending,” clinical psychologist Candace V. Love told Business Insider.

When it comes to those with attachment disorders, Nelson said these people view their partners almost like parental figures, an action that usually stems from childhood experiences.

“[The cheater] makes it seems like they need a safe home base with a partner but then acts like an adolescent saying ‘You can’t tell me what to do’ and ‘I’m going to do what I want,’ instead of just being single and clear about their values,” Nelson said.

The cheater may even believe they are doing themselves and their partner a favour by staying in a relationship but cheating on the side. Not every cheater is a self-centered or bad person though.

“Some cheat to stay in their marriage,” Nelson said.

So it may not serve you to simply write off all cheaters as creatures of habit.

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