Debate This: Once A Cheater, Always A Cheater?

This debate ran on The Frisky a year ago. Given the Tiger Woods controversy, we’ve decided to re-run it, so that the readers we’ve gained since can chime in.

We’ve all heard some variation on the maxim “once a cheater, always a cheater.” In my personal experience, the decision to heed or not to heed said aphorism seems directly related to just how sprung one is on the guy in question. But nine times out of ten, the truth will come out. And that truth generally involves a wandering eye.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, who’s written a book on the matter, How to Win When Your Mate Cheats, thinks that without the genuine desire to reform and a good therapist, a habitual cheater is doomed to repeat him- (or her-) self: “If they’re willing to put in the time and effort and acknowledge they have an issue, then there’s a chance they won’t cheat again. But if they think, ‘I can get away with this. My father was like this, my uncle was like this, all my buddies are this way,’ then you don’t have a shot in hell of reforming this guy. And no woman should try to reform a guy anyway because it’s a lost cause.” Of course, every relationship is different. Take a gander at two women who represent both sides of the debate, after the jump …

I was cheated on by a serious boyfriend, and I was lied to for a very long time. And I know, after the fact, that he cheated on his first girlfriend with me. And I see a pattern with him now that we’re broken up — he has girlfriends and he still contacts me and he continues to cheat. And it’s something that comes very naturally to him; it’s almost ingrained. I believe that when you are a cheater and you have a certain threshold of being able to do something to somebody that you love, if you’ve passed that point, it’s something that comes easily. Once you’re able to be OK with cheating and you get addicted to the excitement and the thrill and the need for love, that you’re gonna always crave that. I think that there are certain guys who have a tendency to cheat and there are only a few of those who are strong enough to fight against those urges. A lot of men, even the good ones who are in long-term relationships, can stray.

There was a point after I broke up with my ex where I might have taken him back and considered going to therapy with him. I think there’s part of me that wanted to believe that could help. But the bottom line is: It doesn’t matter what’s gonna help him. What’s gonna help me? Is it fair that I’m in a relationship that I have to work so hard for now, where I have to worry about him and have these awful memories about what he did to me? I don’t give a crap how hard he has to work [to get better]. Now I’m in a relationship where I’m working really hard, stuck in my own little personal hell, struggling to make myself trust him. And that’s not fair.

– Anonymous, 30

The theory that all men who cheat will re-offend does seem to generally hold true, but there are exceptions. When I met my ex, Tony*, the following magical combination of cheater-reforming events had already happened: During college, he’d cheated on his first serious girlfriend, Maggie, like it was going out of style — rampantly and mostly unrepentantly. The light bulb moment came when Sarah, his girlfriend after Maggie, cheated on HIM. He was devastated. Not just because she’d been with some other dude, but because he suddenly realized how much he’d hurt Maggie. He vowed never to do that to a girlfriend again.

I met him less than a week later, and we were together for almost five years, during which time he never strayed. Honest. What’s more, Tony and I have remained close friends since we split up for non-cheating reasons a few years back, and he’s still cheat-free all these years later, remaining faithful to even the dumb-dumbs he’s chosen since we broke up.

– Anonymous, 34

*Name has been changed