"Once a cheater, always a cheater?" Ah the age old question plaguing relationships everywhere. Whether you've had personal experiences with infidelity or not, people tend to have a lot of strong opinions about the answer. Is someone who made a mistake, owned up to it, and begged for forgiveness really doomed to make the same mistakes over and over? Should a serial cheater's apologies be accepted?
These are all complicated questions. And the answers, it turns out, are pretty complicated, too (just like, you know, pretty much every aspect of human relationships). We asked seven therapists to give some insight on whether someone who's cheated once will always be a cheater. The bottom line? Well, it depends.
It depends on their attitude towards relationships
"Human beings are capable of making mistakes and [infidelity] can be a major life lesson that gets everyone back on the right track. You do get the outliers who might be people who are sex addicts or who go into relationships thinking there's no such thing as monogamy, but I do think that is not the norm, that is more of the exception. Mostly what I see when people come to therapy is that they do want to work on themselves and their relationship." — Rachel Sussman, L.C.S.W., relationship expert
It depends on whether you're both willing to do the work
"I absolutely believe that it’s possible for people to cheat and to have that come to light and take a look at why they made that decision—what was going on in their relationship and what was going on with them as an individual—and grow around their experience. But it requires some major work. If you’re partner has cheated on you and they don’t do that work, they will cheat on you again. I don’t think it’s just a risk, I think it will happen again." — Matt Lundquist, L.C.S.W., New York-based psychotherapist
It depends on what the infidelity looked like
"Cheating in the form of a one-night stand when you are getting closer to taking a big next step in your relationship is different than cheating on every partner you have ever had (which is indicative of a more ingrained dysfunctional pattern of relating). People cheat for different reasons. People can also change (but don't always change). The determining factor for me is whether the person is interested in understanding, learning, growing and healing from their decision to cheat. If we are capable of understanding why we did what we did and have a desire to be a better person, we can make different choices next time." — Rebecca Hendrix, L.M.F.T., New York-based integrative holistic psychotherapist
It depends on how much of a risk taker they are
"'Once a cheater, always a cheater' would likely apply to individuals with high predilection for risk-taking and thrill-seeking. Type A, alpha types, and those with narcissistic traits may be more likely to be repeat-cheaters, due to an inflated sense of power and entitlement. The likelihood of getting caught would also factor in. For example, one who travels for work and engages in a series of anonymous, conflict-free encounters would be more likely to repeat the behaviour (assuming, of course, that it is gratifying). Factors such as guilt and anxiety would certainly mitigate against recidivist cheating, and of course getting caught, and the emotional fall out from that." — Franklin Porter, Ph.D., New York-based individual and couples therapist
It depends on the consequences
"If a person is never discovered by their partner, the infidelity could continue since the person never has to come to terms with the consequences and emotions that are brought up upon facing the whole truth of their lives. If the cheating partner is discovered, then they have to come face to face with the pain (in real time) they’ve caused their partner while having to come to terms with why they cheated. If the couple goes to a therapist to attempt a reconciliation they will need to not only discuss ways in which the cheating partner makes amends and actively re-builds trust, but also how they each need to shift to keep their relationship vital, sexually passionate, and authentically intimate." — Sari Cooper, L.C.S.W., director of the Centre for Love and Sex, certified sex therapist
It depends on whether they liked it
"There are people who cheat in their teens or twenties, and discover it's a miserable experience, and never do it again. Then there are people who cheat and discover they quite like it. So the best question to ask a potential partner might be, 'What did it feel like to cheat?'"
This article originally appeared on Women's Health