Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Cheating

Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Cheating

Betrayal is incredibly painful. Whether you’re the betrayed, the cheater, or caught in the fallout of someone else’s affair, cheating rarely has the simple explanations we crave. It’s easy to form strong opinions, but the truth is often far more complex than pop culture makes it seem. Here are some of the most common misconceptions.

1. “If they cheated once, they’ll always be a cheater.”

This isn’t always true. Sometimes, it’s a symptom of a deeply broken relationship, unmet needs, or personal issues the cheater needs to address. Blanket statements ignore that people can change, though it’s a tough road. Reconciliation is incredibly difficult and requires the cheater to be painfully honest with themselves to ensure it won’t happen again, Choosing Therapy explains.

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2. “Only unhappy people in bad relationships cheat.”

Sadly, not true. Even seemingly “happy” couples struggle and fall apart for complex reasons. People stray due to unmet needs, lack of communication, opportunity, or a midlife crisis that completely blindsides them. It’s not an excuse, but sometimes they’re shocked by their own actions, never thinking they’d be the one capable of infidelity.

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3. “Cheating is always about sex.”

It gets complicated. Sometimes, the initial draw is the emotional intimacy they’re lacking at home. Feeling seen, validated, and desired by someone new reignites a spark that’s been absent from their primary relationship. This can spiral into something deeper, even if physical intimacy wasn’t the initial intent. Of course, sex often complicates things, but it’s not always the root cause of the initial straying.

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4. “It’s the other person’s fault for seducing a taken partner.”

Absolutely not. The cheater is the one who knowingly broke a vow of commitment. Sure, some “homewreckers” are predatory, but placing ALL blame on them ignores the active choice of the person in a relationship. They’re responsible for setting boundaries, upholding their promises, and resisting temptation, not the tempting outsider.

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5. “Cheaters are all selfish narcissists who don’t care who they hurt.”

It’s rarely that simple. Often, they do carry deep guilt, even while unable to stop their actions. It’s more about being trapped in a spiral of their own unmet needs, with a lack of self-awareness to see the damage they’re causing until it’s too late. Selfishness is definitely a factor, but it’s rarely the cold, calculated malice that it appears from the outside.

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6. “There’s one ‘right’ way to react if you’ve been cheated on.”

There’s no guidebook for betrayal. Some people need to leave immediately, and that’s completely justified. Others need more time to process their emotions, weigh their options, and figure out the best path forward, and that’s also valid. Anger, denial, sadness, attempts to understand are all normal stages of grief, and there’s no single timeline for navigating that pain.

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7. “Once trust is broken, it can never be repaired.”

man woman unhappy couple sad argue

Rebuilding trust is incredibly hard, but possible in some cases. It requires immense work from BOTH partners if there’s any hope. Counseling is often essential, and the process is slow, with setbacks likely. For some, the pain goes too deep, and it’s just not possible to truly forgive, no matter how much they wish they could.

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8. “Getting revenge by cheating back will make you feel better.”

couple sitting on the couch talking

Rarely. It’s an understandable impulse born from pain, but you often end up hurting yourself more, and it tanks any chance for true healing. The focus needs to be on YOUR needs, not mimicking the behavior that shattered you in the first place. Revenge might offer fleeting satisfaction, but it often leads to greater regret when the dust settles.

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9. “The betrayed person always finds out eventually, the truth can’t stay hidden.”

Upset arguing couple sitting on bench in park. Relationship problems

Unfortunately, that’s false. Some cheaters are incredibly skilled at hiding things long-term, becoming masters of deception. The betrayed partner may sense something’s off, suspect infidelity, but lack concrete proof. It’s a painfully unfair limbo: knowing in your gut but never being able to confirm, leaving them doubting their own sanity.

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10. “Women cheat mostly for emotional reasons, men for purely physical ones.”

Young sad looking couple sitting at a distance and looking away from each other. Selective focus on the male.

This stereotype is harmful and inaccurate, per Scientific American. While there’s often an emotional component for everyone involved, both men and women can be driven by physical desire, lack of impulse control, or a deep need for external validation. Painting infidelity with a gendered brush minimizes the complexity of individual choices and motivations.

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11. “If you forgive them, you’re a doormat with no self-respect.”

Young couple having problems in their relationship

Forgiveness is a complex, deeply personal process, and there’s no single “right” way to navigate it. Choosing reconciliation isn’t about condoning the action; it’s about YOU finding a way to move on, whether that means staying with the partner or ultimately leaving. Sometimes, forgiveness is about letting go of the anger that poisons your own life, regardless of the relationship’s outcome.

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12. “Cheaters all have ‘tells’, you can spot them with enough attention.”

frustrated woman with boyfriend in bed

If only it were that simple! Sometimes, changes in behavior do signal something’s wrong – they become more withdrawn, overly secretive, or lash out defensively. But those shifts could also have other causes, and good liars are GOOD at covering their tracks. They may even become overly attentive to deflect suspicion. This lack of foolproof checklist is what makes betrayal so incredibly devastating.

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13. “Staying with your partner after they cheat makes you weak.”

Working through infidelity takes immense strength! It requires a level of vulnerability, brutal honesty, and difficult conversations that most relationships never experience. It’s absolutely a choice some will never understand, but it doesn’t mean the person giving the second chance lacks self-worth or courage.

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14. “The only reason people stay after cheating is fear of being alone.”

Frustrated couple, headache and fight on sofa in divorce, disagreement or conflict in living room at home. Man and woman in toxic relationship, cheating affair or dispute on lounge couch at house

That’s an oversimplification, though fear can definitely be a factor. Love is messy, and even after betrayal, some couples have bonds worth fighting for. Practical matters like children, shared finances, or intertwined lives add another layer of complexity. Sometimes, the decision to leave eventually happens, but it takes time to plan and disentangle a life built together.

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15. “If you suspect cheating, snooping for proof is the best way to get answers.”

Unhappy couple having crisis and difficulties in relationship

It’s tempting, but this often backfires spectacularly! Finding evidence confirms your worst fears, but rarely in the way you anticipated. You can’t unread those texts, or unsee those photos, and the shock might drive you to react rashly, making the situation even worse. Sometimes, a difficult but direct confrontation, as painful as it is, yields more useful insight, and puts the control back in your hands

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16. “Time heals all wounds, even betrayal eventually starts to fade.”

sad woman on edge of bed with boyfriend

For some, with a lot of work, the initial rawness does lessen. But infidelity leaves scars. Even in fully reconciled relationships, triggers linger. Anniversaries, places, even certain songs can dredge up the hurt again. A trust that’s fully regained may always have a fragile “patch” over the most damaged spot, a reminder of what was broken and carefully mended.

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Phoebe Mertens is a writer, speaker, and strategist who has helped dozens of female-founded and led companies reach success in areas such a finance, tech, science, and fashion. Her keen eye for detail and her innovative approach to modern womanhood makes her one of the most sought-out in her industry, and there's nothing she loves more than to see these companies shine.

With an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business and features in Forbes and Fast Company she Phoebe has proven she knows her stuff. While she doesn't use social media, she does have a private Instagram just to look at pictures of cats.