The Real Reasons People Cheat More Than Once

They say “once a cheater, always a cheater,” but why do people become serial cheaters? How can you know when to trust someone when they say they’ve changed, and when to walk away? Here are a few reasons people cheat more than once:

  1. Dishonesty becomes easier over time. A study from 2016 revealed that the brain adapts to self-serving dishonesty: the more a person lies, the less remorseful they feel about it. This has significant consequences for understanding why people cheat more than once. Someone who cheats for the first time feels worse than someone who cheats for the tenth. Instead of “once a cheater, always a cheater,” maybe we should say, “twice a cheater, always a cheater.” If someone cheats a second time even after the emotional toll they experienced from their first infidelity, they are more likely to keep cheating.
  2. They’re addicted to the thrill. Some people find the danger of cheating to be such a turn-on that no amount of love or commitment could stop them from being unfaithful to their partner. Called “the cheater’s high,” the phenomenon is backed up by research, which shows that people love getting away with unethical behavior. For some people, the excitement of breaking the rules outweighs the pain caused by their dishonesty.
  3. They’re insecure. Some people never feel safe unless they have a backup. They’re so scared of abandonment and being alone that they maintain more than one relationship option. This is a form of preemptive self-defense and is not rooted in the thrill of cheating or comfort with dishonesty. Instead, it’s a manifestation of deep insecurity. If the insecurity isn’t addressed, a person in this situation will likely continue cheating.
  4. They’ve never been caught. Getting away with bad behavior can give people a sense of invincibility. They believe that, since they’ve gotten this far, they will never be found out. This gives them a sense of comfort and stability, and they find no reason to stop. Some even justify their behavior by telling themselves that, if no one finds out, no one gets hurt. This rationalization makes it easier for them to keep going.
  5. They’re narcissistic. Narcissism has detrimental effects on all aspects of a relationship, but one of its primary manifestations is cheating. Narcissists have an outsized sense of their own importance, a lack of empathy, and an insatiable desire for admiration. All of these things can lead to infidelity. Narcissists feel entitled to have whatever they want, no matter the pain it causes others. And they need attention so badly that one person can never provide enough.
  6. They stay in relationships for too long. Some people who have a history of confrontation avoidance find it impossible to end a bad relationship. They cannot bring themselves to do the difficult deed of breaking up, so they move on in every other way, hoping their partner will eventually cut things off for them. Sometimes, a person will remove themselves so fully from their relationship that they start new ones. Whether it’s cowardice or a misguided fear of hurting the person they used to love, it is one of the most common reasons people cheat more than once.
  7. They’ve never taken their relationships seriously. Failing to respect their partner and viewing commitment as optional are common features amongst serial cheaters. If you think your partner might cheat again, consider whether you feel respected by them. Do they make an effort in your relationship? Do they show up when you need them? Do they make you feel secure in their commitment? If the answer to these questions is no, they may well be serially unfaithful.
  8. They’re afraid of commitment. Self-sabotage is another reason people cheat. Someone who is terrified of committing may become overwhelmed when their relationship starts to deepen. Their growing vulnerability makes them desperate to get out, and they sabotage the relationship by lashing out, distancing themselves from their partner, or cheating. They may do this because they themselves are afraid of getting hurt, or simply because the idea of being with one person is unattractive to them. Either way, this behavior is difficult to address as a partner because it is often the result of deeply rooted insecurities.
  9. They’ve had bad relationship role models. While cheaters are always responsible for their own actions, some people have a harder time recognizing a healthy relationship due to the examples they grew up with. A 2015 study found that people who cheated were twice as likely to have a parent who was unfaithful than those who hadn’t cheated (44% of cheaters vs 22% of non-cheaters). The study also found that the perception of cheating did not vary between the groups. Both agreed that cheating was bad. This suggests that children imitate their parents’ behavior even when they find it reprehensible.
  10. They haven’t resolved a conflict with their partner. The cause of a person’s infidelity is a good place to start when trying to determine whether or not they’ll do it again. Feeling unappreciated, unfulfilled, or angry with a partner can lead a person to commit adultery, and unless those issues are resolved, they are likely to continue. Studies have shown that affairs based on feelings of anger or abandonment by a partner are likely to last longer than other types of adultery. It is clear, therefore, that an apology means nothing until the underlying relationship issues that led to the infidelity are resolved.
Rose Nolan is a writer and editor from Austin, TX who focuses on all things female and fabulous. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from the University of Surrey and a Master's Degree in Law from the University of Law. She’s been writing professional since 2015 and, in addition to her work for Bolde, she’s also written for Ranker and Mashed. She's published articles on topics ranging from travel, higher education, women's lifestyle, law, food, celebrities, and more.