The statistics show that once a cheat, always a cheat. Yet might there be occasions when cheating can be forgiven? Are there certain circumstances that could mitigate the crime of cheating? Should you forgive a cheater? Or should you wave adios?
A study of 500 people, led by Kayla Knopp of the University of Denver (Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater? Serial Infidelity Across Subsequent Relationships) indicated those who cheated once are three times more likely to cheat again. So forgiving a cheater is very likely to be a waste of time. Yet, so many people do forgive and give their unfaithful partners a second chance.
Obstacles to Forgiving a Cheater
The emotional response when someone finds out their partner has cheated cannot be underestimated. Betrayal, anger, sadness don’t even come close to describing how it feels when your whole life is ripped apart. When everything you believed to be real, safe, and sacrosanct is suddenly turned upside down. You didn’t even have to consider what constituted trust in your partner until it evaporated. Now trust, or lack of it, becomes the number one factor in whether you can forgive a cheating spouse.
Knowing your partner is capable of lying to you and manipulating you. Knowing they made a fool of you. And, of course, that they could do it again, seems like an impenetrable obstacle to forgiving them. When just looking at them brings all those emotions to the surface. How could you ever love them again, let alone trust them. It’s tough. And it makes us realize that what appeared to be a secure, unbreakable bond was really as fragile as a soap bubble in a breeze.
Common Motivations for Cheating
- Little or no commitment to the current relationship.
- Low relationship emotional or sexual satisfaction.
- Low priority given to fidelity and loyalty.
- The cheating partner has a high sex drive.
Cheaters’ Second Chance Options
What mitigating circumstances might help partners come to terms with cheating and cement a stronger relationship?
- The cheating partner commits to working to improve and deepen the relationship through counseling or mediation. This will mean they have to be open about the reasons why the cheating occurred. Both partners have to be prepared to deal with some ugly truths, and the process is not guaranteed to work. Sometimes, the cheating brings to light certain behaviors that would never otherwise be addressed. However, those who survive this ordeal often go on to create strong life-long bonds based on mutual trust.
- When the infidelity occurred because of rejection by the non-cheating partner. This is a tricky one. Sometimes the relationship is strained because one partner has physical or mental health issues. Or for whatever reason, they reject intimacy. The other partner feels entitled to make up for the lack of emotional and physical contact. In such cases, professional help is the best recourse.
- The relationship was on hiatus. Many couples decide that taking a break would breathe new life into their partnership. However, unlike Rachel and Ross, the ground rules need to be set beforehand. For example, if both couples agree that while they are apart it’s acceptable to go out with other people, then that’s fine. Be aware that the fall-out from these temporary liaisons is often fatal to a relationship. Those who consider themselves able to handle the idea of their partner sleeping with other people suddenly realize that they are not OK with it at all.
When Forgiveness is Not an Option
Perhaps you already forgave your partner once? Maybe they convinced you that it was a ‘mistake’, and aberration, a moment of madness. That their eyes were opened and they realized what they were risking, what they were about to lose. They reassured you, made promises, cajoled you, soothed you… and ultimately lied—again. How many more times will you put yourself through the torture? On how many more occasions will you forgive a cheater? The answer should be: none.
And what if the affair has been going on for a long time? It wasn’t just a fling, but a calculated, ongoing betrayal. In essence, your partner has maintained two separate lives. How does that feel? Perhaps you have known or had suspicions for a while? Perhaps you practiced a kind of self-deception, thinking it would end soon? In this case you have probably worked through all the raw emotions and come to the conclusion that the marriage is more important than the affair. But now, for whatever reason, it’s all out in the open. The betrayal visible for all to see. Some people will still be able to forgive. Most won’t.
You Cheated – Can You Make Amends?
You may not ever receive the forgiveness of your partner, but there are some things you can do to try to put things right:
- Do not lie.
- Do not manipulate.
- Do not make yourself out to be the victim.
- Do not blame your partner.
- Take full responsibility for your actions.
- Be completely open and truthful about the circumstances.
- Improve communication between you and your partner.
- Be prepared to weather emotional storms; there will be many.
- Do the work necessary to rebuild trust.
- Attend counseling, therapy, or mediation as your partner requests.
- Deliver on your promises—every single time.
From the outside, it’s hard for us to understand why so many people forgive their serial cheating partner. It’s frustrating when your sister doesn’t see what you see and opens her arms to her unfaithful spouse over and over. Remember, that it isn’t possible to know the dynamics of a marriage or long-term relationship. Even when we believe it is destructive and toxic, we still cannot know how it works for the people concerned.
Of course, if there are other factors, such as abuse, drug-taking, harm to children, then witnesses to the marriage must do their best to extricate the victim partner. Unfortunately, in these cases, it’s easier said than done. Professional advice should be sought.
For most people, though, a single betrayal is enough to destroy trust and love. Those who do manage to forgive and forge a new beginning sometimes admit that it actually saved their relationship. However, partners who go on to cheat more than once are rarely forgiven. Time’s up, you’ve had your chance, now go.