If your significant other is unfaithful to you, it's totally understandable to struggle with some lingering trust issues as a result of that betrayal. But here's a dating gray area that's a little less clear cut: If your partner admits to cheating on their ex, can you still trust them? In other words, is their validity to the old saying "once a cheater, always a cheater" — or should you look beyond your partner's past mistake?
First off, it's important to acknowledge that openly sharing such an indiscretion is a pretty tough thing to do. In revealing their past cheating to you, your partner is demonstrating that they trust you enough to be vulnerable and admit their wrongdoing. Not only that, but shedding light on something they may feel ashamed about shows an ability to own up to their flaws — and that level of honesty can point to a degree of trustworthiness.
Still, if you know that your SO cheated in the past, you may have some concerns that they'll eventually fall back on that destructive habit again. How can you know for sure that they've changed their ways? For one, it's worth paying attention to how your partner discusses their past infidelity. Do they accept responsibility and show remorse? Or do they blame their ex for their actions? If it's the former, then there may be a lower risk that they'll resort to cheating again, because they probably learned something from the experience.
The bottom line, however, is that cheating once isn’t a guarantee that someone will do it again. According to Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, nationally recognized psychotherapist and author of the new book Training Your Love Intuition, someone isn’t born a cheater — they’ve typically learned this coping mechanism for dealing with unhappiness and other challenges in their relationships. That’s why Maria Avgitidis, CEO of matchmaking service Agape Match, says it’s best not to assume that your partner’s past cheating will rear its ugly head again.
“‘Once a cheater, always a cheater’ is an absolute statement — and I try not to think of dating in absolutes,” Avgitidis explains. “Sometimes, good people cheat. It takes a certain kind of person to admit that to their next partner, which leads me to give them the benefit of the doubt.”
One key thing to keep in mind is that every relationship is entirely unique. Even if your partner has shared some details about their ex, the reality is that you’ll never fully know what their dynamic was like, or what issues they may have faced. Those factors that were specific to their relationship may have contributed to their cheating — and your current bond with them may differ dramatically from their relationship with their ex. As such, Avgitidis advises reflecting on how your current partner treats you in the present, rather than focusing on how they treated someone else in the past. Ask yourself whether you have any other reasons not to trust them.
“Are they reliable? Are they consistent with their behavior? Do they support you emotionally? All of these questions can be answered to further reflect on the strength of the foundation of your relationship which has nothing to do with their past,” adds Avgitidis.
Rather than using your partner’s admission as proof of their untrustworthiness, Dr. Wish advises using this knowledge as an opportunity to learn more about your partner and why they resorted to cheating. Then, you can establish guidelines for what constitutes infidelity, as well as hash out how you’ll handle tough situations involving the feelings that led them to cheating — such as mismatched sexual desires, unresolved disagreements, or work-related stress and pressures. Establishing an environment that feels emotionally secure for both partners, and making a pact to remain honest with each other about your needs, desires, feelings, and fears is a great way to strengthen your bond while minimizing the odds of cheating. To ensure that the line of communication stays open, Dr. Wish suggests scheduling regular check-ins to ensure that frustrations and issues don’t get swept under the rug.
If you're still struggling with a fear that your partner will stray simply because you know they’ve been unfaithful in the past, experts say there are ways to build up your trust. First, however, Dr. Wish suggests digging deeper into your trust issues.
“If you cannot turn off your doubts, ask yourself what happened in your childhood to make you overly suspicious,” she explains. A licensed therapist or counselor can help you to explore your distrust further, so that you may understand the root of it and ultimately, maintain a healthy and happy relationship. Furthermore, if your partner’s behavior has contributed to trust issues in any way (and their past cheating has simply exacerbated them), Dr. Wish recommends seeking couples counseling to determine if you’re capable of overcoming them.
Ultimately, experts agree that if your partner admits to cheating in the past, your response to that admission will largely depend on whether or not they’ve otherwise earned your trust. If they haven’t given you any other reasons to question their sincerity or devotion, then consider treating your current relationship like a clean slate. Better yet, consider this information a gift — not only does it speak to their capacity for honesty, but it also serves as a chance to understand your SO on a deeper level. Remember, your gut instinct is your BFF when it comes to these kinds of judgements. If your partner expresses sincere regret over their past infidelity, and they’ve proven themselves trustworthy, then there’s no reason to assume they’ll be unfaithful again with you. It's safe to say you've probably learned from some of your mistakes with your exes, so hopefully, your current SO has, too.
Maria Avgitidis, matchmaker
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and relationship expert