Some serial cheaters are driven by traits like narcissism or entitlement. Others cheat because they’re bored or have low self-esteem. Some enjoy the thrill of secret affairs, of being sneaky and getting away with it. Some cheat because they’re afraid of intimacy. Then there are those who cheat because they have unmet emotional or physical needs within their relationship. Cheating is a complex issue after all.
Irrespective of the reason behind a partner’s infidelity, being in a relationship with someone who has a habit of cheating can be a devastating experience that is bound to take a toll on your mental health and sense of self. To help you protect yourself, we’re here to shed light on the tell-tale traits of a serial cheater and how to deal with one, with insights from forensic clinical psychologist Shincy Nair Amin (M.Phil., Forensic Psychology), who specializes in working with sexual assault victims and sexual offenders, counseling for depression and anxiety, and is a certified life coach.
Who Is A Serial Cheater?
Cheating says a lot about a person, and anyone who has crossed the line of fidelity has a lot to answer for. However, when it comes to a pathological cheater, the pursuit of the forbidden fruit becomes a different ball game altogether. A serial cheater is a person in a committed, monogamous relationship who consistently seeks romantic/sexual connections outside.
Do serial cheaters ever feel remorse, you wonder? Well, since they are repeat cheaters in marriage or long-term relationships, they suffer from little remorse and hardly feel guilty for their actions. That’s because one of the most defining cheater red flags is that they don’t view cheating as a mistake. If you’re looking for serial cheater personality traits, keep an eye out for these:
- Cheating is valid: Habitual cheaters in marriage or committed relationships don’t view their transgressions as wrong or hurtful. To them, cheating is valid
- I cheat but I love you: Serial infidelity while in a relationship and then going back to tell their partner, “I love you so much”, is one of the telling personality characteristics of cheaters
- Guilt-free: A pathological cheater doesn’t experience any cheating guilt. Not for long anyway because in their mind their actions are legitimate
- Compulsive habit: He/she can’t stop cheating. Be it because of their inability to fully commit to a person or a tendency to feel bored easily, they struggle to stay loyal to their partner
- Lack of personal accountability: A repeat cheater may tell you that this was just a one-time thing. But, the reality is that serial cheaters in marriage/relationships are people who don’t want to accept responsibility, even if they do everything to make you believe otherwise
- Serial adultery is second nature: A pathological liar and cheater, as the name suggests, cheats. A lot. Over the years. Over partners. Over drinks and over business meetings. They might not want exclusivity on the sexual front just because they are already in a relationship
Serial cheating psychology
Now that you understand the serial adultery definition, let’s take a look at the mindset of a cheating wife/husband. Shedding light on serial cheating psychology, Shincy says, “Serial cheaters personality disorder is the repeated pattern of looking out for people for sexual relationships other than their own partner, without knowledge or consent of the present partner. This behavior can be seen in both males and females.”
As a result, you can find some similarities in the male and female cheating behavior patterns as well as the underlying triggers for their inconsistent behavior in a relationship. A study on chronic cheaters psychology showed that committing an act of infidelity for either sexual or emotional reasons was related to an increased level of psychological well-being as it raises their levels of self-esteem. It can be called the cheater’s high, which means emotional and psychological satisfaction from unethical behavior, due to perceived gains (social, financial or other) like:
- Increased sense of autonomy
- A feel-good factor
- A sense of thrill from taking risks and getting away with something
If it’s the thrill and gratification that keep them going, why do serial cheaters get married, you may wonder. Or for that matter, why do serial cheaters want to stay married when they derive their gratification from a series of extramarital liaisons?
Shincy explains, “Interestingly, there are different types of cheaters, and not all cheaters cheat for the same reasons. The compulsive cheating disorder is characterized by traits like narcissist cheating patterns, manipulative behavior, antisocial personality, extreme self-importance, sociopathic tendencies, and others. These can stem from:
- Mood disorders
- Sexual addiction
- Low impulse control
- Underlying childhood traumas like a broken home, abuse
- Low self-esteem or feelings of unworthiness
- Insecure attachment styles
“However, cheating is a violation of trust and most victims of cheating go through emotional turmoil questioning their worth or their fault for the failure of that relationship. But, it has nothing to do with the victim and all boils down to the offender/cheater and their self-destructive tendencies. Even so, loving a cheater is a scarring experience.”
Related Reading: 5 Excuses Your Partner Gives For Cheating On You
15 Warning Traits Of A Serial Cheater You Should Never Ignore
On the surface, a person who cheats compulsively may seem slick enough to cover their tracks and get away with their transgressions. However, if you pay close attention, you will begin to notice certain behavior patterns that can expose their conniving, cheating ways.
“Most common traits of serial cheaters are being less empathetic, disinterested, and self-obsessed. Such individuals possess certain attributes that can help you identify a serial cheater in them,” says Shincy. If you can’t shake off the feeling that you’re living with a cheater, pay attention to these tell-tale signs:
1. You’re dating someone who cheated in the past
Research has shown that those who cheated before are three times more likely to cheat again. So, dating someone with a history of cheating is a major red flag. The phrase “once a cheater, always a repeater” definitely rings true in this case. Explaining why it is so, Shincy says, “Habitual cheaters are known to exhibit antisocial or sociopathic tendencies, marked by a constant disregard for rules and loyalty toward everyone in their lives.”
2. They blame their exes way too much
People with compulsive cheating disorder always put the blame for their actions on external factors or other people. Be alarmed if when speaking of their past transgressions, your partner or a romantic interest tries to shake off all accountability by insinuating:
- All of their exes before you were simply not good enough
- They were the victim in their past relationships
- It was their ex’s fault that they cheated
If you want to spot a serial cheater before it’s too late, it’s important to know what do cheaters say when caught. Shincy explains, “A person who cheats in a relationship has a habit of blame-shifting. If you’re looking to identify cheating people, the most common and reliable trait is their tendency to always blame others for their bad behavior or faults. They can make the most impressive mental acrobats to prove that others are responsible for their terrible or miserable actions.”
Related Reading: What To Do When You’re In A Relationship With A Womanizer
3. They groom a lot
Both women and men who are serial cheaters are unusually conscious of their looks. Irrespective of whether or not they’re currently sleeping with someone else on the side, they want to appear prim and proper at all times. To an unsuspecting eye, this behavior may not seem out of the ordinary. However, when this focus on looks and grooming borders on obsession, it can be a warning sign of cheating. Your partner may be fixated on their looks because it’s the biggest tool in their kitty for luring a romantic/sexual mate outside of the relationship.
4. A cheater thrives on secrecy
While lying comes naturally to serial cheaters, they truly thrive on secrecy. When you’re in a relationship with one, you will always feel as if there is a part of them you cannot reach. They will be distant in many ways, creating enough ambiguity to supply them with the gray areas they need to continue with their transgressions. Sounds relatable? Pay attention to these clues you’re dating a liar and a cheater:
- Your partner doesn’t share details of their life with you
- Your questions about their life, their day, or their work are met with ambiguous replies
- They are unusually territorial about their gadgets
- You’re fuzzy on the details of their social life
Ashlyn, who was married to a cheater, says that his being sneaky in a relationship made her smell a rat and dig deeper. “The repeated adultery signs started becoming apparent when I started noticing that my husband hides things from me and then lies to cover his tracks. Over time my suspicions got the better of me, and one night, I started looking through his phone after he had fallen asleep. Lo and behold, there were not one but three women he was sleeping with on the sly. What causes a man to be a womanizer? I’ll never understand,” she says.
Related Reading:15 Shocking Things Cheaters Say When Confronted
5. Too charming with your friends
Another one of the defining traits of cheating men/women is their inherent charm. They have a way of channeling it no matter where they are. They can charm your socks off and are smooth as butter in any social setting. And because they love attention, their charm meter is always on. Sometimes even strangers are taken by how pleasing they can really be. A serial cheater will not stop at charming just you and strangers. While meeting your friends too, they will talk their ears off, and in all possibility, your friends will love them.
6. No remorse
Guilt is simply not their thing, and if you wonder why a cheater would cheat again, it is because of this. Serial cheaters continue to betray their partner’s trust because they don’t feel bad about their actions. When something makes you feel so good about yourself, it’s hard to look down upon it.
“A serial cheater personality disorder can be identified by their proclivity for risk and sensation seeking. Though this is an exciting trait to fall for and is seen as the foundation of attraction among many young couples, this adrenaline-seeking behavior can seep into the love life and tend to make them cheaters,” says Shincy.
7. Low commitment
Do they still have dating apps on their phone after you have made things official? This means they are not ready to commit fully or at all. While a serial cheater may not essentially be a commitment-phobe, they’re not ready to go all-in into a relationship either. This becomes an even bigger threat to a relationship in these tech-driven times when all the avenues to cheat are just a click away.
This low level of commitment can lead to several red flags. For instance, your partner may say they haven’t uninstalled Tinder yet because “it’s harmless fun to keep track of what’s out there”, when, in fact, they could be using it to scout potential mates. Who knows, they may be texting or even sexting with someone on the app.
8. Can manipulate what people think about them
You will have to give it to them, they are smart as hell and can change the way people see them. A little crying, a little laughter, with some emotional manipulation thrown in the mix, and they get away with their actions because,
- They have a way of making people empathize with them despite everything
- If someone is getting close to catching them, they might start the pity parade
- They gaslight you by turning the tables and painting themselves as the victim and making you feel guilty about their action
What do cheaters say, you wonder? Well, they are adept at dramatizing situations. When confronted, a person who cheats habitually may not even shy away from saying things like “I feel like killing myself”. That’s because they know that will leave you worried and the distraction from the truth is granted.
9. Narcissistic tendencies
It is widely believed that low self-esteem can make a person predisposed to infidelity. But why do women and guys with low self-esteem cheat? Explaining the connection between low self-esteem, insecurities, and narcissistic tendencies, and how they all tie together with infidelity, Shincy says, “The one thing all cheaters have in common is narcissistic traits.
“People addicted to cheating have a tendency to always look for others to feed their egos. Behind the flamboyance, a narcissist is insecure and needs others to make them feel worthy by constant reassurance. Hence, it becomes difficult for them to understand others’ wishes or feel remorse or guilt for their actions.”
10. They thrive in social settings
One of the defining characteristics of serial cheaters is their outgoing nature. They can:
- Charm/entertain people and gain their trust
- Easily hide their true selves
- Be phony, slick and smooth
You may notice that they depend on alcohol or other substances to channel their inner charm and charisma. That’s because the inhibitions get lowered and they get the ‘liquid courage’ to stray. So, when you get to know them up close, it’s not that difficult to identify a serial cheater. After all, they are the bearers of relationship red flags. The tricky thing though is that despite noticing the worrying behavior patterns, you may fall for their charming, smooth-talking ways.
11. No control over flirting
How to tell if a woman or man has multiple partners or covets them? They flirt. A lot. And say, “It was harmless.” Looking for signs he will never be faithful or she has a roving eye? Here are a few patterns you must pay attention to:
- Buying a drink for a stranger in a bar
- Paying compliments to your friend about their physical appearance
- Casually making physical contact with a coworker
- Giving a once-over to a ‘hottie’ passing you by in a mall
12. Their friends drop hints
Even serial cheating narcissists can have conscientious friends. If their friends have given you hints about your partner’s infidelity, don’t ignore them. These could all be attempts to subtly convey that she/he keeps cheating repeatedly. Pay attention to the following questions with regard to your partner:
Related Reading: My Boyfriend Is Flirting Online With Other Girls
- Are they wary of introducing you to their friends?
- Do they try to steer clear of the possibility of you socializing with them a lot?
- Do their friends’ comments or know-it-all expressions make your partner squirm?
- Do they jump to change the topic and steer the conversation into safer waters?
13. They gaslights you
A person who cheats repeatedly will need to constantly cover their tracks and throw their partner off the scent. Gaslighting proves to be a handy tool in achieving that. Your partner will try to make you second-guess your own perception of reality by,
- Invalidating your emotions with statements like, “You are blowing things out of proportion.” “You are overreacting.” “Why do you always have to be so dramatic?”
- Guilt-trip you by saying things like, “Look what you made me do.” “How can you even think I’d cheat on you.”
- Denying reality. You may hear them say, “That never happened.” “You are imagining things.” “It’s all in your head.”
14. Great storyteller
With all the lies, the secrets, the sleeping around, they need to be organized. They know they need to be two steps ahead of you at all times so that you can’t catch your cheating partner. That’s why one of the classic personality characteristics of cheaters is their ability to build elaborate, believable stories out of thin air. Study their responses when you ask their whereabouts. A serial cheater will always:
- Have an elaborate story
- Complete with hilarious incidents and detailed information about the surroundings and circumstances
- Have it rehearsed so well, that they’d repeat it word for word, no matter how many times you ask
15. Evasive body language
“Look out for these characteristics of serial cheaters when you enter a relationship. According to infidelity psychology, men who are serial cheaters cannot keep a poker face and can be predicted by a decent degree of accuracy. But interestingly, women who cheat are pretty much impossible to read,” advises Shincy. So, if you’re looking for signs of guilt from a cheating husband/wife/partner, pay attention to their body language. For more clarity, you can take this quick quiz on serial cheaters in marriage/relationship:
- Do you notice hesitation in their speech? Yes/No
- Do they blink rapidly or sweat while trying to come up with a believable story to cover their tracks? Yes/No
- Do you often find them avoiding eye contact while talking to you? Yes/No
- Do you find them restless or fidgety when they talk to you? Yes/No
If you have answered in the affirmative to the above questions, chances are that you have an unfaithful partner. The emotional turmoil you’re about to go through may take a toll on you. Now is the time to prioritize yourself and your emotional well-being. Here’s what you can do…
What To Do If You’re In A Relationship With A Serial Cheater
Now that you know what makes a person cheat and the signs a person may cheat on you over and over again, the follow-up question is, “Do cheaters change their ways?” Psychologist Nandita Rambhia answers, “Can serial cheaters change? Yes. However, it’s not easy and takes its time. Healing and forgiving require a lot of effort from both partners. It can only happen if both feel a strong need to rebuild love from scratch. If this need is strong, sincere, and honest, the chances of moving ahead are high.”
Even research suggests that re-trusting a partner who has caused you emotional trauma – be it through infidelity, lying, dishonesty, or emotional manipulation – requires openness, the intention to cooperate, sharing, and mutual support between partners. How can you forgive someone for cheating? Here are some tips:
- The process starts with acknowledging that there is something damaged that needs to be fixed
- The only way to undo the damage is to make extra efforts to save the relationship
- Deep dive into why the damage happened and what can be done differently this time
- Don’t shame yourself for staying. Forgive yourself and make self-care a priority
- To build trust, pick up new hobbies together and schedule weekly date nights
- Don’t shy away from taking the support of trustworthy people
- If you still see suspicious behavior in a relationship, make the brave move and walk away
- A serial cheater is someone who cheats repeatedly and thrives on it
- Serial cheaters personality disorder stems from childhood trauma and low self-esteem
- If your SO hides their devices, is overly flirtatious, a smooth liar, and unusually vain, they may have a proclivity for cheating
- A history of cheating and no remorse over their actions is definitely a warning sign that should put you on guard
Serial cheating can be hard to overcome and heal from but it’s not impossible to repair a relationship even after repeated incidents of infidelity. Do you notice signs of true remorse in your partner? Most importantly are those signs of remorse backed by concrete actions? In such cases, it helps to seek guidance from someone more experienced, mature, and non-judgmental. If you’re looking for therapy for serial cheaters, our counselors from Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
Finally, if you have a niggling doubt that something is amiss, keep a keen eye and don’t overlook the subtle warning signs staring you in the face. And once you see your partner displaying more than a handful of signs he will cheat again or she has cheated on you more than once, sit back, take stock of the situation, and decide your future course of action.
No, if there is one thing serial cheaters are incapable of feeling, it is remorse. That’s because, to their mind, all their actions are justified. It is this mindset that keeps them hooked on cheating over and over again.
No, chronic cheaters psychology is almost always a result of underlying personality disorders such as narcissism. But are all narcissists cheaters? Not necessarily. Unless a person recognizes that they have a problem and is willing to seek help for it, they cannot change.
Serial cheaters get and stay married because on some level they too want a companion to share their life with. Even so, he keeps on cheating again and again because of two reasons – they can’t live without it and they know they can get away with it.
Maybe. The tips on how to get someone to stop cheating start with seeking therapy for serial cheaters. If he is genuinely implementing those trust-building exercises, it may be one of the signs he will never cheat again. However, if you still notice signs of an opportunist boyfriend/husband, it’s better to walk away, for the sake of your mental health.
There’s nothing wrong with you. Stop doubting yourself. You cannot blame yourself for trusting a cheater. Infidelity is very complex and has more to do with your SO’s past and childhood trauma.
Not all narcissists are serial cheaters, but rates of infidelity are higher among them, which may concern people who are dating a narcissist. Your partner may show less interest in you, signs of inappropriate online behavior, flirt with others in front of you, and become defensive when you question them.