A Psychologist Explains What's Really Going On In The Mind Of A Serial Cheater

If you've been cheated on, you've probably wondered why your partner made that hurtful decision in the first place. It's even harder when you realize it may not be the first time your partner has cheated on you or on their former partners. So why do people keep cheating? The answer is complicated and multi-faceted.

I talked with certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman, who specializes in women's issues and relationships, to learn what's going on in the mind of a serial cheater. She explained that this question, though a valid and rational reaction, is certainly a hard one to answer. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to someone's infidelity.

To understand why people serially cheat, it's important to take note of what our collective definition of cheating is. Dr. Edelman says, "It's tricky, because what constitutes cheating? Sexting? Being secretly active on a dating site? Lap dances? Kissing?" There's also a difference between emotional infidelity and sexual infidelity, though the latter is commonly taken as the blanket definition of cheating, says Edelman.

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Dr. Edelman ultimately defines serial cheating as "a continuous pattern of seeking out sexual relationships with people other than you partner, without your partner being OK with it." The key piece of the definition is the lack of agreed consent from partners, and this is what makes cheating different from open relationships or polyamory. Deception is the key part of cheating.

Serial cheating is more common than you think. A recent study by Scott K. Knopp and associates at the Department of Psychology, University of Denver, showed that people who cheated on a partner were three times more likely to cheat in their next relationship. And being cheated on has lasting effects. Based on the same study, people who suspected their partner of cheating were four times more likely to suspect their partner in their next relationship.

Sergey Filimonov

So why do they do it? There are many reasons, Dr. Edelman explains. Serial cheaters don't all cheat for the same reason and Edelman believes it can stem from personality disorders, mood disorders, or past trauma like childhood issues of unworthiness. It can be challenging to engage with intimacy in a healthy way if a person has other challenges within themselves that they have yet to unpack. She goes on to say, "They aren't all alike. They might be narcissistic or sociopathic. They might have childhood issues where they feel unworthy of love and avoid intimacy. Maybe they have issues with sexual addiction." There is hope, though, Edelman explains that serial cheaters can seek therapy with professionals to help them get to the bottom of their experiences.

If you've been cheated, trust that you're not alone in this experience and, though this is hurtful, it doesn't reflect on your worth as a partner or person.

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